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Mabira forestThe environment activists also opposed the palm oil project that was aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on imported vegetable oil saying the project would destroy forests with no regard for environmental regulations

Kampala. Lands minister Daudi Migereko has told conservationists that protecting forest cover alone does not bring about development in the country unless such natural resources are put to proper use.

Environmentalists and conservationists remain locked in a debate with the government over proposals aimed at cutting down natural forests for plantations or sugarcane growing with arguments that this will disrupt rainfall patterns. They argue that forests are also homes to precious wildlife and key eco-tourism attractions.
But the minister said yesterday the debate should be opened to discuss the advantages of preserving the forest reserves vis-à-vis putting up more developmental projects where they exist.

Speaking at the closure of a three-day awareness workshop on the voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of lands, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security in Kampala, Mr Migereko argued that while forests are God-given, they should be turned into income generating resources.

“While we appreciate the value of conserving forests in the country, we have taken it for granted that they are supposed to be natural and should never be touched. They are a natural resource, God-given but must be put to better use,” he said.
“It does not make sense for the environmentalists to say, ‘do not touch our forests’. Trees also outgrow their usefulness and die,” he said.

The minister observed that he has been to the US several times and noted that most houses were built using timber that is cut from the forests they planted.
“We need to discuss this and agree on the acceptable parameters where there is need for development. We can protect the natural resource but we can agree on acceptable standards that protect the forest cover but also guarantee development and food security,” he said.

At the other end of the discussion, Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director National Association of Professional Environmentalists (Nape), said government should not misunderstand the true meaning of sustainable development.
“Government should not cut down forests anyhow. There are some species like mahogany which take a lot of years to mature and supposing government destroys such trees the implications would be grave,” he said.

Forest giveaways
In 2007, an attempt to give away part of Mabira Central Forest Reserve, a key natural forest area, to an investor provoked public outrage which forced the President to back off. The President in 2013 indicated he was reviving his wish to have 7,100 hectares of Mabira Forest’s land parcelled out to the Mehta Group for sugarcane growing. But this was also opposed.
The environment activists also opposed the palm oil project that was aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on imported vegetable oil saying the project would destroy forests with no regard for environmental regulations.