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Agago clan chiefs face hurdles in fighting deforestation

Deforestation in Uganda.

Agago, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Cultural leaders in Agago are facing several hurdles as they carry out the year-long operation to arrest and fine commercial charcoal dealers depleting shea nut trees in the district.

A team of cultural leaders from fifteen chiefdoms in Agago district on December 15, 2021, embarked on an operation to stop the cutting of the endangered tree species.

The exercise which is expected to continue to December 2022, follows a meeting among the clan leaders in the district in late November, about the depletion of shea nut parklands for charcoal and timber. However, barely a month into the operation, the clan leaders admit that the operation is tough.

Rwot Kassimiro Ongom, the Chief of Patongo Clan, who is leading the operation, told Uganda Radio Network that they are facing resistance from some sub counties especially Adilang, where the activities of the dealers are more pronounced.

Kassimiro says that when they reach some sub-counties, the charcoal dealers openly tell them that they paid money to sub-county leaders and they give proof of payment, which ranges from 300,000-500,000 Shillings per trip of charcoal transported.

According to Kassimiro, there are at least 20 commercial charcoal burners, mainly from the central and other parts of Uganda, who have pitched camp in Adilang sub-county, and are adamant that they have already paid money to do the business. He says the charcoal dealers hire more than 20 acres of land and clear all tree species themselves, or hire locals to do cut all tree species, including removing the roots.

However, locals in most of the villages are also involved, ranging from children, women, and youth, who have abandoned farming and now deal in charcoal business as a means of livelihood. Kassimiro estimates that about 3,000 people in Agago are involved in charcoal business and have collectively depleted 10,000 shea nut trees in Adilang sub county alone. He says in some wards, leaders tell them that the entire population is in charcoal business.

Rwot Kassimiro says the team is also faced with shortage of money to ease their movement within the villages. The team hire seven motorcycles daily from boda boda riders at 30,000 Shillings each, minus fuel costs and a daily stipend for those carrying out the operation. He says the cultural leaders are not getting financial support from any organisation or individual.

There are reports that the charcoal dealers have opened a route that connects Agago to Otuke district, making it hard for the leaders in Agago to intercept the charcoal transported thought this route, mostly at night.

The Acholi cultural leaders started the fight to protect the shea nut trees in 2016 when they enacted a by-law attaching a fine of between  200,000-400,000 Shillings for each shea nut tree cut. They also established a vigilante group to enforce the by-law.

However, Rwot Faustino Owor, who heads all the chiefdoms in Agago district, says the by-law has never been respected. He expressed disappointment that no one no longer respects laws, including those who enact the laws.

In 2018, the Ministry of Water and environment also suspended the cutting, transportation and trade in shea nut trees because of its rapid destruction.

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