Livestock farmers in Gomba District have asked Parliament to swiftly intervene and block attempts by National Forestry Authority (NFA) to parcel out the remaining part of two central forest reserves of Kalombe and Nsowe to private investors.
NFA is mandated to manage all central forest reserves in the country.
However, residents, some of whom applied to NFA to allocate them some hectares for commercial use but were not considered, insist they must be given first priority.
In 2017, NFA started allocating land in the two forest reserves to individuals to venture into commercial tree growing and more than 100 private tree planters have been considered.
These have authority over the forest land until they harvest their trees.
Private commercial tree planters have already cleared 12.7 per cent of the total 8,933 hectares, which livestock farmers in the area are protesting.
“We are asking Parliament to swiftly intervene and stop this unfair allocation of our forest land to people from outside Gomba yet locals can also plant the trees NFA wants ,” Mr James Tayebwa , the chairperson of herdsmen in Gomba District, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Early this year, the farmers dragged NFA and the private investors to Mpigi High Court, protesting their pending eviction. On April 21, court issued injunction restraining NFA and its agents from making any more land transfers and evictions until the main suit is determined.
In a stakeholders’ meeting attended by NFA staff and the area leaders on May 18, the aggrieved locals queried the criteria followed in the distribution of the said land.
They wondered how NFA would give out a big chunk of the two forest reserves to wealthy individuals outside Gomba District under the watch of their elected leaders. Each investor is required to pay an annual land fee of Shs22,000 per hectare.
Mr Godfrey Kiviiri, the district chairperson, said the forest reserves have a key area for grazing cattle for more than 500 people in Maddu Sub county.
“These people derive their livelihoods from the forests and they have nowhere to take their families. Let NFA give them the first priority because they are ready to plant trees and restore the depleted forests,” Mr Kiviiri said.
Last month, NFA gave the herdsmen grazing from the two forests two years to replant trees in the depleted parts or else land is given to private planters.
Each of the 500 herdsmen is supposed to plant at least 25 hectares to restore the depleted forests. Some herders have cut down trees for charcoal while others have built permanent houses.
Mr Emmanuel Kanyangoga, an aggrieved resident, said he applied for the forest land but his request was unjustly rejected.
“I was controlling one square mile of land in Nsowe Forest Reserve and I was willing and ready to engage in commercial tree planting, but I was denied a licence,” he said. “To show goodwill, NFA should give us at least 50 per cent of the forest land. We promise to use it to plant trees and at the same time use it for grazing our animals.” Mr Kanyangoga added.
Ms Robinah Rwakojo, the Gomba West MP, said she has previously intervened in the matter but the forestry body appeared unwilling to involve the locals in the project.
She said also raised the matter before the floor of the 10th Parliament, but the minister for Environment defended NFA, saying it followed the right procedure in allocating the forest land.
“The allocation process should be done afresh and NFA ensures that locals are given the first priority,” she said.
She also wondered why NFA is encouraging people to grow foreign tree species such as eucalyptus, which are not suitable for the soil and climate of the area, instead of indigenous trees.
Ms Juliet Mubi, the NFA spokesperson, said they considered applicants for commercial tree planting from outside Gomba after locals proved hostile to the project.
“In all areas where we have implemented this project, locals have been hostile and that is what we also found in Gomba,”she said.
Others use the land for cultivating food crops instead of planting trees. But since they [locals] have expressed interest and ready to work with us ,we shall look into their issue,” she said.
The Resident District Commissioner, Mr Steven Asiimwe, said the residents are free to access their gardens and dams but are not allowed to carry out any new activity on the land until their issues are resolved in court.
“I appeal to residents to remain calm because they are allowed to access their gardens and dams. Those who NFA allocated land are also free to look after their trees but are not allowed to plant new ones,” he said.
The two disputed forest reserves have a total of 12.7 square miles and they are among the 17 forest reserves in Gomba.
Status of forests
Forest and woodland cover in Uganda stands at 49,000 km² (24 per cent) of the total land area. Of these 9,242.08 km² is tropical rainforest, 350.60 km² are forest plantations and 39,741.02 km² is woodland.
Thirty per cent of these areas are protected as national parks, wildlife reserves or central forest reserves. Over the recent years, large tracts of government forest reserves have been cleared. Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets restoration of the country’s forest cover from 15 per cent in 2010 to 24 per cent by 2040.