Environmentalists have warned that the raffia palm tree is soon to be extinct if deliberate action is not taken immediately to protect or restore the degraded areas in Bunyoro Sub-region and the country in general.
In an interview with Kazi-njema News, Stuart Maniraguha, the Director of Plantations at the National Forestry Authority (NFA) says, recently, the specie has been highly demanded due to forest depletion.
He says that this puts the specie at a high threat and risk of extinction.
“Raffia palms are being degraded along with encroachment on wetlands and being targeted by tobacco and livestock farmers who use its logs for curing tobacco leaves and its poles for fencing respectively,” discloses Maniraguha.
The environmentalist observes that this is accelerated by the reduction of natural forests.
Raffia palms, locally known as ‘Emikindo’ in Runyoro/Rutooro are historically culturally an important source of raw material for handcraft products like baskets, bags and mats.
In the world of Christianity, palm leaves are major ingredients in commemorating the day Jesus Christ was joyfully ushered into Jerusalem.
The commemoration, popular in the Catholic and Anglican Churches is celebrated on ‘Palm Sunday’.
Also, the Catholics place ash from palm leaves on their foreheads in form of a cross on Ash Wednesday.
This ash is burnt from palm leaves prepared from the previous year’s Palm Sunday symbolic of man coming from dust and to dust he shall return.
Fred Manyireki, a resident of Kyamugoba village in Kabwoya sub-county, Kikuube district says, numerous raffia palm trees are being cut and chopped into 1.5- metre- long logs, transported and sold to Kampala and Busoga areas at Shs2, 000 each.
Julius Ntuuha, a tobacco farmer at Kesiiga village in Kiziramfumbi sub-county, Kikuube district told Kazi-njema News that accessing material for drying tobacco leaves is now challenging.
“We used to get raffia palm trees for drying our tobacco leaves from nearby areas-about a kilometre away”, he recounted.
Adding: “But now, we are forced to trek a long distance as far as 7km away to Kajoga and Muziranduuru villages”.
Hoima district Secretary for Finance, Planning and Administration, Jackson Mugenyi Mulindambura says, he had pushed tobacco companies to supply raffia palm seedlings to all tobacco farmers.
He did this after identifying tobacco growing as one of the activities most threatening the survival of raffia palm trees in the district.
“I tried my level best [pushing for the supply of raffia palm seedlings] but tobacco companies became unyielding and farmers lacked knowledge of how to access the seedlings. The farmers also lacked enough mobilisaiton,” said Mulindambura.
NFA’s Maniraguha said it was realised that people have for long known raffia palm as a wild tree that cannot be planted. This increased the challenge and threat of its existence.
“I inform the public that raffia palm seedlings are available at NFA nursery beds in Namanve and can be given to people in need.
It is high time we recognised the threat against this specie. One can also use vegetative propagation,” he advised.
According to the 2016 report on the state of Uganda’s forests, the Ministry of Water and Environment revealed that overall, the country had been losing an average 122,000 hectares of forests every year from 1990-2015.
According to Wikipedia, raffia fibre is used in twine, rope, baskets, placemats, hats, shoes and textile.
Raffia palm also provides a vital cultural drink in Nigeria and Ghana. The sap contains sugars, the reason why it is an important source of sodium minerals enjoyed by wild animals.
The raffia palm tree also has the ability to suck poisonous minerals from water, thus, purifying it naturally for human and wildlife consumption.