Rubanda District Chairperson Kenneth Jogo Biryabarema has accused Rwandans of stealing fertile soils from Echuya Forest Reserve, in south western Uganda.
The reserve, Ranked Uganda’s most important forest habitat due to the rarity of its flora and fauna, stretches from Rubanda to Kisoro districts near the Rwandan border runs between Lake Bunyonyi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
It is home to more than 150 species of birds, eighteen of which are endemic to the reserve, including the Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, the world’s highly endangered bird.
But the future of the forest is threatened, by human activity, according to Biryabarema. He says that for a long time now, Rwandans have been crossing into Echuya, mining fertile loam soil which they take to use as fertilizers and manure in their gardens back home.
He says that in the process, they dig trenches that are left open and endanger the lives of wild animals, in the forest. Biryabarema says that the forest has also been ravaged by National Forestry Authority (NFA) staffs, who were deployed to protect it but instead, put up gardens in the forest and failed to guard it against afforestation and soil mining by Rwandans.
Biryabarema told this publication that Rubanda and Kisoro District officials agreed to lobby for the upgrading of the forest to a National Park as well as transfer its protection from NFA to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
“We feel it can be better protected by UWA when turned into a national park. The government can generate some money from tourists and as a district, we get some money through revenue sharing.”
He added that although there are very many bird species in that area, the government is not collecting any money from people who visit it for birding activities. “It is generally the tour operators who benefit by bringing tourists for bird viewing,” Biryabarema told this publication in an interview.
Biryabarema argued that the district has no manpower to protect the forest stretch along the Rwanda border. The Rwanda side of the forest, he explained, was completely cut down and turned into gardens while that of Uganda is still protected.
Biryabarema added that they have convened meetings with local leaders from Rwanda to address the issue. He said that with the election of the lower level – local council leaders, surveillance will be increased on the Rwanda border.
Biryabarema further said the district is facing a challenge of wild animals that destroy residents’ gardens. He says that people who have had their gardens destroyed by wild animals have not been compensated for a long time, prompting them to start killing wild animals in revenge because of anger.
He added that Rubanda local government leaders proposed to Uganda Wildlife Authority to create buffer separating the part from residents’ gardens but it has not been put up.