A plan to clear a protected forest reserve for sugar cane has sparked controversy in Uganda according to a report from Reuters. Uganda-based Mehta Group, owner of a sugar plantation that borders Mabira forest, a nature reserve since 1932, asked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to consider a proposal that would level about 7,000 hectares, or about a quarter of the reserve which is home to 312 species of tree, 287 species of bird and 199 species of butterfly.
The request, and subsequent attempt by the plantation firm to both undermine the value of the park and blame the National Forest Authority (NFA) for forest encroachment, fueled outrage from parliament and officials at NFA. An investigation has been launched into the proposal, while NFA has released several statements refuting claims made by the Mehta Group ("SCOUL") that the forest is largely devoid of trees or wildlife.
Recent Exploratory Inventories carried out in Mabira (for both the production and buffer zones) show that there are close to 2.5 million trees in every hectare. Mabira is 29,974 hectares... its boundaries are well maintained and NFA has undertaken enrichment planting in areas where SCOUL's own employees had established gardens in the reserve."
State minister for Environment Jessica Eriyo toured part of the Mabira forest reserve on "a fact-finding mission" to investigate SCOUL's claims.
"I have been impressed by the work in areas that were once degraded by encroachers. Trees have been planted and that is why birds and wild animals are coming back and communities are benefiting," Eriyo said.
Many Ugandans view the clearing of one of the few remaining tracts of primary forest for sugar cane, a low value commodity product, as a poor use of a resource that could attract ecotourists and supply valuable ecological services.
Uganda's annual deforestation rate has climbed 21 percent since the end of the 1990s. The country lost an average of 86,400 hectares of forest - or 2.1 percent of its forest cover - per year between 2000 and 2005. On a generational time scale, Uganda lost 26.3 percent of its forest cover (1.3 million hectares) between 1990 and 2005. Like neighboring, land-clearing in Uganda results mostly from subsistence farming and cutting for fuelwood. This forest loss is directly threatening some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in Africa: Uganda is home to more than 5,000 plant species, 345 species of mammals, and types of 1,015 birds. About 18 percent of Uganda is presently forested.