Home / News / News archive / 2010 / November 2010 / Protecting trees and communities in Uganda

Protecting trees and communities in Uganda

In Uganda, Oxfam reckons that 70 per cent of natural disasters are being caused by climate change and the agency estimates the country loses 80,000 hectares of crops each year as a result. So the introduction of a three-year forestry project in eastern Uganda to help reduce the impact of climate change is welcome news.

The Territorial Approach to Climate Change (TACC) project will spend 1 million dollars to plant one million trees in the tropical forest around Mount Elgon. Organisations supporting the project include the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UK and Welsh governments. The counsel-general of the Welsh Assembly says the project will sustain an area in the districts of Bududa, Manafwa and Mbale, which is equivalent in size to Wales.

The planting of the trees is designed to restore vitally important forest cover. Earlier this year, a landslide near Mbale killed over 300 people, after unusually high rain hit an area suffering from deforestation. The scheme also aims to mitigate against the effects of climate change, which is causing more severe floods and droughts. There are nearly a million people living in the Mbale region and most are subsistence farmers who are very vulnerable to extremes of weather. The high density of the population in the region (1000 people per square kilometre) also puts a huge strain on the natural resources. According to an official from the African Development Initiative, “the environment is depleting at a fast rate”. He hopes the TACC project will relieve pressure on the area’s eco-system.

But not all forest schemes are welcomed by locals. In southern Uganda, over 4,000 Twa pymies were evicted from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of the Great Lakes region, when it was turned into a national park in 1991. This was done to protect the area’s mountain gorillas, but left the local pygmy community of hunter-gatherers extremely vulnerable. Unskilled at cultivating crops, many now live in poor huts on scrubby hillsides, struggling to survive outside the ancestral forests from which they’re barred.

Some human rights campaigners worry that the new wave of forest initiatives, such as the UN- backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme, will encourage more evictions of indigenous people. REDD provides money to developing nations when they agree to protect, restore and manage sizeable areas of rainforest. Encompassing 58 nations, REDD aims to halve deforestation globally by 2020. Early initiators of REDD projects, such as Brazil, have drafted laws which safeguard indigenous people living in the forests targeted as carbon reserves. However other developing nations have yet to implement such safeguards and international groups will need to be aware of issues concerning the rights of local communities. But locals in eastern Uganda seem pleased with the TACC programme. An official from a community conservation group in Bududa reported the planting of 1,500 seedlings on the slopes of Mount Elgon.

Laurinda Luffman signature