Mabira Forest, which covers some 30,000 hectares spanning the districts of Mukono, Buikwe and Kayunga in central Uganda, has had a chequered history.
The eastern part of the rainforest was degraded in the 1970s up to the early 1990s following excisions on the blessings of the president Idi Amin, under his double agriculture production programme.
People settled in the reserve and cut down the trees to grow crops, build homes and trading centres.
When the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni came to power, his government had to carry out massive evictions aimed at restoring the forest.
It was therefore ironical that it had to content with bloody riots in Kampala in April 2007 over a planned excision of a part of the forest. At least three people died in the riots.
The riots were triggered by a government plan to offer a section of the forest to a private sugar company to grow cane. But citizens boycotted that sugar and intense mobilisation through text messages rallied people to support the “Save Mabira Campaign.”
President Museveni stood on one side as the “giver” following his public support of the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd which was asking for the land. Ten years later, Mabira has recovered thanks to efforts by the National Forests Authority (NFA).
“We started the replanting process in 2013 but because of NFA’s low funding, we were only planting 5 hectares per year. So far we have restored 1,500 hectares in the eastern part of Mabira, aided by the Kalagala Offset Programme,” the forest supervisor of the Maligita Forest Station in Mabira, Zacharia Zema Okuni, told The EastAfrican.
The World Bank-funded programme started in April 2016.
According to the Mabira Forest Lwankima sector manager Micheal Ojja, the Wakasi component was severely degraded two to three years ago.
“We had fights with local politicians when we evicted the encroachers,” Mr Ojja said. “Politicians wanted their people to continue cultivating on the land. It is now recovering because there is no interference by local communities.”
According to the Joint Water and Environment Sector Review Report (2016), the major challenge for forest management in Uganda is deforestation.
Forest cover declined from 24 per cent in 1990 to 11 per cent in 2015. NFA figures show that on average Uganda is losing about 92,000 hectares of forest cover annually — 20.2 per cent private land, and 4.9 per cent in protected areas.
“There is increasing demand for wood products in the market and people have almost finished forests on private land and now have resorted to illegally cutting timber in central forest reserves,” NFA, executive director Michael Mugisa said.
Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets restoration of the country’s forest cover from 15 per cent to 24 per cent by 2040.
“We have reversed encroachment levels out of the 150,000 hectares that had been encroached on, and so far 60,000 hectares have been secured.
These areas are now regenerating naturally. On average we restore 2,000 hectares per year,” said Mr Mugisa.