Plan to sacrifice forest for sugar puts economy before ecosphere in Uganda
As Uganda grapples with an acute shortage of sugar that has caused prices to more than double in a year, President Yoweri Museveni has deemed the timing perfect to resurrect his plan to convert a quarter of a major natural forest into a sugarcane plantation.
Underlying Museveni’s plan is an obvious conflict of economic and environmental imperatives. Environmental authorities say that Uganda, with the world’s third-fastest growing population, loses 2% of its forest cover annually; 10% of this vanishes from protected areas like Mabira, thanks to logging and human settlement. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) highlights warnings by some experts that, at the current rate, the country could have no forests by 2050.
But Museveni last week told local leaders that the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL), would be given about 7,100 hectares of the 30,000-hectare Mabira forest to expand its cane plantations. The move, which has been condemned by conservation groups and the political opposition, is not new. In 2007, three people died during demonstrations against Museveni’s intention to turn over the land, located 55km east of the capital Kampala, to SCOUL.
Critics point out that Uganda has a lot of unencumbered land elsewhere, where the company can grow sugarcane. Conservation groups and forestry experts have long warned that destroying even part of the forest’s diversity would affect the region’s microclimate, lead to a loss of fauna and flora, and affect the already falling water levels of Lake Victoria and the Nile, which would affect the country’s floundering hydropower stations.
Ideally, there should be no need to choose between economic growth and the environment in an age abuzz with “sustainable development”. Museveni can’t be faulted for wanting millions more in the treasury coffers – especially if it is going to put medicines in health centres or agricultural inputs in peasant households. But it beggars belief that the president, whose spokesman describes him as “an environmentalist”, should trade protected forest hectares for tax revenues.
The last attempt to give away the forest was reportedly abandoned after pressure from the World Bank. Announcing the government’s retreat in 2007, Ezra Suruma, the finance minister at the time, said: “We have committed ourselves to conserving Mabira forest. There is other land in Uganda suitable for sugarcane growing.” Clearly the government’s position has changed.
Add YOUR Voice to those opposing the destruction of Uganda’s “protected” national forests by redirecting the growth of the sugarcane industry to less environmentally sensitive areas. The signed petition will be delivered by representatives of Humanity Healing International’s Ugandan-based Community Based Organizations to President Yoweri Museveni and ranking parliamentary officials of Museveni’s political party, the National Resistance Movement, NRM. The petition will also be sent to Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank.
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