High Court injunctions restraining the eviction of people who have settled in Central Forest Reserves [CFRs] have accelerated encroachment and stalled activities of the National Forest Authority (NFA)in the country, officials have said.
The NFA spokesperson, Ms Julie Mubi, said the court injunctions in Matiri, Ibambaru, Buhungiro, Namanve and Bugoma forest reserves have seen encroachment on the CFRs expand by more than 2,000 hectares between 2010 and 2015.
Ms Mubi explained that whenever a court order restraining NFA from evicting people is secured, the encroachers go ahead to establish farms, settlements by cutting timber.
“Our work has stalled due to high court injunctions because people have misinterpreted them. Although the court injunction state the status quo remains, the encroachers use them to massively encroach on the NFA land,” Ms Mubi said.
She cited a political statement by the president on May 7, 2016 regarding the then evictions of the encroachers by NFA as one that stalled their eviction work of the people who had encroached the forest reserves.
“I don’t want to hear your NFA officials dehumanising the people; they are not ants and should be respected. Ours is not a colonial government, we derive power from the people and therefore they are in charge,” the letter from the President which Daily Monitor accessed stopping evictions reads in part.
Ms Mubi further cited a High Court order where the Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara, Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission under Misc. application No. 066 of 2016 secured a court order that restrained NFA from evicting Hoima Sugar Ltd that had illegally acquired about 8,000 hectares of land from Bugoma Central Forest Reserve. She said many encroachers like Hoima sugar Ltd and other individuals use the injunction to enter further into the park.
This comes at the time minister of Water and Environment, Mr Sam Cheptoris, has tasked NFA to prepare a report on the level of the encroachment which will guide the ministry in management of the forest sector in the country and also enable them come up with a final decision.
An NFA encroachment situational report for 2015 accessed by Daily Monitor indicates that by 1990, Uganda had a forest cover of 3,347, 150 million hectares of forest but that by 2015, there was only 827,695 hectares. The report signed by the NFA executive director, Mr Michael Mugisha, further indicates that between 2000 and 2015, NFA lost 1.0 of the forest cover under their Jurisdiction.