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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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. â‚¬1.9 million has already been
invested, with â‚¬2.5 million over the next 2 years and then â‚¬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
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
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