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Uganda: From Trees to Sugarcane - the Implications of Mabira Giveaway

Source:  Copyright 2007, The Monitor, Uganda
Date:  March 25, 2007
Byline:  Salome Alweny
Original URL: Status DEAD

At Sh1.2m per hectare, the proposed giveaway of 7,100 hectares of Mabira Forest land, translates into Shs8.5 billion. The Monitor brings you the report of National Forestry Authority on the economic values of Mabira and why the forest should not be given away.

On August 17, 2006, the National Forestry Authority wrote a brief on environmental and economic implications of changing the land use of parts of Mabira Central Forest Reserve for growing sugarcane by Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited. The report, which was forwarded to the Government of Uganda, puts the total current economic value of Mabira at Shs911 billion, which is 2.2 percent of Uganda's Gross Domestic Product. NFA says this does not include environmental cost benefit figure for contribution towards rain formation, soil conservation and support to other sectors. The 7100 hectares of Mabira land Scoul is interested in, is valued at Shs400,000 per acre and Shs1.2m per hectare.


The President has received a request from Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) to degazzete 7,100 hectares of Mabira Central Forest Reserve and convert the natural forest into a sugar cane plantation. His Excellency personally spoke to the Executive Director, National Forestry Authority (NFA) on phone about the consequences of this. Later, his Principal Private Secretary followed this up in writing, directing the Ministry of Water and Environment to undertake an assessment of the environmental consequences of the proposed change in land use, and later meet the President to discuss them. In response, the NFA prepared a brief and submitted it to the Minister.


Physical Description of Mabira Central Forest Reserve

Mabira Central Forest Reserve is located on the Kampala-Jinja highway at about 54 km from Kampala and 26 km from Jinja, 20 km north of the Lake Victoria shoreline in central Uganda. The Reserve occupies parts of Ntenjeru, Nakifuma, Buikwe, and Mukono counties, all in Mukono district. The details of the Reserve are contained in the Department of Lands and Surveys map sheets 61/4, 62/3, 71/2 and 72/1 of 1:50,000.

Mabira Forest Reserve was first gazetted as a Central Forest Reserve under Legal Notice No. 87 of 1932 with an area of 29,592 hectares. Under Legal Notice No. 78 of 1962, Mabira Central Forest Reserve was finally gazetted with the present area of 29,964 hectares contained in Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 63.

The Reserve occupies gently undulating terrain with numerous flat-topped hills, with altitudes of 1070-1340 m above sea level. The Forest protects these hills from erosion.

There are human settlements (enclaves), which are completely enclosed or partly surrounded by the Forest Reserve. The original forest cover in the enclaves was cleared at the start of this century to make room for plantation of agricultural crops such as tea, rubber and coffee. Those who are not familiar with the nature of the Forest Reserve can easily misinterpret the enclaves as encroachments.

Ecological and biodiversity functions

The Reserve is one of the major forests that form a ring to protect Lake Victoria. Others include South Busoga, Bukaleba, and Iziru, in Mayuge District, the small Forest Reserves of Mukono and Mpigi, Masaka, and Rakai districts. It is a catchment forest for two main rivers, the Musamya and the Sezibwa, which flow northwards into Lake Kyoga. It is also a significant part of the River Nile, and Lake Kyoga watersheds. In addition, it is a catchment forest for many small rivers and streams on which local water supplies depend.

According to the National Forest Nature Conservation Master Plan, Mabira is categorised as a protected area of Core Conservation value and one of the critical biodiversity forests in Uganda. The forest supports 9 species found in no other Ugandan forest (including six butterflies, one moth, one bird and one tree) and one species endemic to Uganda (not found any where else in the world). 95% of the area is occupied by Celtis-Chrysophyllum medium altitude moist semi-deciduous forest and 5% by Piptadeniastrum-Albizia-Celtis medium altitude moist evergreen forest (Langdale-Brown et al., 1964). This is the only block of medium altitude moist semi-deciduous forest type Dl (Langdale-Brown et al., 1964) in Uganda's protected area system, a vegetation type that does not occur in any of the country's National Parks or Wildlife Reserves.

Economic Functions of Mabira


Mabira Forest is a beautiful forest with a very high eco-tourism value. It's the only substantial protected area with tourism potential within an hour's drive from Kampala. In combination with the River Nile, it has a potential comparable with the best of National Parks or other tourist destinations in Uganda. It is a very strategic forest that gives a first impression of Uganda's natural gifts (its vegetation, rivers and lakes).

