Sustainable Forest Management is achieved by not doing or allowing anything negative to be done to the forests that are in your care. Conversely, the mismanagement of a forest ultimately results in deforestation, a most common phenomena throughout the globe. Deforestation is the removal of a forest where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use. Typical deforestation includes conversion of forestland to farms, ranches or urban use. In the past 20 years Uganda’s forests have dwindled from 5 million hectares to 3.5 million; that is 37.5 %. Many areas are completely void of natural forests already; 29 districts in Uganda are without natural forests. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has stated that within the next 40 years, at the present rate of deforestation, there will be no forests left.
In Uganda, urbanization has been a major causes of deforestation, but even more devastating is the constant cutting down of trees to be sold for timber and the production of charcoal for fuel. As in many third-world countries, Uganda’s “other” cause of deforestation includes corruption of government institutions, and the inequitable distribution of wealth and power. Selling off forests for short-term financial gain has been a serious issue in Uganda. The Ssese Islands is a perfect example of this. Ssese is a group of 84 islands in Lake Victoria between Entebbe and Masaka. Previously these islands were covered in a dense rain forest ecosystem. The government allowed a multinational company to come in and remove the forest and replace it with palm plantations. The palm produces cooking oil, one of the more undesirable products for people’s health. Now that 70% of the forest is gone, so are the hundreds of exotic birds, monkeys and miscellaneous vegetation that created one of the most beautiful forests in East Africa. When they removed the forests, and planted the palm plantations, the snakes were an issue for the workers and so they removed most of them. This tampering with nature always has negative effects, and today Bugala island is inundated with rats; the natural predator of the rats were the snakes.
In terms of “sustainable tourism”, what has occurred in Ssese is a perfect example of doing exactly the opposite of what a responsible government should do. Tourism has been the second greatest money earner for the Ssese Islands, fishing being number one. The biggest draw of the Ssese Islands for tourists has been the rainforest and specifically the wildlife that lived in it. Today, with most of the forest gone, so are the birds, monitor lizards, butterflies and bushbucks that roamed the islands, in particular the biggest island, Bugala. The removal of the trees without sufficient reforestation, results in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and aridity. In addition, it has adverse impacts on biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is what is keeping all the living things on this earth alive. The negative contribution that Uganda is making to this ‘breathing’ process is huge, especially for such a small country. Other adverse effects of removing the forests is soil erosion and ultimately total degrading of the land to wasteland. The greatest negative impact of deforestation in terms of wildlife is that it is the major cause of the extinction of species. The degraded environment caused by deforestation results in reduced biodiversity, depleting habitat for wildlife.
Even the so called protected areas within Uganda are not safe from deforestation. Many of the National Parks in Uganda have human occupation; if not in the parks themselves, then in the immediate surrounding areas. Encroachment of human cultivation is causing the slow removal of the forest, tree by tree, with crops to sustain the human populations. The situation is the exchange of food for the animals for food for the humans. In addition, the constant cutting of trees haphazardly by the humans to provide firewood and charcoal production, is eating away at the habitat that sustains the wildlife. Without proper management of these forests in the National Parks, there will be serious loss of habitat for the wildlife, resulting in species extinction and migration; eventually, the National Parks themselves will be only a memory, as we now know them.
In the Western sector of Uganda there is a reforestation project operated by an NGO that has been quite successful in sustaining the forested area. This project controls the cutting of timbers in the forest for firewood, charcoal production and timber for construction. There have been 600 jobs created for local people by this project and 20% of the reforestation area is strictly for conservation of unique species of vegetation, and is out of bounds for any economic purposes. Unfortunately, this project is relatively small in terms of what is needed in Uganda and is very expensive. Uganda, being one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can ill afford to do this kind of reforestation on a large scale.
Another statistic is that 89% of rural Ugandans rely on burning firewood for cooking; only 10% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity, while the rest use biomass as a source of energy. These numbers are quite alarming, as there does not seem to any quick fix to this deforestation. Human survival is paramount, and the fate of the wildlife that live in these ever-declining forests seems obvious. Ironically, one of the greatest foreign money-earners in Uganda is tourism. Without the forests, it is evident that this source of revenue will be gone with the animals. The situation is worsened by Uganda’s high population growth, which is currently 3.2% per annum. The high fertility rates of 7 children per woman has resulted in the expansion of build-up areas, particularly around Kampala.