Ugandan Activists Turn to EU to Save Forest With Chimpanzees

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Ugandan activists are lobbying the European Union to back them in a campaign to halt the clearing of part of the country’s third-biggest forest, which is home to chimpanzees, forest elephants and unique plant species.

Conservationists want the EU, a key funder of state environmental agencies, to exert pressure on authorities to reverse a decision to clear 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) of the 41,000-hectare Bugoma Forest and grow sugar cane, said Dickens Kamugisha, chairman of the “Save Bugoma Forest” campaign. Almost 60 non-governmental organizations are involved in the campaign.

Diplomatic intervention may help with a swift court hearing of a challenge against an approved environment and social impact assessment of the project and prompt an investigation into the way land titles were issued by government officials, he said.

“We want the European Union to help us access maps, engage government to do an independent survey and work with the justice, law and order sector to ensure courts hear our cases quickly,” Kamugisha said.

Tree-Climbing Lions

While a total of 22 square miles has been leased to Hoima Sugar Ltd., that land isn’t part of the Bugoma forest, Isaac Imaka, an external spokesman for the company, said by email. However, the company acknowledges that there is a need for sustainable development and it will only use 9 square miles for cane growing, he said.

“We have failed to understand what their problem is,” Imaka said, referring to the campaign. “No one is cutting down Bugoma forest.”

The activists have invited a delegation of EU diplomats to visit the forest, which the Uganda Wildlife Authority says is key to preserving the local ecosystem. The EU is opposed to the destruction of the forest and several of its officials in Uganda have engaged with authorities about the issue in July, according to a statement on the website of the EU’s Ugandan office.

Uganda earned more than $1.6 billion from tourism last year, drawing foreign visitors with attractions such as mountain gorillas, tree-climbing lions and the source of the Nile River. The country has about 1.3 million hectares under forest cover, with 15% managed by the Uganda Forestry Authority. At least 200,000 hectares of forest are cleared annually, mainly for the establishment of plantations, according to Kamugisha.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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