Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, has agreed to investigate possible measures for the protection of Kafuga Forest – which is under threat of being destroyed by militant tea growers.
The minister had a ten-minute meeting this afternoon with Robert Tumwesigye, Director of ITF partner Pro Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU), who presented him with a letter explaining the importance of conserving the forest – and a mass petition signed by concerned citizens from Uganda and all over the world.
Robert said: “The Minister read the whole letter and we explained to him the situation on the ground. He forwarded the letter to his technical team to take action.
“He indicated that he will give the response to PROBICOU in writing but he did not give a time frame.”
He expressed some satisfaction with the outcome – although it is not clear at this stage what action Prof Kamantu will take, if any.
In the meantime there is a risk that tea growers, some of whom have already bought axes and pangas, could start cutting the forest down at any time.
A group of more than 250 tea growers, backed by local government officials, want to clear fell the Kafuga Forest, a remnant of rainforest on the fringes of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park because of a shortage of public land for tea plantations.
Bwindi is home to 400 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas and Kafuga is a vital buffer zone which helps to minimise contact between gorillas and the surrounding human population. If the forest is destroyed, this would also deprive local people of an important source of food, medicine and fresh water.
PROBICOU’s #SaveKafugaForest campaign is supported by ITF, Rainforest Rescue and Greenpeace Africa. At the latest count, PROBICOU’s petition to save Kafuga has attracted 148, 568 signatures.
ITF has helped PROBICOU raise 30,000 indigenous trees to restore parts of Kafuga Forest which have become degraded. But plans to plant out the trees had to be abandoned when the tea-growers’ plans were revealed last September.