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Mabira Forest is a rainforest area covering approximately 30,000 hectares (300 Square kilometers) of Buikwe District in central Uganda. It’s home to diverse species of fauna and flora (rare monkeys, birds, butterflies, awesome trees and many herbal plants). It’s also a popular tourist attraction for people interested in nature walks, bird watching and bicycle riding.

 mabira-forest

Like any good story, it is better to start from the beginning: In 2007 the government proposed slashing 7,100 hectares (17,540 acres, which is nearly 25% of the total Mabira Forest) for a sugar company, which is owned by a conglomerate from India. The anger over cutting the forest was ultimately channeled into something akin to a race riot targeting the Asian community and ended in violent protests in April. Three people were killed and a substantial amount of damage was done.

Now, four years later, we are back in the same place, with President Yoweri Museveni threatening the fate of Mabira. This time, as a backdrop, there are soaring sugar prices, which he uses to justify the need to chop down the forest and grow more sugarcane.

Museveni maintains that poor nations must boost their economies before they can afford to protect their environment. In an article in the New Vision (Thursday, 19th April, 2007) entitled ‘Why I support Mabira Forest give-away to Mehta Group’ the ‘good’ president attempts to articulate his reasons for supporting the Mabira giveaway.

Here are few excerpts that caught our attention:

‘The problem of Africa is not lack of forests but lack of factories, hotels, real estate, professional services (e.g medical, financial, etc)’

‘Why, then, use forest lands? This is because there is no free land. Much of the land is occupied by peasants who are engaged in traditional, subsistence farming.’

And of course there was the sugar-production argument also. Like any other argument from an African leader it is not complete without a quick jab at the West.

‘Europeans and the Americans are destroying the environment because of greed; we are destroying the environment, involuntarily, because of poverty, lack of employment, lack of electricity, etc.’

One may suppose some of his contentions do carry some merit: After all, to run factories, hotels, real estate, you need to have a skilled work force. Why not invest in the education sector first, and then cut down the trees after? (Makes sense, no?)

The National Environment Management Authority boss Tom Okurut, in an interview with The Daily Monitor last week, said Mehta only needs to change its production practice, technology and the cane type to increase the volume of cane production. This then begs the question: Why not seek means to maximize production before deploying the Mabira alternative? When will the expansion of the plantations stop? Plus, how about the out-growers who have been selling sugarcane to Mehta? Does this mean they are no longer needed? So much for creating more jobs. It seems more likely to destroy the livelihoods of those depending on the forest for income and those already in the sugarcane agricultural sector.

Museveni has been offered another 50,000 acres of land in fertile Bwikonge and Bunambutye sub-counties by Bulambuli LC5 Mr Simon Wananzofu for sugarcane growing in a bid to save the planned give-away of part of Mabira, but the president says he will give away part of the forest regardless of people’s cries. Let us not forget that the Kabaka’s offer of alternative land, near Mabira, for sugarcane production, had been disregarded by the government. It would seem contrary to what the president was thinking — there are plenty of other sources of land (unless he is lying, but we would never say something like that *wink-wink*).

The boom in sugar prices is as a result of the country’s biggest sugar producer, Kakira Sugar Works, announcing that it would close for maintenance. When traders (middle-men) heard this, it resulted in speculation, hoarding and an eventual increase in the sugar price from 2,400 UGX a kilo to as high as 8,000 UGX a kilo. Most sugar factories claim that they have not increased the factory prices of sugar, though the production rate is still low. Which, of course, calls into question the basic premise Museveni is relying on for giving away the Mabira Forest.

Wilberforce Mubiru of the The Uganda Sugar Cane Technologist Association attributed the price increase to speculation.

"Before the factory goes on off crop, it stocks enough to last through the period of non-production and therefore the factory selling prices remain the same"

‘I am ready for war on sugar’– says President Museveni. Suddenly it seems is fair to assume there seems to be more to this debacle than just sugar.

President Museveni President Museveni

From Central Africa to the Amazon basin and Indonesia’s islands, experts say the world’s greatest forests are being lost at a rate of at least 13 million hectares (32 million acres) a year — an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua. "Africa is losing more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) of forest every year — twice the world’s average deforestation rate," according to a statement by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Between 1990 and 2010, Uganda lost an average of 88,150 hectares or 1.86 percent of its forests per year. In total between 1990 and 2010, Uganda lost 37.1 percent of its forest cover, or around 1,763,000 hectares.*

Foreseeable effects of the Mabira land giveaway include:

  • Biological and ecological impact
  • Reduced plant biomass
  • Reduced biological diversity
  • Loss of valuable species of economic/medicinal value
  • Reduced ecosystem stability
  • Disturbance of animal habitats
  • Broken food chain
  • Species extinction (bad time to be a rare monkey)
  • Rapid depletion of soil nutrients
  • Increased soil erosion and flooding
  • Increased local aridity and desertification
  • Global greenhouse effect, global warming and rise of sea-level

Facts about sugarcane: A long, warm growing season with a high incidence of solar radiation and adequate moisture (rainfall) – the plant uses from 148 to 300g of water to produce 1.0g of dry substance. (yep, one whole gram!)

We would love to hear your opinion on this, please come join us at the upcoming Freethought Night, which is going to take place on Thursday, 25th August 2011, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.

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