Save Bugoma Forest

Save Bugoma Forest

On 25th April 2019 the court of Masindi issued a ruling against National Forestry Authority, in the lawsuit by Hoima Sugar & Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom against National Forestry Authority of 2016, recognizing that the Muhangaizima sector of Bugoma Forest with 5579 hectares was actually not part of the protected reserve, but the property of the King of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. This political decision of the court came as a de facto degazzetment of the reserve, in disrespect of the Parliament of Uganda, which is the only body mandated to degazzette protected reserves and this triggered a vehement indignation by civil society organizations. It was clear from the Court decision that a key witness from Ministry of Land, Commissioner Mr. Wilson Ogalo, testifying that in his view the area claimed by Hoima Sugar was not part of the reserve, played a crucial role in what later on would be the destruction of Bugoma Forest.

In response to the court ruling, the Association for Conservation of Bugoma Forest called for a stakeholder’s engagement meeting which took place at National Forestry Authority headquarter on 30th April 2019 at 10 am. The meeting concluded with the launch of Save Bugoma Forest Campaign.

On 14th August 2020 National Environmental Management Authority, through the signature and the endorsement of then Executive Director Mr. Tom Okurut, issued the certificate of environmental and social impact assessment to Hoima Sugar, setting off the graders which destroyed a bit part of the forest for sugar cane plantation. The civil society organization mounted a number of lawsuits against the destroyers, all of them turned down by magistrate Justice Ssekaana Musa. In 2022 another lawsuit against NEMA, Hoima Sugar is still in Kampala High Court.

Objectives of the campaign

  1. To stop the destruction of Bugoma Forest chimpanzee sanctuary for sugar cane growing and timber business.
  2. To reclaim the natural forest lost and enhance its legal protection.
  3. To boycott Hoima Sugar LTD, a very unscrupulous agent of environmental devastation.

The problem of Bugoma Forest

Huge threats are challenging the existence of Bugoma forest since 2016. Private investors in sugar cane, Hoima Sugar LTD and MZ Agencies, backed by political support have first claimed big portions of the protected reserve, then from August 2020 started to convert the forest into sugar cane plantation after having harvested the timber.

On 1st August 2016 a land title was issued by Uganda Land Commission (Ministry of Lands) in the name of Omukama (king) of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom (which is a local cultural institution) and, subsequently, the king issued a lease to Hoima Sugar Limited. The land title is entirely comprised in the forest reserve, being the Muhangaizima sector for 5579 hectares or about 55 square kilometers. The National Forestry Authority or NFA (the State agency managing Bugoma Forest) took Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar to Court in Masindi over this illegal title, but the final ruling issued on 25th April 2019 saw the victory of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar LTD, that obtained recognition of their legal ownership of part of Bugoma Forest. On August 14th 2020 Hoima Sugar Ltd obtained the Certificate of Approval from National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) after the process of an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was conducted, and this paved the way for the destruction of 22 square miles of Bugoma Forest that started in August 2020.

The illegal title in the forest reserve to Hoima Sugar is still up for cancellation by February 2021, but the forest is under clearing.

The Hoima Sugar case is not the only one. MZ Agencies LTD (by businessman Mustapha Zaid) on 20th September 2018 was issued a land title by Uganda Land Commission (Ministry of Lands) over an area of approximately 925 hectares of natural forest. Again a case was opened by MZ Agencies against National Forestry Authority (NFA) where the authority is accused of expropriating MZ Agencies of the land they believe to own in the forest reserve. On March 10, 2020, MZ Agencies obtained a favorable court order to chase away National Forestry Authority and UPDF soldiers that were guarding Bugoma Forest. On May 14, 2020, all security personnel left and MZ Agencies sent a number of people starting to clear the forest. Currently MZ Agencies are clearing Bugoma Forest.

Backward politics linked to economic interests in the sugar cane and timber business made this situation possible. In 2020 when the whole world was suffering because of the loss of the environment and the causes of pandemics, in Uganda there were still people who believed that their selfish interests are superior to the protection of a State reserve.

Why Bugoma Forest should be protected

  1. Bugoma is a State forest reserve of huge biodiversity importance and the process of clearance should first pass via a Parliamentary act of degazzetment, which did not happen.
  2. It is already well known in Uganda that sugar cane cannot bring development and its economic value cannot by far meet the value of an ancient pristine natural tropical forest. The case of Mukono in Uganda is a clear example of poverty created by sugar cane development for local farmers; the price for sugar cane is on the constant decrease due to very limited market with excess production.
  3. Clearance of a prime tropical forest reserve is contravening the following Sustainable Development Goals to which Uganda works under United Nation framework: goal 6 to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes as Bugoma is a water catchment and commercial sugar cane plantation will pollute and destroy water sources;  goal 13 to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts whereby it is paramount to protect forests as a climate stabilizer; and goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Why they are clearing Bugoma Forest?

