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NARO blocks return of motorsport at Entebbe Botanical Gardens

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The National Agricultural Research Organisation-NARO has rejected plans for hosting motor rallies at Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

Sitting on 40.7 hectares of land in Entebbe, the gardens were established for purposes of research and to preserve the diversity of plants in Uganda. The gardens house a collection of species of plants of the tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones, besides several shrubs and other plants regenerated naturally over the years.

The gardens are a popular attraction with over 40,000 visitors per year passing through the gates since the rehabilitation in 1998. The gardens have between 500 to 600 tree species, more than 200 of them indigenous to Uganda, while hundreds of others are exotic and have medicinal value. It is also a popular place for tourists and merrymakers often attracted by the existence of Colobus monkeys, and a variety of bird species.

But the Federation of Motorsport Association of Uganda-FMU had requested permission to host a rally on July 24, 2022, in the gardens, an event last held in 2013 before it was stopped by NARO over security and environmental concerns. According to FMU, the event now one month away is a fundraising drive for rally ace Yusuf Bukenya, whose vehicle caught fire during a rally in Fort Portal, four years ago.

In preparation for the event, FMU started displaying posters about the event attracting voices of environmentalists Proscovia Vickman, Maria Assumpta Nakamya alias Mama Nalubaale and tourism enthusiast Jonathan Baguma, arguing that the gardens are not an ideal venue for motorsport.

Baguma says sources at Botanical Gardens have told him that FMU was expected to pay 20 million Shillings to have the rally at the gardens. However, he says the payment is worthless for a garden that collects an average of 2.5 million Shillings every day.

The Director-General of the National Agricultural Research Organisation-NARO, Dr. Ambrose Agona says that motorsport is costly and destructive to the gardens which are a national treasure. He explains that a number of trees in the gardens were destroyed in February and in the aftermath, Vice President Jessica Alupo led a delegation that planted over 1000 trees in May which are still fragile to the surroundings.

Dr. John Wasswa Mulumba, the Head of Plant Genetic Resources Centre and Curator ot Entebbe Botanical Gardens explains that the leadership allowed the gardens to host motor rallies from 2000  as a way of pulling crowds to the gardens. “We saw the event as a marketing tool and a way of reminding people about the existence and importance of the gardens.”

However, by 2013, Mulumba says the number of revellers hit 10,000, which was unmanageable because unlike an event where crowds stay in one place, motorsport fans remain on the move, walking, running and jumping from different parts of the gardens as they follow the competitors at the various stages of the rally.

“To make matters worse, the organisers in 2013 used barbed wire as a barrier between the crowds and competitors and some revellers got injured in the process. So we had to stop the rallies and we do not have plans to allow the sport back at the gardens,” Mulumba says.

However, rally driver Yusuf Bukenya insists that the event will go on as planned because it was approved by NARO on the condition that on top of the fundraiser, participants will also participate in tree planting.

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