The National Forestry Authority operates an Eco-tourism Centre for tourism, environmental education and tourist accommodation. This is a revenue source for both the National Forestry Authority and the communities living around the Forest Reserve.

Recently, the National Forestry Authority granted a licence to Mabira Forest Lodge (the Alam Group together with the Mauroo Chain) to operate a high level, 5-star eco-lodge with a planned investment of $1.5 million.

The tourist lodge will be an all-year-round thirty (30) bed high-market tourist lodge offering comfortable accommodation, meals and other facilities and activities in a unique natural environment. As part of the Kalagala-Itanda Offset in response to the upcoming Bujagali Dam, a tourism plan has been drawn to link Mabira to Kalagala Falls and the Source of the Nile. The projected investment is $20 million.

Forest products

The production zones of Mabira are earmarked as a source of sustainable supply of roundwood for Uganda's plywood and veneer industry. Currently Nile Ply Ltd, the only producer of plywood and veneer in the country with a total investment of more than $15 million has been licensed to source their veneer logs from Mabira. Together with furniture grade and construction timber, the direct roundwood value can be estimated at Shs1.050 billion per year (from a sustained yield of 14,000 m3 per year).

The forest is situated in one of the most densely populated parts of the country (255 people per km2 in 2002). Therefore, the demand for various forest products has been increasing. They include firewood, building poles and non-timber forest products for local people. The rattan cane industry is one of the fastest growing commercial non-timber forest product industries in Uganda. Local artisans mainly occupy this industry.

The Forest Management Plan

The overall management objective is the attainment of sustainable multiple use management and utilisation. The specific objectives include:

(a) Optimise the ability of the forest to furnish, on a sustained basis, forest services such as water catchments, protection of wildlife habitat and climate amelioration; (b) Develop the tourism potential of the forest with the aim of promoting it to benefit the country at large and the surrounding communities, (c) Protect the forest cover in designated areas (strict nature reserves) in such a state as to preserve the existing flora and fauna; (d) Produce high grade timber in perpetuity using the most efficient and appropriate methods to meet local needs and for export; (e) Involve communities adjoining the Forest Reserve in implementation of sustainable development programmes for themselves.

Management strategies

Mabira is divided into two broad management zones (Figure 1 above): the production and conservation zones.

The production zone consists of all the areas where intensive silviculture is being practised for increased yield of forest products and services. The activities include timber harvesting, forest restoration (enrichment and encroachment planting), boundary maintenance, as well as general protection and production of minor forest products.

The conservation zone consists of Strict Nature Reserves for scientific research and Buffer Zones, where tourist facilities are being developed. The Forest Reserve boundaries (mainly cut lines and natural features) are clearly demarcated and were last re-opened in 2000.

Mabira covers a total area of 32,000 hectares. Scoul

is interested in 7,100 hectares within the production zone (the yellow part).The company claims the zone is heavily encroached on and so should be given out for sugarcane production. However, National Forestry Authority spokesman Mr Gasta Kiyingi refutes that claim

Restoration of Formerly Encroached Areas

By the mid 1980's, Mabira Forest Reserve was heavily encroached, and large parts of the forest were severely degraded. During the 1970s, the Iddi Amin government declared a double crop production campaign in which people cut down prime natural forest for cultivation of food crops. By 1992, the NRM Government had successfully evicted all encroachers. Today, the Forest Reserve has been fully restocked as clearly documented by the satellite images from 1991 and 2005 (Appendix 3). This has demonstrated the amazing ability of natural forest ecosystems in Uganda to recover even after heavy degradation. Therefore, if encroachers can be removed from our natural forests, even the now seemingly hopeless cases of degradation can be restored through effective protection, aided by planting of mixed broad-leaved indigenous tree species.