  • To have access to free timber for trade, in disrespect of all regulations and by clearing a natural forest reserve. From August 2020 Bugoma became the center in Uganda for all illegal timber dealers and a market for timber sales. It is estimated a gain in selling timber by 65,000 US Dollars per hectare.
  • To have access to sugar cane plantation.
  • To pay back the sponsorship of political careers.

Who is responsible for all this disaster?

  • Ugandan military (UPDF). The Ugandan military is involved in the business of timber dealing from Bugoma as military officials are the ones doing the business.
  • Hoima Sugar Limited. The company played a political role in Bunyoro region by sponsoring all political leaders to favor its interests as well as influencing court decisions. It operates in disregard of the environment and in violation of the human rights as it is well documented in the Ugandan medias concerning cases of land grabbing, forceful evictions and torture, polluting the environment and destroying natural resources.  The company is owned by the Rai family having for directors Sarbjit Singh Rai, Rajbir Singh Rai and Amaanraj Singh Rai. The company is linked to the Kinyara Sugar company of Uganda, having Directors Amaanraj Singh Rai and William Byaruhanga who is also Attorney General of the Republic of Uganda. Hoima Sugar paid a media propaganda saying that the area they are clearing is not part of Bugoma Forest, it is not a forest but grassland and that they are working for the “economic development” of the area.
  • Uganda Land Commission. It issued land titles in the forest reserve and provided witnesses in court favoring Hoima Sugar. The land title for Hoima Sugar is still pending cancellation by February 2021 while the forest is been cut.
  • Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. This is the local cultural institution of the Bunyoro region. It placed a claim over Bugoma State forest reserve stating that it belongs to the Kingdom based on the Restitution of properties to Traditional Rulers Act 1993; however, State forest reserves are not considered part of properties open for restitution and for the Constitution of Uganda forest and national natural resources are kept by the State on behalf of the citizens.
  • Resident District Commissioners (RDC) of Hoima and Kikuube Districts. The RDC supported the clearing of Bugoma Forest acting more as agents of Hoima Sugar, without independence, explaining in public and in articles in the newspapers that stopping Hoima Sugar is equal to “economic and political sabotage” in an area that is already very poor and in need of development. They also said nothing about all the illegalities in trading timber out from Bugoma Forest.
  • National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The agency issued on 14th August 2020 the Certificate of Approval to allow Hoima Sugar to destroy 5579 hectares of Bugoma Forest for sugar cane growing and other activities with the full support of the ED Mr. Tom Okurut. In the Impact Assessment made for Hoima Sugar, NEMA reports wrong information stating that the area is not a forest but “grassland” and that it is not part of Bugoma Forest. The certificate was issued when the sister government agency National Forestry Authority is still in court over the appeal concerning the ownership of the forest.
  • National Forestry Authority (NFA). The court cases that National Forestry Authority handles against Hoima Sugar and MZ Agencies are not sufficiently strong to resolve the matter of the protection of the boundaries of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve. 

What are the implications of the destruction of Bugoma Forest?

  • Loss of key biodiversity and protected endangered species like the chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes) and Ugandan mangabeys, in violation of Sustainable Development Goals 6, 13 and 15.
  • Alterations in climate change and in the regional ecosystem, where Bugoma Forest is a water catchment and offer one of the few carbon confiscation options in the region of Bunyoro, where it is undergoing a huge development of the oil industry including the construction of an oil refinery just North of Bugoma forest.
  • Negative effect to all other regional businesses and investments except sugar cane like: eco-tourism development, tourist accommodation development, other agricultural investments like tea, coffee, beekeeping all affected by the climate change and by change of land use in the area.

Actions and fundraising: we can do something

The coalition Save Bugoma Forest Campaign 2020 was launched on 26th June 2020 by a number of civil society organizations in Uganda, in the fields of environment, the tourism sector, advocacy and human rights.

The campaign was aiming at halting the destruction of Bugoma Forest, reclaiming the forest cover lost and to block Hoima Sugar in pursuing its objective of environmental devastation.

A number of strategies were put in place. The strategies involved the following areas of activities:

  1. Legal actions to counter act all the negative results of legal cases that affected the existence of Bugoma Forest;
  2. Advocacy actions by engaging all relevant stakeholders having a responsibility over the conservation of Bugoma Forest and by engaging in all those activities which helps raising visibility over the case of Bugoma Forest in the public.

List of organizations subscribing Save Bugoma Forest Campaign, with Association for Conservation of Bugoma Forest