KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – In the recent “state of the nation” address by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni he again took a swipe at conservation groups over the Mabira Forest give away to a sugar baron (some 7,200 hectares) and remained firm over the issue which he said ‘with patience will be resolved’, the Daily Monitor reported.
This move will undoubtedly lead to redoubled efforts by the tourism and conservation fraternity to re-galvanize their global coalition to stop this plan. Other government sources had in the past declared that the Mabira give away was off the agenda, but time and again this matter re-emerged in the face of demands to conclude the matter once and for all.
This correspondent only recently referred to governmental statements as blowing both hot and cold on the issue of environmental protection and living up to the various treaties signed for the protection of biodiversity.
As also previously reported, the Kingdom of Buganda and other landowners in the area had offered the Mehta Group alternative land for lease but their corporate greed brushed aside the offer as the forestland would be given to them “for free.” One of the landowners in the area known to this correspondent, who had leased land to the company for growing of sugar cane, was reportedly paid 500 Uganda shillings per acre per year (less than US$.30), a figure not nearly reflecting today’s going market prices for the lease of agricultural land. The sugar baron’s attitude, when negotiating for a new land lease, subsequently leads to a non-renewal of the land lease as a result of corporate stubbornness.
The World Bank, too, with which the Ugandan government had signed an offset agreement against the financing of the Bujagali hydro electric power plant, is likely to raise the matter again, as Mabira is part of the area set aside to protect water catchment for Lake Victoria and the upper Nile basin. Significantly, intended or not, the announcement came a day before the World Environment Day was being celebrated around the world, when major Ugandan companies launched their “Green Goals 2010.”
Meanwhile, reports have also emerged that a flower farm at the world famous Lutembe bay on Lake Victoria has fenced off more acreage into the wetland. Only recently did Nature Uganda and other conservation organizations release bird count figures taken at Lutembe bay in recent years, showing a marked decrease in the arrival of migratory bird species, which had in the past used the wetland as a resting point when arriving from their European and Asian habitats.
As renowned environmental journalist Gerald Tenywa wrote in his hard-hitting article, access to the lake shores is now also blocked for local fishermen, who are facing ruin and starvation if not able to fish on a daily basis.
NEMA has also sent an inspection team to the location and apparently ordered the fence to be removed, a directive not yet followed by the flower firm’s management, while residents – supported by environmental and conservation groups have vowed to take the fight to Europe and lobby flower importers to shun shipments from this particular flower farm.
Going by experience this seems the strongest course of action, should local lobbying fail to produce results, as European consumers have been increasingly sensitive to bad environmental practice in producer countries and importing firms in the European and American markets are nowadays loath to be connected with suppliers not living up to best environmental, labor and other civilized norms, which could seriously impact on their market standing and reputation in their home markets.
Global giants like Nike have found that out at their expense and the threat of such action may ultimately compel local Ugandan environmental offenders to eventually come around and embrace best global practice, unless they want to face a consumer boycott across their export markets.