UGANDA: LOCAL OFFICIAL WARNS “FORIGNERS” OVER DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT AS HE FIGHTS ILLEGAL CHARCOAL BUSINESS

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Mr. Ojara Martin Mapenduzi addressing charcoal and timber traders in Gulu town, January 12, 2016.

GULU: The chairman of Gulu district local government has warned “foreigners” who come to destroy the environment by indiscriminately cutting down woodland and forests for illegal charcoal business to stop business forthwith.

Mr. Ojara Martin Mapenduzi issued the warning during a meeting he convened between those who deal in charcoal and timber businesses aimed at legalizing their trade. The meeting took place from the district headquarters on Tuesday, January 12, 2016 as a measure to protect the environment and mitigate climate change.

“I have a message for you (foreigners). You want to come to our district and destroy our environment! The Constitution allows you to stay anywhere, but it does not grant you permit to destroy the environment”, says the district boss.

“If you want to do business, why don’t you buy from the locals? Think about the future of this district. We are not going to allow you to destroy our environment”, says the Chairman much to the clapping of hands of the local business persons in the hall.

The Gulu District Executive Committee (DEC) in Northern Uganda has put a temporary ban on trade in charcoal and timber business in the district as a means of protecting the Environment and fight climate change.

During its meeting of December 29, 2015, DEC put a temporary ban on charcoal burning and lumbering with effect from January 05, 2016 until the traders legalize their business.

Those who were caught by the temporary ban on business have up to Wednesday, January 13, 2016 to declare them with local authority for clearance after paying  fee for doing business with the district, before they are allowed to transport their merchandize to the market.

They are further instructed to make sure that their old stock is cleared by Saturday, January 16, 2016. This will make the local council to begin fresh registration of those who would like to continue with business so as to begin on a clean sheet with effect from Monday, January 18, 2016.

“What we have decided will not change. The suspension is on until it is lifted. No one person should burn charcoal until procedures are followed. No one person should cut any timber until procedures are followed. Those who have charcoal somewhere should know that the conditions are very stringent”, says the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Gulu Mr. John Bosco Akera.

Mr. Akera gave the directive to dealers in charcoal and timber business persons from the district headquarters on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  

Mr. Mapenduzi revealed that those who were doing illegal trade in charcoal wanted to kill his driver at night after they were intercepted transporting charcoal to Kampala (332 kilometers away) during the enforcement exercise of the ban.

“They wanted to kill my driver at night. You cannot come to our district and you terrorize the people. What if we take the law in our hands?”, says Mapenduzi.

The District Forest Officer, Mr. Samuel Abwola said for each bag of charcoal destined for local market, the person must pay shs3000/= (about one US dollar) while those who take charcoal to Kampala city should pay shs10000 (about 3$US dollars). Those who supply educational institutions with firewood will pay shs.60000 (about 10$ US dollars) per lorry load. There is a fine of shs2 million (about 570$ US dollars) for anyone who will break the new guidelines for charcoal or timber business.

Thirty-two year old Ida Lakot, who sells charcoal at Market Street in Gulu, says she spent sleepless nights worrying over school fees for three out of her six children whose father, the late Christopher Oryema who died in 2006, because she is not making any profit from her business.   

According to Ida, she gets supply from two motorcycle riders who bring her two bags of charcoal on credit each trip, from Paicho and Awach sub-counties in Aswa in Gulu district at shs26000/= (less than 10$ US dollars) per bag. She sells each bag at shs30000/= (about 10$ US dollars). She uses charcoal for shs2000 (less than one $ US dollar) for cooking at her home per day.

“My new husband, who inherited me, does not want to support the children I produced with the first husband. Last night I did not sleep over worries on how I will pay for fees of my orphaned son, Francis Kakanyero, who scored 22 in the just released Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) exams results”, laments Ida.

A motor cycle rider, Joel Onek, has another worry altogether. He has a motorcycle loan which he has to service at shs60000/= (about 10$ US dollars) per week. He says by paying shs3000/= (about one $ US dollars) for each of the bags of charcoal he brings to town from Cwero in Paicho, it will eat into his profit.

“I bring to town only two bags per day which I buy at shs15000/=, which I sell at shs26000. If you add the cost of fuel for the motorcycle, it means I may never be able to service the loan for the motorcycle”, laments Joel.

The Chairman of Uganda National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), also Vice Chancellor of Gulu University, Pro. Jack Nyeko Pen Mogi, appealed to government to lower the cost of electricity and gas for cooking if Uganda wants to conserve the environment.

“Until the price of electricity and gas comes down, it will be very difficult to implement the ban on charcoal business. The cost of electricity and gas are very high and even well to do people in Kampala cannot afford to use electricity or gas. They use charcoal for cooking. It is affecting the countryside very much”, says Pro. Pen Mogi.    

The Scholar made the remarks during an interview on Thursday, January 7, 2016 from Paicho sub-county headquarters. He had accompanied Mr. Mapenduzi for an on the spot assessment of the impact charcoal burning business on the environment and of the community of the worst affected sub-county in Gulu district.

Prof. Pen Mogi appealed to the community to love trees by planting crops such as bananas, coffee and cocoa which grow well among and under trees instead of planting perennial crops such as maize to earn better income.

“What you are doing is not to clear land for commercial agriculture, but to sell the trees to “foreigners” who come here to destroy our environment. None of you can till five acres in a year but you have cleared sixty acres of trees. This must stop”, says the Scholar.

The District Environment Officer Ms. Francesca Atto says the district is in the process of registering all the farmers who gave their land to be cleared of trees with the aim of planting the depleted area with new trees to mitigate climate change.

“If we find that you have destroyed ten acres of trees, then you must also be ready to plant ten acres of new trees. We shall make sure that you plant all the seedlings we shall supply you with”, says Francesca. 

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