The debate on whether to conserve natural forests or clear them for
investment and development projects is raging more than ever before. At the
recently concluded conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, there were
proposals to look beyond development and commit more resources towards
conservation of the environment and forests.
While land is in fixed supply, there is increasing demand for it for human
settlement and development projects. In some instances, this has fueled an
adversarial relationship between development planners and environmentalists.
Some development planners think environmentalists are 'enemies' of development,
while environmentalists have described the planners as inhuman capitalists
sacrificing the environment at the altar of wealth accumulation.
This is indeed a catch-22 situation for developing countries like Uganda. How do
such countries industrialise and transform their economies now that issues like
global warming are increasingly galvanising and amplifying calls for
conservation of natural forests as a mitigating intervention?
The answer lies in sustainable development, a development paradigm that makes
the case for maximising the benefits of investment and development while
minimising environmental degradation.
Credible development projects are now drawn up with comprehensive guidelines on
environmental conservation and the social well-being of the host communities.
This is to preserve the benefits accruing from environmental resources like
forests and wetlands.
Therefore, planners have a responsibility to establish economically viable but
environmentally sound projects. Key project operations should be subjected to
thorough Environmental Impact Assessment to mitigate degradation.
There are critical conservation eco-systems that must remain intact for their
role in life-supporting systems. For this reason, some areas are set aside as
forest reserves and wetlands to protect water catchments, soil systems and
More importantly, substantial forest cover is a vital ingredient in stabilising
temperatures and climate. It has been proven that trees purify the atmosphere by
sucking up large quantities of carbon-dioxide which is also a main contributor
to global warming and hazard to an array of eco-systems.
Uganda's forest reserves were gazetted from the 1930s to the 1960s around
strategic locations like mountains, water bodies and areas with significant
vegetation and unique wildlife species.
Forests cannot be transferred because they are associated with these permanent
features that can't be replicated. Besides, natural forests cannot easily be
artificially re-generated to reach their inherent natural richness.
Forests must cover a significant portion of the country to be effective in
performing their natural safe-guard duty. Uganda's forest-cover now representing
about 23% of the land area compares poorly with other developing countries like
Cameroon (47%) and Tanzania (45%).
This situation, the persistent encroachment of central forest reserves and the
increasing depletion of privately-owned forests, should be a cause for concern.
Location of development projects should be carefully considered so that they
don't pose a serious threat to the declining forest cover in Uganda.
There are non-destructive investment and development projects that can be
undertake within and around forests like tree-planting, eco-tourism facilities,
research and bee-keeping. Such ventures have potentially very lucrative returns
on investment yet friendly to the conservation of the environment in general and
forests in particular.
Climate-related adverse effects of deforestation and degradation unfolding in
Uganda have already had a retrogressive impact on production in some parts of
Erratic rains, floods, landslides, prolonged drought, and soaring temperatures
have crippled farmers' yields in an economy still largely agro-based. In many
parts of Teso, eastern Uganda, the citizens are still grappling with food
shortage and the after-affects of the floods that ravaged the area recently.
Beyond the worrying climate-change and crippling of economic activity, the
implications of deforestation are clearly one of the underlying causes of the
ethic conflicts in parts of eastern Uganda. With the persistent encroachment and
pressure on central forest reserves, such trends are certain to be replicated in
other parts of the country.
The writer is the public relations manager for National Forestry Authority