Charcoal burning and illegal logging persist in Kyenjojo central forest reserves despite the deployment of Police and Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) officers attached to the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
The forests of Itwara, Muzizi, Oruha, and Matiri are the most affected with a number of truckloads leaving the forests each day.
Residents around the forest say that often assorted timber is transported out of the forest on trucks without abandon.
Julius Alinitwe a resident of Matiri says that several sections of Matiri Forest have been cut down by timber dealers and a few parts of the forest have been left.
“We have been seeing a number of trucks loaded with timber and charcoal leaving the forests under the watch of the law enforcement officers and nothing has been done,” Alinitwe says.
Richard Businge the LC3 chairman for Bugaki sub-county which is near Itwara Central Forest Reserve says that as local leaders their efforts to fight the timber dealers have been hindered by the enforcement officers.
“Itwara Forest has been depleted and very soon the forest will be no more all the trees have been cut down by the illegal timber dealers,” Businge says.
Gilbert Kato a charcoal dealer in Matiri trading center says that it is difficult for locals to completely give up on charcoal burning despite its negative effects on the environment mainly because it yields quick money to enable them to support their families instead of struggling for loans.
Army, NFA officials blamed
John Baptist Kansiime the LC3 chairman for Kanyegaramire sub-county says that the UPDF soldiers and the NFA officials connive with the illegal timber dealers to destroy the forests.
“We have on several occasions intercepted lorries ferrying timbers and charcoal from the forests and when we inform the army and the NFA officials they release the trucks and because of that we have also lost morale and we no longer report,” Kansiime says.
Jackson Kamara a resident of Bugaki says that many of their colleagues have been tortured by the soldiers when they give out information about the destruction of the forest.
Apollo Bwebale the resident district commissioner for Kyenjojo says that leaders should come out and report all such cases so that they can be reported.
“I have had several allegations and am going to conduct investigations in some cases where it has been alleged that senior army officials are involved in illegal logging in Kyenjojo,” Bwebale says.
Bwebale says that several forests have been destroyed and encroached on and there was a need for the NFA to open up boundaries because people have encroached on the forest land.
“We work under very unfortunate circumstances we enter the forests knowing that it’s a matter of death and life some of our officers have been killed the situation is so tempting however if there is any soldier who does not act professionally report him and we shall deal with him,” Kyangungu says.
He adds that there are clear procedures involving the UPDF soldiers in NFA patrols.
“The NFA officials must write to the commandant of the vital assess and installation unit of the army and get guidance then the order must come from the commander land forces to the division commanders and anyone who goes contrary to that will get problems.”
Tom Rukundo the director of natural forests at NFA anticipates that any illegal practice that happens is a result of limited staff.
He also blames the practices on increasing numbers of residents within the forest areas who failed to adopt alternative means of income generation.
“We are going to move to the forests in Kyenjojo district to assess the level of depletion and we are going to open up boundaries because many of our forests have been encroached on,” Rukundo says.
According to a 2018 report by the Global Environment Facility-GEF up to 6 million tons of wood are annually transformed into 1.8 million tons of charcoal. This means increased greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and flooding in formerly forested areas.