The scientific debate, whether climate change is occurring or not, is over. Climate change is now a scientifically established fact. Climate change is growing every day, every hour and every minute of inaction. The world and Uganda in particular, have faced the challenge of adjusting to the continuously changing climatic. This can be evidenced by the recent tragic events in Bududa, Kabale, and Butaleja districts.
Deforestation and forest degradation are some of the major environmental concerns in Uganda today. The UN and FAO estimated that in 1890, approximately 45 per cent of Uganda was covered by forests and woodlands, representing about 10.8 million hectares (108.000km2). This forestry estate had declined to only 20 per cent of the land area in 1900 and to about 3 per cent by 2000. FAO further estimates that Uganda is losing about 50,000 ha (0.8 per cent) of its forestland each year through deforestation.
Official estimates of conversion of forestland in 1994 ranged from 70,000 ha to 200,000 ha (Nema, 2007). The deforestation rate is very high in Uganda and if no measures are taken, then we are doomed. According to Mr Xavier Mugumya, Uganda’s forest management specialist at the National Forestry Authority, Uganda is likely to have very low, if not completely no forest cover in the next 50 years, if nothing is done to reverse the trend, Reuters on July 9th 2009.
Forest conservation is our shield against disaster
Forests play a great role of mitigating and adapting climate change. They act as carbon sinks; serve as catchment for water bodies, control floods, and help in formation of rainfall. Today, more than 90 per cent of Ugandans do not to have access to electricity and other clean sources of energy and heavily depend on fuel wood for energy. Only about 1 per cent of Uganda’s rural population can access and utilise electricity. The majority of those who access electricity, can only use it for lighting and radio sets due to the high electricity tariffs. The impacts of limited access to electricity coupled with the high power tariffs directly reflect on the pressure experienced by forests as a source of energy and as a resource.
On the other hand, poverty coupled with inadequate policies, poor policy implementation, high population, lack of awareness as well as isolating management of forest resources from community participation are leading factors that have led to their unsustainable use. In addition, reclamation of forested land for agricultural activities and the use poor farming methods as a result of lack of awareness about modern farming greatly contribute to forest degradation.
There is need to sensitise people to modernise agriculture in order to reduce extensive cultivation associated with low-in put agriculture. This will reduce clearing of forests for agriculture. Rural people also use a lot of firewood; therefore, there is need to sensitise them to use the method that does not consume a lot of firewood like the use of improved cooking stoves and tree planting among others. Rural financing should be extended to rural farmers in order to reduce the cutting down of trees to expand land for cultivation. Farmers should participate in other activities like trade other than agriculture.
Promoting the use of clean energy like geothermal, or wind and biogas will stop reliance on wood fuel and charcoal and this will lead to forest conservation.
Rural electrification should be extended to the villages and the tariffs reduced in order to enable people access and afford electricity.
Conserving forests and tree planting will help mitigate the effects of climate change by increasing carbon storage and cutting green house gases responsible for climate change.
Ms Akankwasa is the programme assistant, Africa Institute For Energy Governance