Over 50 officials from Kabale District Local Government have been sensitized on the need to protect the environment for sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity and the future generations.
The policy dialogue under the theme, “Forestry and Biodiversity: Addressing the challenges of Forest Degradation and enhancing Environment Management in Uganda”, was organized by the EfD-Mak Centre Uganda on 3rd November, 2021 at White Horse Hotel in Kabale District.
The meeting attracted participants ranging from Government Ministries and Agencies, NGOs, the private sector, politicians, Environmental police, civil society organizations and members of the Academia from Kabale and Makerere University.
The function was officially opened by the Kabale District Chairman (LCV) Nelson Nshangabasheija and also attended by the Vice Chairperson Miria Ankankwasa, the Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk to Council Gordon Manzi. The function was also graced by the District Forestry Officer Benjamin Ariyo and the Crime Intelligence Officer for Environmental Police Protection Unit Sam Kyomukama.
The Deputy Director EfD-Mak Center Prof. Johnny Mugisha in his submission said that they have been conducting policy dialogues across the country and Kabale is one of the areas requiring awakening in as far as policy management and implementation of environmental issues is concerned.
“Kabale is unique from most of other parts of the country because of its landscape. It is characterized by high population mostly residing on steep slopes which must feed. There has been a compromise between environmental conservation and agricultural production to an extent that because food takes priority number one for a household, most of the environment has been encroached on including the fragile ecosystems.
The steep slopes result into landslides and flooding in the bottom valleys and therefore, we found it prudent to come to Kabale and interact with different stakeholders including policy makers, district leaders, those practicing conservation of the environment like tree planters, such that we remind them on the benefits of the environment, its conservation and what we gain when we conserve it”, Prof. Mugisha explained.
Climbing beans, brewing waragi and mushrooming soft drinks impacting on the environment
Kabale used to grow the bush beans (short beans) until they became unproductive, research replaced them with high yielding climbing beans. These require a small area to yield highly and because they climb, they need to be staked.
Staking them needs some sticks which come from trees. Every household grows climbing beans but not every household has trees to get sticks from. So careless households who don’t have tree sources go and encroach on other peoples trees and they carelessly cut the branches.
Prof. Mugisha said the forest stand in Kabale district is highly threatened.
“There used to be significant forest cover. The estimation we have from National Forest Authority is that in the1990s, we had about 4.9 hectares of forest cover but after 25 years, by 2015, the forest cover had reduced to about 2.2 hectares indicating a 50% loss of the forest cover. If that trend is not checked, we are likely to have zero forest in some few years to come. The reason everybody must come on board is so that we do the planting, conservation and careful harvesting of the existing trees”, The Deputy Director said.
In his opening remarks, the district chairman Nelson Nshangabasheija thanked Makerere University for initiating the program to discuss how the district can protect the natural resources.
“The challenge here is brewing crude waragi and soft drink factories working near lakes and rivers. Our climate used to be very good but now, with these factories, they are damaging our natural resources. As political heads in the district, we are trying to see how we can work together to protect the natural resources”, Nshangabasheija said.
Nshangabasheija emphasized that the district was planning to relocate the factories from the lake and river side and near wetlands to alternative areas. To regain the beauty of trees and lakes, and to reduce soil erosion, the district he said, is considering coming up with a bye-law compelling the population to plant three or more trees for one tree cut.
The Regional Crime Intelligence Officer for Environmental Police Protection Unit in Kigezi region Sam Kyomukama said among the six districts which make Kigezi region, Kabale is the worst hit in terms environmental degradation. Others are Rubanda, Rukiga, Kanungu, Rukungiri and Kisoro.
“About 90% of the wetlands in Kabale have been depleted and as we talk now, there is no intact wetland in the district. All wetlands were cultivated and are under Irish potatoes. Rivers have been encroached on and people are dumping in soil and, wherever you go to the site for enforcement, they have big people who threaten us. The encroachers are protected by politicians like Members of Parliament and Councilors making it difficult to execute our work”, Kyomukama said.
He said just as was the case in Kabale, forests in other districts were being threatened by deforestation to provide charcoal for cooking as a major fuel source .
Kyomukama also reported that all rivers in Kabale have been encroached on by agricultural activities up to the banks resulting to power blackouts whenever it rains as power has to be switched off to remove the silt from Maziba dam.
Kyomukama decried inadequate support to the unit which hinders effective movement to all districts saying, he currently moves on a motorcycle to carry out enforcement in the six districts.
“In addition there are mushrooming factories of soft drinks including these ones called Babababa, Numi, Entare and they don’t have control. Another problem we have is waragi brewing done in wetlands where they divert rivers to work as coolants.
This is dangerous because they are using molasses and whenever molasses drops on grass, within three days, the grass is dry. These chemicals enter the rivers, rusting Maziba dam and killing mud fish and frogs in the rivers.
We are in touch with the Kabale District Police Commander and any time, we will storm, arrest and arraign culprits in courts of law.” The police officer warned.
Kabale District Forestry Officer Benjamin Ariyo said, the district does not have a gazetted reserve by government due to the recent partition of Rubanda and Rukiga districts where most of the forest reserves of the Mafuga area that covers over 1,500 hectares was taken by Rubanda district.
Kabale District he said, only relies on private planters and given the nature of the land tenure system of Kigezi region, most of them are small holders apart from a group called Uganda Agroforestry Network having over 150 hectares in Makanga area and all covered with pinuspatular trees that are due for harvest.
As far as biodiversity is concerned, the forest officer said, the district has species richness in wetland complexes of Bunyonyi as well as North and South Kiruma, with over 312 species of birds like the grey crested crane that is being conserved by nature Uganda in collaboration with the Crane Foundation.
Ariyo explained that Kabale district has a record of over 149 plant richness species both indigenous and exotic, woody and non woody, stating that due to population explosion,infrastructural development and weak policies regarding to wetland use, the biodiversity and forestry recovery in the area has been greatly affected.
The forestry officer reiterated the challenge of getting a winning solution between wetland users and politicians, saying that most of them encourage people to remain in wetlands yet people were experiencing variations in climate conditions of the area.
“Initially during the month of June to August, you would enter Kabale and feel a different breeze but now we are uncertain, we don’t know when the rains are coming, when the sun is to shine, there are lots of changes in rain seasons, the dry spell goes up to April yet April and September used to be rainy seasons”, He said.
Ariyo underscored the need to restore forestry and vegetation cover within the district noting that due to population explosion, people are using resources unsustainably.
“For instance, there is a tree called black wattle, a hard wood tree that takes up to 35 years to mature, yet good for charcoal and firewood but due to its propagation means, it is hard to get it and its seedlings because it is being threatened.
There are mammals that are getting extinct especially the swampy rats. Those ones are already on the red list of the endangered species but it is all attributed to uncontrolled human activities within the district related to unsustainable resource use,” Ariyo stated.
The forest officer reported that although climbing beans are the only performing bean varieties within the district, they are the biggest problem to forest conservation.
He explained that for someone to produce beans, they need climbing sticks and they tend to use young eucalyptus sprouts, indigenous shrubs and small trees. These take a short time like three months yet collected sticks cannot work for three seasons because of being exposed to termites.
“You find that they are cutting down trees for two seasons per year leading to quick vegetation loss. If different varieties of beans can be developed by agriculturalists, we shall be able to conserve our trees. Agriculture does not only take away the trees, it also uses a lot of fertilizers and sprays chemicals which kill bees as pollinators. Someone who has been harvesting 100 avocados from his tree, is now harvesting 20-30 because of poor pollinators.”