Government of Uganda seems to soften position on clearing Mabira rainforest
Last week, President Museveni announced that the government will not necessarily stick to its plan to clear one third of Mabira rainforest for the cultivation of sugar cane. The president said that his government is open to alternative ways to increase Uganda's sugar production. Before, Museveni had said that his decision was final, but pressured by national and international environmental activists (including Member of Parliament Beatrice Anywar) he agreed to consider other options.
For years, Both ENDS has been working with Ugandan organisation NAPE , one of the organisers of the 'Save Mabira Crusade'. A confrontation between Frank Muramuzi, director of NAPE, and the Ugandan government seemed inevitable, but eventually the president felt compelled to give in.
In the original plan more than 7,000 acres of rainforest, an area the size of a large city, would be used for sugar cane cultivation. The deforestation not only would have significant negative consequences for the forest in the area but would also increase desertification in a much larger area, according to the activists of Save Mabira Crusade. The Buganda kingdom, which covers the southwest of Uganda, has also protested against the giveaway of land that traditionally belongs to the kingdom.
"Several small rivers that flowed from Mabira to Lake Victoria, have already dried up", the Save Mabira Crusade states. "With the disappearance of the forest more rivers will empty and Lake Victoria will disappear, just like Lake Chad which almost dried out." The disappearance of rainforests and rivers not only has disastrous consequences for flora and fauna in the area; also local communities, whose existence depends on the forest and its waterways, will have to seek refuge elsewhere.
In their online petition the Save Mabira Crusade points out that the former Ugandan government already wanted to sell a large part of the Mabira forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd. (Scoul). That decision was reversed in 2007, after weeks of demonstrations and riots which even caused the death of some activists. Some protest leaders were arrested and only released after three years. Fortunately the demonstrations proved not to be in vain: Mabira forest was provisionally saved.
According to the activists the huge sugar cane plantations do not yield nearly as much as is claimed: the soil will be exhausted and useless within a few years. In 1997, 2001 and 2002 several thousands of acres of rainforest in Uganda have been sold to foreign investors. "All those sugar cane fields are now empty or hardly produce anything; we do not want the same thing to happen in Mabira forest."
Both ENDS will continue to support NAPE in its protest against the clearing of Mabira forest. For more information about this topic: "Ugandan Public Prosecutor withdraws indictment against protesters "(January 17, 2011).