Uganda Forest Sector on a Blink of Collapse as COVID-19 Pandemic Lags On

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Guest Post – By Anywar Decimon: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Uganda on March 20th, 2020, the country went under lockdown affecting institutional functioning.

Uganda’s forest sector is one area under blink of collapse due to the outbreak of the pandemic, which is disrupting the forest law enforcement system. Individuals are taking advantage of the situation by engaging in illegal forest activities that jeopardize the principal sustainable utilization of the resources.

In late March 2020, the COVID-19 task force of Gulu City – which is at the center of the charcoal transit movement to major urban centers – passed a resolution restricting the movement of charcoal due to fear of transmission of the COVID-19 disease on the realization of illegal transportation of the resources.

#StayHomeSafe campaigns by the Ministry of Health to help combat the spread of the disease, have increased the use of biomass energy – which constitutes over 80% of the energy mix of Uganda – up to 50%. This has led to high market demand, price and production which is inevitable in this situation.

The Presidential directive on the lockdown leaves room for cargo movement including transportation of forest produce, and with the forest law enforcement system under lockdown, eventually comes unregulated use and management of the resources.

Ministerial Conference on African Forest Law Enforcement and Governance in 2003 in Yaoundé, Cameroon provide for good governance of forest resources by African states, disruption and failure in forest governance system will lead to illegal and unsustainable utilization of the resources leading to socio-economic and ecological costs.

This affects the country’s economy in the long run owing that opportunities such as revenues, the resource health and biodiversity sustainability could be tampered with.

The Forest sector is one of the primary contributors to the national economy, contributing up to 6% to the GDP. Before the outbreak of the disease, the sector had a number of challenges including institutional incapacity, law enforcement issues, governance, and pressure from the local poor depending on the forest products, but these have been regulated by stakeholder partnerships and coordinated law enforcement. However, since the outbreak of the disease, the functionality of the law enforcement system has fissured.

With the presidential directive on the lockdown giving window for agricultural activities, tree planting in Uganda has been poorly appreciated. It’s estimated to be 28 times lower compared to harvesting ratio. This is partly because most local communities prefer use of indigenous trees for fuelwood to promoted fast growing exotic trees.

The economic crisis in Uganda such that caused by President Amin’s regime in 1970s and Kony’s War has had enormous impacts on forest resources. A case in point in 1970s, the institutional disruption led to collapse of the Forest Department which took several reforms to help revive the sector.

Between 2005 to 2015 there was high percentage forest cover lost compared to any other years in the Uganda’s history which possibly explains recovery period of the Internally Displaced Persons and breakdown in law enforcement system and governance during Kony’s war which will be the case in this situation of COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the total percentage of forest cover in Uganda stands at 8% as compared to 24% in 1990.

To avoid a recurrence of past scenarios of such economic crisis on forest resources, I recommend incorporation of forest law enforcement into the COVID-19 taskforce to support integration of forest law enforcement and in addition, government should subsidize other energy costs to relieve pressure on the use of biomass.

Anywar Decimon, Environmentalist, Team Leader, Integrational Agenda on Climate Change (IGACC),  @DesmondAnywar


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