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Rising Deforestation Threatens Busitema Forest in Eastern Uganda

rising deforestation threatens busitema forest in eastern uganda
rising deforestation threatens busitema forest in eastern uganda
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The once-pristine Busitema Forest Reserve in eastern Uganda is under threat as local communities encroach upon its land, cutting down trees for timber, poles, and charcoal to earn a living. The forest, shared by Busia, Bugiri, and Tororo districts, has been a sanctuary for a diverse range of tree and animal species, attracting tourists with its natural beauty. However, the escalating deforestation poses a significant risk to the ecosystem.

According to Mr. Sailos Anguti, the Tororo District natural resources officer, the deforestation rate of Busitema Forest Reserve was at two percent in 1998, reduced to one percent in 1999 after intervention, but surged to four percent in 2020 due to population pressure and charcoal demand. Currently, only 30 percent of Uganda’s forestland, approximately 1.5 million hectares, remains in its natural state. With an estimated one percent deforestation annually, this figure may diminish further to about 1.2 million hectares in the coming years.

Local leaders attribute the encroachment to the lack of adequate land for cultivation and settlement, driving communities to exploit natural resources for survival. Mr. Stephen Wasike Mugeni, Busia District chairman, warns of potential forest extinction if immediate action is not taken to address the massive encroachment, highlighting affected areas in the district.

The destruction of forests has far-reaching consequences on climate, causing persistent droughts and low food production, as emphasized by Mr. Patrick Duchu, Pallisa LC5 chairman. Residents, like Mr. Robert Opolot of Busia Municipality, attribute erratic rainfall, droughts, and floods to the ongoing environmental degradation.

In Budaka District, Mr. Cyprian Kamwada, the natural resource officer, reports that 94 percent of the population has encroached on wetlands, leading to increased flooding, silting of water bodies, and heightened greenhouse gas emissions. Development partners are supporting efforts to restore depleted wetlands and provide alternative livelihoods to affected communities.

The poverty rate in the region stands at 43.7 percent, with subsistence farming as the primary source of livelihood for about 88.3 percent of households. Experts warn that Uganda’s rapid population growth, estimated at 47.2 million in 2022, growing at three percent per annum, poses serious environmental challenges. Ms. Winnie Masiko, national program coordinator of Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme, emphasizes the need for women’s active participation in environmental conservation.

The Busia District forestry officer, Mr. Jimmy Ngolobe, states ongoing efforts to sensitize communities about the dangers of encroaching on forests. The Farm Income Enhancement and Forestry Conservation Project has been initiated to address environmental concerns, planting over one million trees in road reserves and gazetted wetlands.

Despite these efforts, challenges persist, with the National Forestry Authority intensifying community mobilization to protect forests. Mr. Micheal Kusuro, NFA Kyoga range manager, underscores collaborative measures with development partners to create awareness and provide tree seedlings for planting.