Friday, December 4th, 2020 | By

Grassroot women in Hoima and Kikuube district have formed a coalition to protect Bugoma forest against sugarcane land use.

The coalition dubbed “Women Coalition 4 Bugoma Forest” was formed during a women lobby and advocacy meeting that was held at Bugoma Jungle Lodge in Hoima Kikuube district on 30th November. The meeting was organized by National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) in partnership with National Association of Women in Development(NAWAD) and Womankind.

During the meeting, the women said changing the land use of Bugoma forest to sugarcane growing will directly affect their survival and livelihood.

They are worried that taking away the forest could escalate climate change impacts like change of seasons, flooding and drought urging that forming a coalition will help them join the fight against destruction as one voice.

“We depend much on this forest for rain since most of us derive our income from agriculture, our water sources come from this forest, we harvest the forest resources like mushrooms and honey for food and sell, get traditional herbs for medicine and collect firewood,” Mbabazi Addah a resident of Kabwoya sub county in Hoima district said.

Lovisa Namatovu, a resident of Nyairongo village in Kabwooya sub county says they are living in fear of being evicted from their land since the boundaries between the forest and community land are not clear.

“Recently, some unknown people put mark stones in front of my house. we don’t know the next step, so time in now to take action as women. When we lose our land we shall suffer because men tend to abandon us when things turn around. If government cares about the plight of women, they should leave the forest as it is,” Namatovu said.

Alice Asiimwe, a resident of Kaseeta B village says they have been protecting the forest for long for their livelihood and feel frustrated that it has been given away to the investor for sugarcane growing.

“I don’t think the investor has come for the forest only. He is coming for us too to be evicted from our land! our survival is on the land so if they chase us, how are we going to survive? Why do they want to chase women who have been protecting this forest? We need peace. Let them come and measure the boundaries,” said Asiimwe.

Asiimwe noted that the local leaders have kept a deaf ear on the concerns of the local communities and they need to take advantage of President Museveni’s campaign visit in the area to express their fears and thoughts about the forest.

“The president is coming on 19th December to look for votes from us, we hear the forest has a big hand from above. This is the time to understand all this. We shall write a petition to the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner demanding to meet the president. We believe he will be able to listen to us,” she added

Esther Turyaheebwa, who lives in the camp for Internally Displaced People(IDP) said their life has never been the same since eviction from their land in 2015 by the same Company-Hoima Sugar Limited- which is destroying the forest. She said the communities around Bugoma forest are heading to similar challenges if they don’t come up to fight.

“I feel more worried when I hear of another possible eviction because I felt if the court case fails we may shift to these other areas and settle there. We had land for cultivation and food security before we were evicted. But now we are struggling to get what to eat. You better wake up!” she said.

Lilian Akello Kitoma, a resident of Purongo town council in Nwoya district said women in their area have been greatly affected by large scale rice farming and human-wild life conflict warning that people adjacent to Bugoma may face the same if they don’t act.

“Investors bought our land and in turn women are offering cheap labor to them because men sold off the land without our consent saying married women don’t come along with land. Those who have land to grow crops are sleeping in the gardens guarding crops against animals,” she said.

Joy Rufunda, the chairperson of Blind Women Association in Hoima suggested that women should seek audience with the Bunyoro Kingdom Prime Minister, Andrew Byakutaaga to explain their position as women on the forest degradation since it was the Kingdom that sold the forested land to Hoima Sugar Limited.

Robina Tibakanya, the Hoima District Coordinator for Women Living with HIV/AIDS also called upon health organizations to join the fight since the impacts of forest degradation like climate change and food insecurity directly affect people living with HIV/AIDS whose life is fragile.

Sostine Namanya, the Gender and Food Security Officer at NAPE said women have been left out in matters concerning the forest, a reason they came up with a dialogue to have their voice.

Jenifer Nakitende, a Field Officer from NAWAD said women should change their mindset to alternative livelihoods like making charcoal briquettes, adding value to their produce, mushroom growing and making herbal medicine gardens as they continue to fight for Bugoma forest.

The dialogue climaxed with the launch of Alternative Livelihood Research in which women from Hoima and Buliisa districts participated in identifying alternative livelihood options available for women; and a walk to the forest where women were carrying placards that carry messages of protest against degradation of Bugoma forest.

According to an official from National Forestry Authority, boundary opening exercise was halted due to the prevailing political situation in the country.