NAIROBI, Oct 7 (Swara) – Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has found that a private company allowed to establish a sugar plantation in a section of the Bugoma Forest in the west of the country had contravened some of the terms of its licence and had engaged in deforestation.

In a press release dated September 27, NEMA said that Hoima Sugar Ltd had engaged in “deforestation of the natural reserved forest areas contrary to approval condition 4.3 (i)(c). As a result of this, the area of natural forests that was supposed to be protected has been affected severely degraded.”

“There was deforestation of the eco-tourism site contrary to approval condition 4.3 (i)(c) which has affected the quality of the site for eco-tourism purposes,” the Authority added.

Environmental advocacy groups, including the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS), had in 2020 warned that the decision to clear part of Bugoma Forest in favour of commercial agriculture threatened to destroy the entire natural forest along with biodiversity found in the ecosystem. The forest covers a total of 41,144 hectares and is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine Rift Valley and adjacent to Budongo Forest and Semuliki National Park.

NEMA, following its review of Hoima Sugar Ltd’s activities on the ground, ordered the company to take the following actions “to safeguard the environment and avoid any further damage to the environment:”

  • Immediately stop any further deforestation of the natural reserved forest area, eco-tourism area, cultural sites and land reserved for an urban centre.
  • No sugar cane should be planted in the natural reserved forest area, ecotourism area, cultural sites area and land reserved for the urban centre. The sugar cane must be restricted to areas permitted in the certificate.
  • The 312.3ha earlier approved for the urban centre is halted to be kept as a natural forest given the country’s efforts to recover forest cover loss.
  • Restore all degraded areas of the natural reserved forest area, ecotourism area, cultural sites and land reserved for the urban centre.
  • Prepare a restoration plan for the degraded areas in consultation with the Forestry Sector Support Department of the Ministry of Water and Environment (FSSD), National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and submit the same to this Authority for approval within not more than three months from the date of this order.
  • Implement the Restoration Plan at the company’s cost with guidance from FSSD, NFA and UWA to the satisfaction of this Authority.

Hoima Sugar was also ordered to permit interested third parties approved by NEMA to participate in the restoration process of the degraded areas.

NEMA warned Hoima Sugar that failure to comply with its instructions would result in the cancellation of the issued Environmental Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate and further legal action against the company.

“We strongly urge developers to abide by conditions of approval in Environment and Social Impact Certificates. NEMA will not relent on efforts to ensure that development projects are undertaken in a sustainable manner and that the environment is not compromised,” the Authority added.

The East African Wild Life Society applauds NEMA’s move to protect Bugoma Forest and urges other enforcement institutions to closely monitor the implementation of the orders issued to ensure full compliance. EAWLS also appeals to Hoima Sugar Ltd to empower local community groups by involving them in the restoration of the degraded parts of the forest.