KAMPALA, May 19  – A consortium of conservationists trying to stop the destruction of Bugoma Forest Reserve in western Uganda will on May 21 appeal a High Court judgment that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to quash a licence allowing a private company to establish a sugar plantation in a section of the natural forest.

The Save Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) lost the lawsuit on May 7 in a ruling by Judge Musa Ssekana. SBFC members had sought the court’s intervention to quash the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate of approval that was issued to Hoima Sugar Ltd (HSL). The certificate was issued in August 2020 by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), allowing Hoima Sugar to clear part of Bugoma Forest to pave the way for a sugar plantation and other “developments”.

According to SBFC, the judge erred in his grounds for dismissing the case.

“If the judge’s decision is left unchallenged, the mafia groups that are intent on grabbing all Uganda’s forests and wetlands while being aided by some corrupt government agencies and officials who have continued to misuse and abuse our laws will be given the legal cover that they need to completely destroy the country’s important eco-sensitive areas,” said SBFC in a press release.

In its initial lawsuit in September 2020, SBFC members argued that both NEMA and Hoima Sugar Ltd committed procedural irregularities and violated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) laws prior to the approval of Hoima Sugar Ltd’s ESIA report for its Kyangwali Mixed Land Use project.

According to Uganda’s National Forest Authority (NFA), remote sensing surveys show that 190ha of the forest has already been degraded.

Bugoma Forest Reserve is a tropical natural forest that is rich in biodiversity, including endangered chimpanzees. It is also a water catchment for Lake Albert and a migratory corridor for wildlife. It was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932 and placed under the management of NFA. The forest covers a total of 41,144ha.

The Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development in August 2016 issued a title deed for 5,770ha (about 22 square miles) of Bugoma Forest to Bunyoro-Kitara tribal kingdom without following the legal process of degazettement.

On August 14, 2020, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) issued a certificate of approval to the Hoima Sugar Limited project. The permit was allegedly granted without the legally required involvement of the public in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report.

The Rai Group has a large footprint in the manufacture of wood products in East Africa, including Kenya, and has also been implicated in the destruction of the Mau Forest in Kenya through logging, according to press reports. Mau Forest is a key water tower. It is a catchment for crucial rivers such as the Ewaso Nyiro and the Mara rivers, whose volumes have been in decline, largely due to deforestation.