State House fails to show degraded part of Mabira forest
After claiming that President Museveni wanted to give out the degraded part of Mabira forest for sugar growing expansion, State House officials were yesterday evening dumb-mouthed as they could not locate and show to a team of journalists that part of the forest.
Reports indicate that a government organized trip to Mabira Forest, led by Environment minister Flavia Nabugere, flopped after the officials could not show the degraged part of the forest only for the journalists to be treated to blossoming trees, shrubs and nothing but a forest.
The trip was to defend President Museveni’s claims that the part of the forest he wanted to give to Lugazi Sugar Works to expand their sugar production.
“We were surprised when we read that the President is planning to give away a degraded area because we don’t have any,” an official from the National Forestry Authority, the government agency that manages forests told Daily Monitor.
However, the Minister told journalists that she had seen the missing trees and defended the proposed give-away of part of Mabira.
Failure to locate the degraded part of the forest is not surprising considering that it is not existent. Claims of the degraded part emerged from a report compiled by the Sugar Company in 2007 to convince the government to give them more forest land.
But in the same year, the Water and Environment Authorities, wrote a 12-page Cabinet memo disagreeing with the Sugar Company’s report and highliting the dangers of giving out the part of the forest among others being unconstitutional and causing great loss to one of the country’s major biodiversity site.
Environmentalists are vowing to renew the fight to stop President Museveni from giving the forest – a home to 300 bird species that plays a vital role in the country’s eco-system, storing carbon and regulating rainfall – to sugar producers something that could repeat the 2007 bloody protests that claimed three lives.
“We are having a meeting tomorrow to reconvene the Save Mabira Committee to consider a way forward and we are going to take him [Museveni] head on to ensure that the forest is saved,” Daily Monitor quoted Kitgum Woman MP, Beatrice Anywar, (Maama Mabira) who led the 2007 protests.
This follows President Museveni’s statement to district leaders and agriculturalists at Entebbe State House on Aug 13 that failure to give away the forest in 2007, is partly to blame for the current sugar crisis in the country.
Reports indicate that the President wants to give part of the 7,100 hectares of the forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (Scoul), a Lugazi-based company owned by Mehta group of companies.
“Lugazi Sugar Works should expand by getting part of the Mabira Forest reserve which they had asked for. They were stopped by riots which were led by Beatrice Anywar and since they were stopped from growing [more sugar cane], the country is short of sugar and it is going to import sugar. Imagine how Uganda can import sugar?” Museveni reportedly said threatening to ‘crush’ anyone who will oppose his move.
Whatever Museveni’s statement means, it has far reaching implications.
Already legislators and environmentalists are up in flames warning the Metha group to stay away from the forest and saying that “Ugandans can survive without sugar but they can’t survive without oxygen or a green environment.”
In 2007 the Mabira give awar stirred up tensions with the furious protestors attacking people of Indian origin because they shared a race with a party (Metha) that wanted the forest for sugarcane growing.
State house says that the President was misquoted, adding that he only intends to give out ‘just the degraded part of the’ forest. Yet the report about degraded land was compiled by the Mehta group claiming that the area it wants is heavily degraded and of little environmental value. This was disputed by the National Forest Authority but the government responded by sacking the entire board.
But whatever part of the forest Museveni gives a way, experts say that he will have flouted a deal signed with the World Bank in 2001 under which the government received £180m to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Nile in return for guaranteeing the forest’s protection.
What you do not know about Mabira
Scoul claims that with 7,100 of Mabira it will save $25m p.a in sugar imports yet Uganda can get over $100m p.a in carbon trading from the same forest land
Mabira has endangered bird species like Nahan’s Francolin and the Papyrus Gonolek and 9 of the species in Mabira can not be found any where else in Uganda
Home to a £500,000 eco-lodge
5 of the 3 species in Mabira are endangered and a number of rare primates
But a much more disturbing fact, experts say is that giving away part of Mabira which is largely for economic reasons – to reduce on sugar imports as the President says does not make economic sense.
Sugar yields in Uganda are among the lowest in Africa, yet giving away Mabira for sugar cane growing will hurt the tourism industry, one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners.