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Gov’t to turn forest reserves into eco-tourism centres

Alfred Okidi, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Environment,

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT  |  The government plans to convert forest reserves in the country into eco-tourism centres as one of the measures to enhance the protection of the forest cover. 

Ministry of Water and Environment says this should be one way of not only realizing physical value from trees but also increasing the community responsiveness towards preserving the tree cover. 

A report commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO issued last year showed that Uganda’s forest cover had dropped from the 24% of the land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015. 

Efforts of reforestation have since seen it slightly increase to 12.5%. 

The government now hopes that by 2040, the forest cover will have been restored to the original 24%. 

Under the Bonn Challenge, Uganda pledged to plant 2.5m hectares of land per year and 200 Million trees in five years since last year. 

Alfred Okidi, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Environment, says that apart from the degraded and fragile land areas, they have secured offers from religious and cultural institutions, which are willing to plant trees. 

He says degraded forest lands will be recovered from whoever is using them. 

The destruction of the environment is mainly due to increased human activity as the population increases, poverty among the communities who seek means of survival by cutting down trees, as well a lack of knowledge on the importance of trees. 

This then poses a challenge on how to ensure that the trees planted will be protected to their useful stages. 

Okidi says they have identified social and economic activities that will make the communities see more value in trees than cutting them for firewood, timber and charcoal. 

Different kinds of trees have been selected for their purposes like fruit trees, ornamental trees and timber trees, and that these will be planted in specific areas. 

Okot-Okidi says apart from eco-tourism, the protected areas will be turned into research and learning centres, and that hopefully, these initiatives will make communities feel the forests are part of their livelihood.  

The challenge this program faces however is the lack of enough resources, but the government hopes that the private sector corporate organisations will play a big role in funding it.

Last year, Uganda Breweries launched a campaign dubbed ‘Roots’ (Running out of Trees), under which it is rallying corporate companies to join in sponsoring the drive. 

Okidi also says there is an opportunity for people who have settled in wetlands and other protected areas to seek agreements with the government on the type of activities that they can carry out on the land. 

By June 2020, the government had cancelled about 3,000 land titles which were acquired for land in protected areas, mainly forests and wetlands, out of the 17,000 that were identified as wrongly issued. 

He says more titles are due to be cancelled, warning people to stay away from these protected areas because they bear the cost of the cancellation.     

 

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