Uganda conservation news – Mabira 2.0 – reloaded


Following contradicting statements from State House officials, that ‘only degraded areas of Mabira Forest will be given away for sugar cane farming’ has an effort to show Ugandan journalists those degraded areas failed miserably, when a team led by the minister for environment failed to identify any such areas. After the minister beat a hasty retreat, NFA officials on condition of anonymity shared information with the scribes present at the trip, claiming that Mabira had ‘no degraded areas’ following replanting and forest restoration over a number of years since the last ‘Mabira Give Away’ disaster.

Wide opposition has in the meantime formed across the political spectrum in Uganda against any part of Mabira to be given to the Mehta Group, and talk is already emerging again of a consumer boycott of any products by the industrial group, should they not themselves step away from ever using any part of the gazetted forest. Other sources pointed at Rwanda’s policy of re-forestation where ‘degraded areas are being restored’ instead of being given away for sugar cane plantations. Said a regular contributor with good insight into the political processes in Uganda: ‘The president is right in a way that we need to expand sugar production. He pointed at the North of the country where wrangles over land and land ownership have prevented the Kakira Sugar company from starting a 20.000 hectares plantation. That issue needs to be resolved because it will also affect commercial farming for food crops if it is permitted to prevail. There is also the issue of land owned by the Prison Department in Masindi, where Kinyara Sugar has expressed interest to lease or acquire it to expand their production. If the Prison Department is not using that land, they should allow someone else to use it. However, if the Prison Department does use the land the public needs to be told what they are using it for and then arrangements should be made to compensate them adequately so that they are not losing productivity. As to Mabira, I think the president may have been given wrong facts about it. It is also not wise to turn an allegedly degraded forest part into a sugar plantation but to undertake every effort to restore that area of the forest. Mabira is a crucial water tower for Uganda. It is to my understanding also part of an agreement with the World Bank to leave it intact as an offset for other actitivies they financed for Uganda. Presently the country is already facing enough hardship over the economic situation and government is not well advised to open more conflicts with civil society over Mabira. In fact, government will be playing into the hands of the opposition if they go ahead with the Mabira issue. The international damage then done to Uganda’s reputation will be major and we should avoid that. Government should look at tourism to accrue benefits from Mabira. We read your articles about the Rwandan forests and exemplary policies in the Rwanda Eye magazine and you have made a good case for keeping the environment safe for future generations. I think common sense will prevail and Mabira may still be left alone as government by consensus is better than government by confrontation. There will be consultations starting even later today and even from within the NRM there is wide spread opposition to this element of the president’s plan, I think they can agree on the North, on Masindi but not Mabira, but let’s wait what the president will be told by his own party’s MP’s.’

No one however wanted to comment or further explore why in the presidential speech the issue of terrorists was raised, seemingly in connection with the Mabira conservation lobby, which blew the entire affair into the global domain where environmental groups and conservation bodies are now starting fresh petition sites and are lobbying for support against any attempt to dissect Mabira or take any part of it away for sugar cane farming.

Watch this space as this issue is turning into a major agenda item on Uganda’s political calendar. 


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