Kampala, Uganda | AFRICATEMBELEA | Due to the growing threat to forest reserves, the government has taken a decision to suspend commercial charcoal production and cancel licenses for harvesting forest products. Government has also resolved to close the temporary camps of illegal loggers and charcoal burners.
The First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. (Rtd) Moses Ali disclosed this in a meeting with European Union ambassadors, officials from National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the community around Zoka central reserve forest in Adjumani district. Eight EU Ambassadors led by the Head of Delegation Attilio Pacifici are currently on a four-day tour in Western and Northern Uganda to assess and discuss environmental conservation in the country.
Zoka central reserve forest is one of the reserve areas which has over the years faced serious depletion due to mainly illegal logging and charcoal burning. Found in Adjumani district, Zoka forest measures about 1,259 hectares. It is reported that over 1000 illegal lumbers use power saws to fell trees for commercial purposes from the forest reserve.
To address the problem, government has decided to suspend commercial charcoal production as one of the key steps to encourage conservation and stop the depletion of the forest cover. According to Gen. Ali, the degradation witnessed in Zoka forest and East Madi wildlife reserve is similar to what is happening in other parts of the country.
“As one of the refugees hosting districts, there is additional pressure on the available natural resources. Adjumani has become the next frontier for illegal harvesting of forest products and wildlife. In addition, Adjumani has become an important commercial charcoal production hub.
The demand for the natural resources is outstripping the natural replenishment for sustainable use,” he said. Gen. Ali noted the need to enhance the capacity of key stakeholders to inspect and patrol degraded areas and evict encroachers. He also cited a need to establish ranger outposts for environmental police, forest patrol and game rangers.
The other decisions taken to conserve natural resources like forests include reducing destruction of natural vegetation by selective harvesting and carrying out an inventory among others. The others are the establishment of a committee involving district technocrats in the Department of Natural Resources supported by the Inventory Department of National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to undertake an inventory.
Gen. Ali also noted the need to strengthen the protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity, land rights and recovery of tourism following the COVID-19 pandemic and proactive involvement of the private sector in eco-tourism. The EU Ambassador Attilio Pacifici wondered who the enemies of natural resources are and demanded that they be identified and brought to book.
He agreed with the proposal by the Deputy Premier to establish ranger posts in the Zoka forest for the effective protection of the natural resource.
The Ambassador also revealed that the EU delegation would be discussing a way of providing financial support to environmental groups to energize their work.
The French Ambassador Jules-Armand Aniambossou also said EU will ensure that the defenders of nature are supported in any way possible.
The Swedish Ambassador, Per Lindgarde said that they are concerned about deforestation and illegal logging of trees in the country. He said that forests which have a diverse eco-system, shouldn’t be under any threat. Dr. Roswitha Kremser, the Head of Austria office in Uganda revealed that northern Uganda has for long been the EU priority considering that deforestation can have great effects on the environment like drought and disappearance of water.
The Environment State Minister Beatrice Anywar said there is urgent need to demarcate the Zoka forest land and tasked the local leadership to take action against individuals cutting trees in the forest.
William Leslie Amanzuru, the team leader for Friends of Zoka said environmental destruction in the country originates from communities and that there was need to hold leaders and institutions accountable for the omissions and commission to destruction of nature.