Rosemary Nyangoma is the forest supervisor of Hanga Station. However, according to recent press reports, she has also been branded as the forest’s enemy from within.
Out of sight of her bosses, Nyangoma was alleged to be collaborating with illegal loggers. Those allegations even forced Nyangoma’s boss, National Forestry Authority (NFA)’s acting range manager for Budongo range system, Unlit Rumania, to summon her for disciplinary action. Nyangoma was given a three-month ultimatum to clean up the illegalities in her section or face the knife.
So, when, one early October morning, a team of journalists taken on an on-spot visit by NFA made it to Hanga Station in the northern corridor of the forest, many were eager to speak to the woman who was said to be making a fortune out of betraying her employers. However, on seeing the only woman among the men standing by a unipot, journalists thought her physical features told a completely different story.
Her small frame, along with her weather- beaten skin, left many wondering if Nyangoma was really leeching from the forest. Given the wealth that lies in Budongo, the picture that had been painted of Nyangoma was of a woman that had fattened out of leeching from the vast, naturally endowed forest.
Situated to the northeast of Lake Albert at the edge of the Albertine rift valley, Budongo is the home of mahogany of high value, next to none but mvule. Currently, a single mahogany tree fetches up to Shs 30 million. With this kind of money, you need a few trees to have your life changed.
However, from the facial look of things, Nyangoma looked engulfed with worry, fear and dread than a person who was profiting from illegalities.
Friendly to the journalists to a fault, even when pushed to wall to defend herself, Nyangoma explained that Hanga is one of the largest forest beats, comprising of nine blocks, which she supervises with the help of just four patrol men. Until July 15 this year, Hanga had been without armed personnel, making Nyangoma’s work and that of her team difficult.
“The time I came here, the place was badly off. These people are hostile they want to kill us. Because of that, we have also been moving with fear. If we don’t have security, we don’t move far,” explains Nyangoma, a forest supervisor for the last five years.
Nyangoma says her most terrifying scenario was in 2008 when she impounded illegal timber and brought it to her station. However, because the community knew that the station wasn’t guarded, they mobilised and armed themselves with pangas and attacked the station and repossessed their timber.
“It was such a difficult time for us,” Nyangoma recalls. “That time, if you were informed that there were some illegalities, you had to first run to Masindi town to pick a security officer. It took you about two hours and by the time you reached the crime scene, the criminals would have disappeared.”
It was on July 15 that the station was beefed up with one environmental police officer. However, with just one police officer, Nyangoma notes that their operations depend on how well he feels.
“If he is not feeling well, we can’t go for patrols,” Nyangoma says.
This is worsened by the fact that the station has for the last 12 years [since 2002] operated without a motorcycle, making Nyangoma and her team’s movement difficult. The station is located 15km away from the nearest forest boundary. For Nyangoma and her team to go for an operation, they have to walk 15km to the forest boundary before counting down how many kilometres they can do inside the forest to trace the illegal loggers.
With the illegalities moving deeper inside the forest, Nyangoma says they have to walk for not less than 20km inside the forest to effectively comb it for illegal loggers. This weighs them down and they are able to do at most three operations a week.
“If we got more stations, it would play a great role in curbing the illegalities,” says Nyangoma.
A forest supervisor, according to reliable sources, earns between Shs 500,000 and Shs 800,000 monthly while patrol men earn Shs 70,000 to Shs 100,000, depending on the size of their area of coverage. However, according Gaster Kiyingi, the Livelihoods and Environment Manager at Tree Talk, patrol men countrywide have gone for two years without salary, which makes them more vulnerable to corruption.
For the last one year, Nyangoma says they have terminated contracts for five patrol men because of conniving with illegal loggers. But even if government sorts out the issue of forest supervision, if they don’t involve the communities living around the forests, the illegalities will continue to escalate.
“The illegalities are done by locals whose houses are like 100 metres away from the forest. They monitor your activities and once you are out, they go in and cut trees,” says the Budongo Sector Manager Moses Kabaireko.
That day, we found two locals: Henry Asaba and Martin Asiimwe had been arrested ferrying illegal timber from the forest. Nyangoma says that all the communities around the forest have pit sawyers.
“They lease out their land and look at the forest as the only source of survival,” she says.
Hanga is where NFA pioneered the Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) programme -with the first group being North Budongo Forest Communities Association (NOBFOCA), which started in 1998. However, the association has since crumbled – as members claim they don’t get tangible benefits in protecting the forest.
“We used to do joint patrols. [If we] arrest timber [users] and [the timber] all goes to NFA. There was no share for us,” complains Rajab Kahwa, the association’s chairperson.
“Poverty levels increased among our members and they got demoralised. In fact, other villages neighbouring the forest began laughing at us because we instead became poorer. For them, they continued with their illegalities and built houses and bought motorcycles. But for us, NFA didn’t have a budget for us.”
As a result, many of the association members have resorted back to illegal activities, and no longer want to collaborate with NFA, in terms of volunteering information.
“We only get information when they have collided in the forest that is when they go against each other,” Nyangoma says.
“Every month, we impound between 100 and 200 pieces of timber. Now that we are approaching Christmas, the illegalities will even increase tremendously.”
Source : The Observer