Poverty driving Amuru natural forest to Extinction
Residents of Okidi in Atiak Sub County in Amuru district have blamed the current massive destruction of natural forest in the area to biting poverty after years of brutal war that drove more than one and half families into the into the internally displaced persons camps and left the walloping in poverty.
They say due to lack of economic opportunities, households have no option but to exploit forest so that they can put food on the table as well as to able to pay children in school.
Atiak which about 40 kilometers north — west of Gulu main town is the birth place of the former deputy Commander of the LRA rebel, Vincent Otti.
In April 20, 1995, Otti allegedly led a group of LRA fighters and attacked Atiak Trading Centre, leaving at least 250 people, majority students of Atiak Technical School.
They said it while participating in Kabake radio debate at Okidi trading Center, two weeks ago.
Thanks to Konrad Adeneur Foundation Uganda that sponsored the weekly community debate that is recorded and aired on 102 Mega FM, one of the leading radio stations in Gulu district (northern Uganda).
The informative program is aired every Sunday between 10AM and midday.
Kabake is a Luo (Acholi) word which translates into a search for an answer to a problem or an attempt to find a solution to an issue affecting the communities generally in northern Uganda who are covering from the effect of over two decades brutal war.
Alfred Mukasa, one of the residents said exploit the natural resources such as forest has enabled poor families to send children to school.
Mukasa explained that with the presence of the commercial dealers from the central region in the area, there has been a booming economic activities in the area, bringing in a lot of cash.
“The charcoal dealers have enable parents to pay school fees. Cutting trees has brought development here. Youth have been able to acquire boda boda motorbike. I think there is a strong link between trading in forest products and development,” says Mukasa.
Another residents, Jinaro Onen, says he strongly support forest exploitation.
Onen noted that households should exploit such resources so that they can ease the economic challenges they are facing.
“These commercial charcoal dealers are bringing us money. They should be allow to cut forest so that we get money. I have no problem with that,” he adds.
Collins Okello Kisekka, also supported cutting trees for charcoal saying it will empower one economically and be able one to be able to cater for expenses such as medical bills in case the need arise.
The Local Council One Chairperson of Okidi north village, Julius Ocitti, although admitted he has also joined the charcoal business but discouraged the indiscriminate cutting of trees.
“You can cut trees to make charcoal but if you are cutting, cut the mature ones. The problem here is that these charcoal dealers from the central region, cut trees indiscriminately,” said Ocitti.
However a number of residents especially women were against tree cutting especially by commercial charcoal dealers, majority from central region.
Lillian Fiona Achen, one of the women voiced concern that the indiscriminate tree cutting has greatly the rainfall pattern.
Achen warned that if the trend continues, families may not be able to grow food as a result of lack of rain characterized with hot weather.
“Although someone with a forest can burn charcoal, but I think they should do it sustainably. If you were not careful and destroyed the environment, we will suffer the consequence,” says Acen.
A local farmer, Francis Otim, warned with the current level of destruction, by commercial charcoal dealers from central Uganda, this has led to negative impact of the weather.
“I can see poverty looming due to destruction of forest. Forest is no more in this area,” warns Otim.
Samuel Ongom, another local farmer also noted that there have been used of electric power saw to cut down trees.
Ongom said this has not only left the soil bare but has also led to the extinction of wild animals in the area.
Other issues the community are that the charcoal and log business are fueling prostitution, domestic violence and alcoholism.
Simon Apire, the area Local Councilor Three for Okidi parish urged Mega FM to continue with sensitization on the danger of destroying the environment so that communities are made aware of the important role forest play in their livelihood and need to protect it.
Illegal logging activities and increasing demands for charcoal by urban dwellers as fuel for cooking have been blamed for the current desrutction of forest in Acholi sub region.
Valence Arineitwe, the Senior Forest Officer at the Ministry of Water and Environment warned that at the current rate, forest cover in the country is likely to be driven into extinction in 16 years to come.
Arineitwe warned that at the current rate of destruction, by 2033, Uganda’s forests will be no more.
According to Arineitwe, from 1990 to 2015, forest cover in the country has reduced from 24 to 9 percent.
Ugandans are estimated to consume 200,000 hectares of trees annually and plants only 24,000 tree stems only, according to figures by National Forestry Authority (NFA).
He blamed the current extreme draught, floods and imbalances within the natural system especially along equator to indiscriminate tree cutting.
In northern Uganda where commercial dealers have invaded after the end of the LRA insurgency, experts say war helped to keep the forests untouched.
Pope Onen, a retired senior forest officer urged the government to introduce certification for forest production in order to safeguard especially natural trees.
Onen also expressed concern over the increasing rate at which indigenous tree species such as shea nut trees and Prunus Africana which he said have medicinal values are being depleted.
He also noted that these trees take years to grow but they are cut down in minutes.
Other factors blamed for rapid forest destruction across the country are; wildfire, clearing land for settlement, cutting of trees for agriculture, curing tobacco and sugarcane and ranching.
In Uganda, of the 4.9 Million square miles of trees, only 30 percent are in gazzeted areas.
Meanwhile the additional 70 percent are on land owned by private individuals.
Report Compiled by James Owich