The Ugandan government has promised to investigate the threat to Kafuga Pocket Forest following the launch of a campaign last October by ITF partner the Pro Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU).
A group of more than 250 tea growers want to clear fell the Kafuga Pocket Forest, a remnant of rainforest on the fringes of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The plan is allegedly backed by some local government officials and the Kigezi Highland Tea Company – and some tea growers have already bought axes in preparation for felling trees.
Bwindi is home to 400 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas and Kafuga is part of a vital buffer zone between the gorillas and the surrounding human population. If it is cleared, experts fear the criticially-endangered gorillas could be pushed a step closer towards extinction.
The forest is also an important natural resource for local villagers in one of the most economically-deprived areas of East Africa.
A petition launched by PROBICOU – and supported by ITF, Rainforest Rescue, Greenpeace Africa and the UK Green Party – has raised more than 150,000 signatures from concerned citizens in Uganda and around the world.
You can help stop this environmental vandalism by supporting PROBICOU’s efforts to persuade the authorities that we must conserve this valuable remnant of ancient forest.
PROBICOU are in the process of holding a series of meetings with villagers living around Kafuga to build support for their campaign. Their vision is to conserve and enhance the forest as a natural resource and eco-tourist destination for the benefit of wildlife and local people. One of the first priorities is to map out and clearly mark the forest boundaries.
But to achieve these aims they urgently need your help. Support PROBICOU’S campaign!
The #SaveKafugaForest campaign has featured in the Ecologist and the Daily Express. In March PROBICOU Programme Director, Robert Tumwesigye Baganda, presented the petition to the Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment, calling for his intervention. The Minister has responded by promising to send a task force to Kafuga, in the Kisoro District of South West Uganda.
ITF has helped PROBICOU raise 30,000 indigenous trees to restore parts of Kafuga Forest which have become degraded, establish a community forest management plan and promote income generating ventures which make sustainable use of the forest’s resources.
But reforestation plans had to be abandoned when the tea-growers’ plans were revealed last September.
PROBICOU still need your help: They need funds to help map the Kafuga Forest and to work with local communities to convince the local government to establish a community forest conservation plan for Kafuga.
Earlier this month ITF’s Programmes Manager, Paul Laird, travelled to Kafuga and the surrounding villages to see for himself what is at stake.
“Kafuga Pocket Forest is still largely intact, thanks to the efforts of PROBICOU and concerned local community members,” he said.
“It’s a gem of a forest covering two small hills, the source of several streams which flow into the Ruvuma River.
“It is part of a very beautiful landscape between the Virunga Mountains and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Unfortunately parts of the forest were replaced with exotic trees in the 1980s, but most of it is still indigenous.”
He said the threat to the forest has not been exaggerated.
“A major effort is underway to convert the area from mixed food crop production to tea farming. Many tea nurseries have been established and some 80 million tea seedlings have been raised, far more than could be planted in Kafuga even if the entire forest were cleared.
“A buffer strip along the Bwindi Forest boundary is already being planted with tea, and some farmers are willing to change from food production to tea, but Kafuga Forest remains at risk as a potential focal area for tea planting.”
And he confirmed that the forest was an important resource for local villagers.
“They obtain many products from the forest, but they also appreciate its role as a source of water and understand that the forest will need to be managed more sustainably if these benefits are to continue for the next generation.
“For example, at this time of year villagers harvest bean poles from the forest. The poles are placed in the fields to support climbing beans which are an important local crop. “
At this time, people are harvesting, carrying, stacking and erecting bean poles in the fields on a huge scale, which may not be sustainable in the long term.”
Kafuga, which was originally part of the Bwindi national park, no longer has any gorillas but still supports a wide range of plants and animals including afromontane trees, rare mammals, reptiles and birds.