Appreciating natural forests as oil production begins in the Albertine region

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Hoima Sugar Factory belching billowing smoke and fumes from its chimney at Kiswaza Village in Kiziranfumbi Sub-county, Kikuube District.

Though it may sound boldly clear to some people that natural forests in the Albertine region must be allowed to expand coverage and ensure that they should be utilised sustainably, others completely have a different understanding: They believe natural cover makes little or no sense compared with wealth accumulation.

It is based on this argument that Kazi-njema News has moved to ask the need for vegetation cover in a more digested manner.

We look at the impact of the zooming in urbanisation and industrialisaiton with the start of oil production around the corner.

The oil refinery construction in Kabaale, Hoima district, the Tilenga industrial park in Buliisa district, road infrastructure, the feeder pipeline network and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) are among the projects that front questions.

The presence of three sugar factories with thousands of square kilometres of sugarcane plantations too can’t be ignored. 

The sugar factories include Kinyara Sugar Works Limited in Masindi district, Bwendero Dairy Farm in Hoima district and Hoima Sugar Limited now in Kikuube district. The latter is facing opposition from environmental activists in its advance to Bugoma forest.

The opening up and upgrading of oil roads and hydropower generation dams including Karuma Dam on Kyoga Nile, Kabalega Dam on River Wambabya in Hoima and the ongoing construction at River Nguse also raise concern.

Mr Bashir Twesigye, Executive Director for CRED cum Chairperson for the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CISCO).

This website starts its interview with Mr Bashir Twesigye, the Executive Director for the Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED) cum Chairperson for the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CISCO).

He concentrates on the inter-linkage between different geographical features that make up the Albertine environmental landscape stretching up to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Audio: Twesigye in an interview with John Kibego (English)

Talking about forestry in the Albertine region where oil and gas related developments are evident so far, the contemporary Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom hosts the major forests of Budongo and Bugoma under the Budongo Systems Range.

Others are Kangombe in Kibaale, Kaduku in Masindi, Kibego in Kyenjojo and Maseege in Buliisa. These are central forest reserves.

Unfortunately, all these forests are being threatened by organised and non-organised individuals and groups that want to replace them with settlements, plantations and misguided planting of invasive tree species, according to the National Forestry Authority (NFA).

Mr Robert Byaruhanga, an environmentalist and an expert in oil and gas warns on the possible experience of countries like Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Angola that have had adverse impacts of oil and gas if all stakeholders do not work together to strike the balance between economic development and environmental conservation.

Audio: Byaruhanga on need of natural forests (English)
Oil refinery emitting air pollution near Santa Rosa, California (Credit: alamy stock photo)

Mr Byaruhanga who is also the Special Assistant on Oil and Gas in the Office of the Premier for Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom capitalises on the linkage between historical industrialisation that is inevitably coming with the oil and gas industry.

Audio: Byaruhanga on global warming (Engish)

Mr Byaruhanga describes tampering with the natural vegetation as a time bomb to the local communities first and the globe shortly later.

Audio: Byaruhanga on trees with flimsy leaves (English)

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the government have done all it takes to mitigate all foreseen impacts of the industry to the environment.

The measures include enacting policies and laws that are followed by the oil and gas companies during exploration and production of oil and gas.

Mr Christopher Ocowun, a Field Officer for Total E&P Uganda told Kazi-njema News that as an international oil company, the question of environment is key in whatever they do.

He says the oil giant will employ all the necessary technology and observe the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) reports approved by NEMA to prevent any adverse impact of their operations to the environment.

Total E&P Uganda and CNOOC Uganda Limited are the two major international conglomerates so far government green-lighted to produce oil in their respective oil fields, now awaiting the Final Investment Decision (FID) to take action.

State of forestry in Uganda

A man captures footage on part of the degraded Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Kyangwali Sub-county, Kikuube District.

According to Uganda’s ministry of water and environment report on the state of forestry in the country, 2015, Uganda has been losing on average 122,000 ha/year of forests every year from 1990-2015.

The greatest loss in the country is estimated at 250,000 ha of forests annually, according to NFA estimates for the period 2010-2015.

On the other hand, on average, only about 7,000 hectares of planted forests are established on a yearly basis in the last 15 years.

This imbalance can partly be attributed to weak institutions, uncoordinated implementation of policies between different sectors of the economy, insufficient funding, and limited capacity at all levels which has undermined effectiveness and efficiency in developing and sustainably managing forestry resources in Uganda.

Management of forests should be supported by the best possible information.

Bunyoro alone annually loses 3.3 percent of its forest cover, above the national average of 1.5%.

This story has been published with support from Global GreenGrant Fund (GGF).

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