NFA authorities arrest some rowdy youth who tried to block the Kampala-Masaka highway in Kammengo protesting the NFA move to evict them from forest reserves. The police disparsed them and arrested some suspects.

The National Forest Authority (NFA) has embarked on a vigorous campaign to evict encroachers and recover over 7,700 hectares of land in Mpigi, Butambala and Gomba districts.

The campaign has so far managed to throw out 1,500 residents who have been growing seasonal and perennial crops on approximately 680 hectares of land.

About 64% of forests in Mpanga, Kanaani, Ndoddo, Kinnyo, Nabugulu and Muduuma reserves had been cut down for timber, charcoal, cultivation and other usage.

The exercise undertaken in collaboration between Mpigi district authorities, environmental police and NFA had given encroachers December 31, 2011 as deadline to harvest their crops and leave the reserves.

According to NFA, many residents willingly signed voluntary eviction orders and left but others still resisted the exercise on grounds that they had no where else to go. They demanded government to find them an alternative land.

They also argued that the rest of the available land outside the reserves was poor and not good for farming.

Michael Okot, the Mpanga Forest Sector manager said that they had by Saturday February 04 covered 23 villages and reclaimed 680 hectares of forest land. He said the exercise would continue to cover the three districts.

He however said the campaign had so far met some resistance especially in areas where residents had been growing large acres of marijuana, which he said had almost become the major cash crop in the area.

“Marijuana is a major issue here, it is like an ordinary cash crop and people grow it everywhere including in the middle of forests. These are the residents giving us a hard time,” he said.

Marijuana is an illegal crop in Uganda and one is liable to prosecution if found growing, smoking or selling the crop.Last week the police said two suspects were arrested from Gangu in Mpanga forest after they became violent and tried to attack the police that were uprooting marijuana and cutting down sugar canes and banana plantations.

Two suspects, Betty Namukwaya and Haruna Kirudde were arrested from Kayaga village.

Several residents blocked the Kampala-Masaka highway around Kammengo Trading Center in an attempt to disrupt the exercise but were dispersed by the police. Bob Ssempijja and one Golomola were also arrested and detained at Kampiringisa police post.

“We allowed residents to harvest seasonal crops but some grew perennial crops like coffee, bananas and sugar canes in forest reserves and we had to prune them,” Okot said.

The district chairman, John Luwakanya recently said the district had worked out a programme with the encroachers through which they filled forms pledging to leave by December 31 and warned that failure to do the culprits would be dealt with according to the law.

Luwakanya said many residents had been carrying out deforestation in the forest reserves and illegally acquired land for cultivation and felling trees for timber and charcoal.

He said residents had also been sensitized about the dangers of deforestation during village meetings and appealed to them to comply.

By Eddie Ssejjoba, The New Vision

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