By Anna Amumpiire
Balance needed between environmental conservation and development initiatives
The aim of World Forestry Day is to raise awareness about the importance of forests and their contribution to humanity. In this regard, Uganda celebrated this day on 21st March 2013. Forests are a means to sustainable development and should be distinguished as one of the important resources in Uganda.
However, Uganda’s forests are still being threatened by a number of factors; recent media reports have recounted threats in Namanve and Mabira forest reserves among others. There is continued deforestation and forest degradation. The Ministry of Water and Environment announced a three month ban on timber cutting last year in order to address the rampant depletion of the country’s forestry resources.
In the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa, the Uganda country report states that over the last 10 years, our forests have faced numerous threats and pressure. Some of the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation include; population pressure of 3.2% growth, poverty, agricultural expansion, lack of secure land tenure patterns, increased energy demands, inadequate recognition of national laws, corruption, most of which are a result of ineffective forest governance.
Forests play a significant role to our economy; the overall contribution of forests to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated to be around 6%. Forests have an environmental contribution through climate regulation, biodiversity protection and carbon sequestration. They are a source of employment, raw materials for construction, cultural and spiritual values and provide a source of livelihood for the forest adjacent communities.
The Uganda National Development plan (NDP) recognises the importance that forestry plays in national development through its contribution to ecological balance, energy and industrial activities. It further recommends a national forest cover of 30% for Uganda to have a stable ecological system; however, as of 2005 it was at 18%.
The NDP also sets out strategies and interventions to restore forest cover, restore degraded natural forests, and reduce pressure on forests. These strategies may be good but are yet to be put into practice and realised.
Conversely, the value of forests as natural assets in Uganda is yet to be realised. The 2012 State of the World’s Forests Report rightly observes that most of the products and ecosystem services provided by forests are not bought and sold through formal markets and as such; forests are being undervalued and rapidly destroyed or inadequately managed.
More so as stated in this report, forestry should be looked at as ‘the art and science of creating, using and conserving forests’. Both forest degradation and deforestation lead to reduced agricultural productivity due to loss of soil fertility and reduced rainfall; including substantial economic loss from timber and other commercial resources. The consequences of forest loss are therefore not only environmental but social and economic.
We therefore need to work towards increasing programs for tree planting at local and national levels, effecting partnerships and collaboration among the key stakeholders in the forestry sector, both in the public and private sectors. Effective governance is also crucial in the forestry sector to address the decline in forest cover, not forgetting the requirement of adequate resources and government commitment.
A balance should be struck between environmental protection/conservation and development initiatives, aimed at achieving the national forest vision which is ‘a sufficiently forested, ecologically stable and economically prosperous Uganda’.
Anna Amumpiire is a researcher with ADVOCATES COALITION FOR DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENT