Reports that the Tepeth community in the forest of Mount Moroto had blocked the National Forestry Authority (NFA) from cutting trees there is contradictory.
Contrarily, it should have been NFA blocking the Tepeth, an indigenous community, from cutting down trees on the mountain. Just how did this reversal of roles come about?
Did NFA miscommunicate its intentions when it first conducted the first awareness campaign in 2014, and assessed the forest in 2015? Did NFA poorly explain its reasons for cutting down the trees planted under British colonialist in 1956?
Without a doubt, NFA’s decision to cut down the trees was well-founded, but perhaps not well-explained.
Indeed, as area range manager Michael Okot has outlined, it is logical that the pine and eucalyptus trees, having been planted by Uganda’s colonial regime in 1956, had grown old.
Besides, the colonial trees planted on experimental basis, were now decaying and needed to be cut down when still useful and reap some revenue that would in turn be ploughed back into regenerating the forest resources. But the Tepeth, who equally value forests, misunderstood NFA’s drive.
The Tepeth rightly feared NFA would destroy natural trees in the water-stressed zone. They worried this would expose them to lack of water and dry conditions, yet the forest also served them for spiritual practices.
Going forward, NFA should timely undertake its planned environmental assessment next year. This would help to establish the numbers of the Tepeth in the area, their pattern of settlement, and the pressures of livelihoods being exerted on the forest resources.
This should then allow NFA to assess the level of destruction of the forest and establish and the open settlement spaces on the mountain. It should also explore other best options for comprehensive restoration, including eco-tourism partnership with the community.
This option is likely to work well in several ways. First, it won’t require any cutting down of the trees. Second, it would avoid any future squabbles between NFA and the Tepeth over the forest resources.
Above all, eco-tourism would likely prove a more viable win-win option and would also ensure respect for the indigenous rights of the Tepeth to live on the mountain and co-existed with the forest that is core to their material and spiritual wellbeing.