Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Uganda scraps controversial rainforest plan

Reuters: Uganda has agreed to scrap an unpopular plan to give a swath of protected rainforest to a sugar planter, the independent Daily Monitor said on Wednesday. Government officials were not immediately available for comment on what the newspaper said was a final decision not to allow Mabira forest to be destroyed and replaced with sugarcane.

"We have committed ourselves to conserving Mabira Forest," Finance Minister Ezra Suruma was quoted by the paper as saying at a Commonwealth meeting on climate change in Guyana. "There is other land in Uganda suitable for sugarcane growing," he added.

Uganda's cabinet suspended the plan by President Yoweri Museveni to give 7,100 hectares (17,540 acres), or nearly a third of Mabira Forest to the privately owned Mehta Group's sugar estate in May, following a public outcry. Three people died in violent protests against the move, including an Indian man who was stoned to death by rioters. Mehta is owned by an ethnic Indian family. Critics say razing part of Mabira would threaten rare species, lose a watershed for streams that feed Lake Victoria and remove a buffer against pollution from two industrial towns.

Scientists estimate some 20 percent of net global emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed for climate change, are caused by deforestation, because trees suck carbon from the atmosphere. Experts say Mabira sinks millions of tons of carbon.

A spokesman for Museveni, Tamale Mirundi, told Reuters new land must be found for the sugarcane. "If the government finds an alternative, I don't think the president has any special interest in pursuing this," he said. The government is trying to draw up maps of land available to investors in Uganda for sectors such as coffee, sugar, manufacturing or tourism that do not encroach on forests.

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