The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has asked member states to embark on massive tree planting campaigns so as to conserve forests.
This comes as the region embarks on promoting policies to make the East African Community (EAC) Green.
In order to achieve the agenda of making the community green, the legislators are now calling for the retrieval of the EAC Forests Management and Protection Bill 2015 for re-consideration,
They hope to amend and have (the Bill) assented to by the EAC Heads of State within the shortest time possible.
Mathias Kasamba, Uganda’s representative to EALA, also head of the Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources, is moving the resolution urging the Council of Ministers (for Environment and natural resources) to conserve forests which he said are under threat.
“There is concern that if these practices (deforestation) continue, the Community will lose approximately 12 million hectares of forest cover by 2030. This will expose the local communities to the dangers associated with deforestation, which among others, include climate change due to drought,” Hon Kasamba told an attentive House recently.
The Assembly was informed that in order for the Community to protect the many benefits from forests and ensure livelihoods for the people that live in and around forests, the Community needs to adopt programmes on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) “plus” alongside sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and adopt programmes aimed at halting or preventing the destruction of forests.
During the same seating other legislators such as Hon Dr Woda Jeremiah Odok advised the member states to support the utilization of alternative technologies that minimize tree cutting especially for firewood and home consumption purposes.
Lost forest cover
Available information indicates that the region has lost about 6 million hectares of forest cover.
Assessing the gravity of the problem in Uganda, a government report revealed that the country’s forest cover has dropped to 9%, representing a 3% drop in just two years since 2015.
Tanzania, with land area 945,687sq km is home to one of the largest tree cover in the world, but it is similarly at risk. A forest inventory by the Tanzania Forest Services Agency in 2015, found that forests and wooded areas cover over 48 million hectares of land.
About other EAC states, Kasamba told the legislators that Kenya had lost a large portion of its forest cover over the years, though it gained a substantive portion in the 10 years to 2015.
However, compared to the rest in the region, Rwanda is one of the only countries in the world that has a positive rate of afforestation.
“Every year, more trees are planted and protected in Rwanda than cut down. This is no easy feat considering Rwanda’s population density and the economic pressure on the small land size,” Kasamba said.
Statistics from Rwanda indicates that by the end of 1994, forests had been eliminated from 78 % of the country and were decreasing at rate of 7% per year, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the United Nations.
However, from 2015 to 2016, the Rwandan government had planted 32 million seedlings, which is equivalent to the reforestation of 15,000 hectares.
On Southern Sudan, despite the fact that the country is estimated to have about 33% forest cover, its forests and their associated ecosystem goods and services are also under significant threat due to human activities.
The activities that have fuelled deforestation in the African youngest states include illegal logging, unplanned and inefficient agricultural practices, and an unregulated charcoal industry.
In Burundi, the House was informed that deforestation is a major environmental concern in the country which is also the beginning of the problem of climate change. About 172000ha (6.7%) of the country constitute forests, among which 33.3% (40,000ha) are classified as primary forests.
According to FAO (2017) between 1990 and 2010 Burundi lost an average of 5850 hectares (2.02% of trees) per year. In total Burundi lost 117000 hectares (40.05%) of their forest over the course of twenty years, and the numbers are still drastically increasing.
Forest management Bill
In order to restore the depleted forest cover, the legislators are now calling for the councils of Ministers to ensure that the East African forest management Bill receives the attention when brought back on the floor of parliament because the Bill is vital to the community’s natural resources.
“The Council of Ministers to ensure the Bill on forestry receives the due attention given the importance of the environment. The council should create more awareness creation on the impact of environmental degradation and the immediate solutions to current degradation are to consider the option of planting trees” said Susan Nakawuki, also legislator at the EALA representing Uganda.
Hon Dr Oburu Oginga remarked that the region’s water towers were drying up due to the nature human conflict arising from many citizens grabbing land in forests and cutting trees. “This is a big problem given that some are acquiring title deeds and it thus becomes a challenge to recover when it becomes occupied as it tends to take a political angle,” the legislator said.
The remarks from the legislators urging the EAC members states to plant trees come after Uganda recently planted over 10 million trees as part of the corporate social responsibility for most both government and Private sector corporations.
BY SAMUEL NABWIISO