Preliminary Assessment of Likely Impacts of Changing the Present Land Use

Ecological impacts

A change of land use of 7,100 hectares of natural forests to sugar cane is likely to have a severe impact not only on the area directly affected, but also the remaining part of the forest due to its topographical and biological characteristics. The negative impacts will include:

a) Reduced water retention capacity of the watershed and subsequent reduction of water flow to the lakes and rivers in the region will be hampered. This will contribute to the already declining water levels in the lakes and rivers.

b) Increased soil erosion and deposition of silt in rivers Musamya and Sezibwa that drain from Mabira CFR into Lake Kyoga.

c) Loss of this unique ecosystem in Uganda and the equally unique biodiversity therein.

d) It will not be possible to maintain the designated Strict Nature Reserves because they will be exposed to human use. Thus one key critical biodiversity site in Uganda's network will be lost forever;

e) Encroachment of the remaining part of the forest will be difficult to control since the Government will be seen to be allowing some groups but denying the local people access to the forest for cultivation. This is particularly poignant because, this same government had evicted these people 15 years ago. Those who were 15 years old then are now influential members of our society.

f) The capacity for carbon sequestration in the Kampala - Jinja metropolitan area with heavy industrial activity will be lost. The biomass of Mabira, captures an estimated 550 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, is equivalent to 3,905,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide for the proposed 7,100 hectares. The damage caused the carbon dioxide that will be released to the atmosphere is US $ 316, 305, 000. This is the money which polluter would pay if this was in the more developed countries. This is calculated at a maximum of US $ 81 per tonne of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.

Socio- economic impacts

a) It is going to make it extremely difficult for the NFA (or indeed any other institution of Government) to keep local people from entering into forest reserves elsewhere in the country. It is already difficult enough today to keep them out. For example, there is civil disobedience in South Busoga Forest Reserve, with people blatantly challenging Government over the legality of its mandate to hold in trust for the people of Uganda an area that was gazetted as a forest reserve 84 years ago.

They have become very hostile to any efforts to keep them out (appendix 4 outlines some of the hostilities NFA staff have had to face recently) in the course of carrying out their duty of protecting the central forest reserves. In nearby Ngereka Central Forest Reserve, local people, fired by unscrupulous individuals destroyed a timber plantation worth Shs117 million belonging to Nil Ply Ltd. Nile Ply has asked NFA to compensate them.

b) Uganda is party to several international and regional protocols and agreements. Allocation of 7,100 hectares of prime forest will contravene some of the conventions Uganda signed and leave Uganda with an increasingly scarred image. This will lead to negative economic consequences. The European Union has put over US$ 30 million in Central Forest Reserves since 2000. Other development and technical cooperation partners have probably doubled this elsewhere in the sector.

c) The European Union has funded commercial tree planting by the private sector (the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme) to compensate for the conservation areas that cannot be used for timber production. €1.9 million has already been invested, with €2.5 million over the next 2 years and then €12.5 million during the next 10 years.

Today, 44 commercial tree growers have signed contracts with and been given financial support by the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme covering 7,000 ha of industrial plantations over 3 years starting 2003. This investment will generate Shs5.6 billion over the three years as direct payment to communities who are employed contributing to "Bonna Bagagawale". NORAD is working along the same lines. All this stands to be jeopardised if part of Mabira is excised for sugar cane growing.

d) A number of individuals, NGOs and corporations currently licensed to carry out activities in line with sustainable forest management in the Forest Reserve will have their investment and planned activities affected. Government will have to pay heavily for this and hostilities towards investors in industrial plantations elsewhere in the country will increase as local people try to take over forest reserve lands for themselves instead of "outsiders".

So far NFA has offered licences to 550 companies/people (many of them medium scale enterprises) to plant 50,000 ha over the next 10 years all over the country. This investment will contribute at least Shs75 billion as direct payment to communities employed in the sector over that period. Today NFA is considering requests for land from another 4 large scale companies interested in growing industrial plantations for timber, plywood and bio-diesel production.

e) Loss of timber supply for the growing forest industry. Nile Ply Ltd in Jinja will be particularly affected. They have been investing heavily in improved technology for plywood and veneer production, putting Uganda on the threshold of breaking through the "subsistence" processing of forest products that has characterised the forestry industry since organised forestry started in Uganda over 100 years ago.

f) Tourism development will become less attractive; opportunities to benefit from the fastest growing industry in the world will be seriously impaired when the unique features bestowed by a forest that is seen to be sustainably managed are lost.

g) Reduced and/or loss of opportunities for a livelihood by local communities will spill over into acts of stealing and civil indiscipline.


In view of the above considerations, the National Forestry Authority would like to advise HE the President to re-visit the decision degazzete parts of Mabira Central Forest Reserve. However, considering that the sugar industry is important to Uganda's economy we should be able to find alternative land for sugar cane growing for example in Maruzi, Apac District (a government livestock ranch).

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