For the love of Bugoma: The young Ugandans defending Bugoma forest

For the love of Bugoma: The young Ugandans defending Bugoma forest

Published By Afiego |  June 5, 2024

Nuriat Keitesi, a 17-year-old student from Kikuube district in Western Uganda, is a curiosity. While her age-mates are preoccupied with light-hearted matters, Keitesi is focused on an important task: the conservation of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which neighbours her home.

Bugoma forest, which measures 41,144 hectares and was gazetted in 1932, is one of the few remaining tropical rainforests in Uganda’s ecosensitive and biodiverse Albertine Graben. The forest, which was home to over 600 chimpanzees before its destruction started, plays water and food provisioning, biodiversity conservation, climate stabilization and various socio-cultural roles for men, women, youth and children’s benefits.

Despite its importance, the forest is under immense pressure as land grabbers have lain claim to over 10,000 hectares of the forest. Some Ugandan government agencies are aiding and abetting the Ugandans who lay claim to the forest. Hoima Sugar Ltd is among these land grabbers, and having received an environmental permit from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) following irregular processes, the company is destroying the forest for sugarcane growing.

Allowing Hoima Sugar Ltd to cultivate sugarcane in Bugoma forest created an avalanche of destruction with illegal loggers, charcoal burners, cultivators and others descending on the forest to destroy it.

Keitesi and other young rising stars that are defending Bugoma forest including 17-year-old Charles Twongyeirwe, a farmer’s son, and Kadarah Amumpire hold Bugoma forest near and close to their heart.

They have a deep personal connection to the forest because they grew up accessing herbs and firewood from the forest while rivers such as Hohwa from the forest provided them with clean water. The chimpanzees, birds and other biodiversity in the forest also provide tourism opportunities. Keitesi, Twongyeirwe and Amumpire understand that the destruction of Bugoma forest would be an immense ecological disaster and a cultural as well as spiritual loss.

The youth are therefore united around their shared passion for Bugoma and a belief that their generation must take action to secure its future. The youth are doing the following to protect the forest: raise their peers’ awareness on the need to protect Bugoma forest, conduct patrols, document illegal activities, and pressure authorities to take action.

Keitesi, Twongyeirwe and Amumpire, who aspire to partner with Ugandan and international organisations to build capacity for conservation efforts and raise funds, say that Bugoma forest faces a number of challenges. These include: land grabbing claims, sugarcane growing, illegal logging, charcoal burning, farming in the forest and others.

The youth hope that they can create pressure for enforcement environmental laws to conserve their forest.