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Land Probe: NFA, Youth ‘Militia’ Clash Over Forest Reserves in Bunyoro

NFA Executive Director Michael Mugisa shares documents with assistant lead counsel to the probe committee John Bosco Rujagaata Suuza (2nd R) as Ebert Byenkya (L) the lead counsel looks on.

The head of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) Michael Mugisa has reported to the land probe committee that the Authority risks losing a large portion of forests within Bunyoro sub region as the groups linked to the Bunyoro kingdom continue to make claims.

He revealed that kingdom officials continue to claim that all the 35 forest reserves in Bunyoro belonged to the kingdom prior to the colonial government and should be repatriated.

Few years ago, patient a memorandum of Understanding was signed between the government and the Bunyoro kingdom, in which 2 of the planted forests were handed back to the kingdom.

“They later however presented another MoU to us indicating that all the major forests in Bunyoro belong to the kingdom. We have since been asking them to verify the documents but in vain,” Mugisa told the probe committee on Wednesday.

He said that the forests being claimed include a total of 22 squaremiles of sugarcane plantations whose land titles were attained through fictitious means.

“Recently, we have been engaged in running battles with a militia group of young people in Hoima who have vowed to fight our officers until blood is shed. They need to be stopped,” Mugisa said.

“They have been erecting signposts within the forests claiming to have an attachment but when an area is protected, it’s beyond us.”

The group that he identified as Bunyoro Kitara Repatriation Agency, linked to the kingdom, claims that the forests were wrongfully taken over by colonialists and therefore government must relinquish ownership.

Mugisa further told the investigating committee that NFA took the matter to the Solicitor General who in response said kingdoms have no right to claim forests since the government holds them in public trust under the current law.

“The Solicitor General advised us that government can give all the other properties previously owned by kingdoms with exception of forests. He said that kingdoms are no longer administrators to such forests as was the case decades ago.”

Bunyoro sub-region has 43 central forest reserves that cover 187,281 hectares. The encroachers are reportedly cultivating crops, setting up settlements and harvesting timber in the protected forests.

According to NFA, a government agency charged with managing central forest reserves, some encroachers are involved in charcoal burning, while others have gone ahead to process illegal titles covering parts of the reserves.

The NFA boss says the government needs to allocate more funding to the preservation of forests since 90% of the protected forests don’t generate revenue to enable the Authority finance monitoring activities.

Two months ago, government was forced to deploy UPDF soldiers in four forest reserves of; Bugoma, Kangombe, Kanaga and Gurama in Hoima and Kibaale districts to keep away groups of encroachers carrying out commercial activities in the protected areas.

Uganda’s forest cover is dwindling at alarming rates from the 4.9 million hectares of protected forests in 1990 to 1.9 million hectares in 2015, representing a 40% fluctuation in a space of 25 years. However NFA statistics indicate that the biggest depletion has been on private owned forests.

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