By Kezekiah Mbogo
The Environment Protection Police Unit [EPPU] has destroyed hundreds of crop gardens which farmers had cultivated on river Mpologoma water belt.
It was a joint operation mounted by the Environment police and officers from the Ministry of environment who descended on the gardens Wednesday and slashed down all crops. This was justified as aimed to restore the wetland that had been massively degraded due to human activities.
Some of the destroyed crops included maize, sorghum, rice and sweet potatoes.The wetland in question drains water from river Manafwa and river Namatala which had been a lifeline for hundreds of people in Kibuku, Pallisa and parts of Busoga.Nicholas Magala, the regional wetland officer/team leader in the Ministry of Water and Environment, said that following various reminders and ultimatums agreed upon with farmers to vacate these wetlands, action had to be taken. Magala says they are hopeful following the vacation, the Mpologoma wetland with be regenerated to its former state.
“The levels of wetland destruction by farmers is extremely too high to the extent that the wetlands are totally drying up.The Ministry estimates that 10% of R.Mpologoma has been degraded by farmers for human activities,” Magala said.
Magala noted with great concern that the major part of R.Mpologoma has been cleared for cultivation and yet this is the only surviving river in the region.
“We cannot just sit and watch as farmers massively destroy the only river. All farmers have to vacate from these wetlands with immediate effect. This time round, we shall not entertain flimsy excuses to extend more time to vacate, ”he said.
He explained that: “All environmental activities and political leaders should strongly condemn massive destruction of river Mpologoma with prime objective to redeem and restore the disappearing wetland.”
He added that: “We urge all those still cultivating in this wetland to stop and vacate with immediate effect before full force and arrest could be made to curtail further invasion.”
The operation comes after farmers have massively destroyed the existing wetlands and also cutting down of trees and papyrus contributing greatly to the current trend of harsh climatic conditions that is being experienced today.
“The Ministry and other environmental activist did carry out community sensitization on the dangers of wetland destruction and warned farmers to vacate but instead these people have continued to defy the directive.This is why we have opted to enforce the law by clearing their crops as a stringent measures to deter others from descending on R.Mpologoma wetland,” Magala said.
He explained that Police surveillance will continue to monitor the wetlands so-that people don’t go back.
“These people [farmers] had been warned several times during community meetings on wetland management but had kept a deaf ear and continued with cultivation in these wetlands especially river Mpologoma which is depleting day and night,” Magala said.
Mpologoma has been a bee-hive for farmers from the two districts of Pallisa and Kibuku for cultivation of rice and other crops.
More than 10,000 households entirely depend on this wetland for both income and food. Previously president Museveni had issued a directive demanding wetland encroachers to be evicted in order to restore back these wetlands and this was in response to the prevailing dry spell that is being experienced.
Last year, more that 7,000 wetland abusers in Kibuku were forced out in order to restore the wide loss of water and wetland destruction after the expiry of the grace period.The Minister of water and environment Sam Cheptoris witnessed the eviction.The District Natural officer David Okurut said that the “operation save Mpologoma wetland” is intended to address the worrying trend of massive encroachment [degradation] on the wetland.
Senior Environment officer James Gwokaka said that the ministry will continue to enforce stringent measures to protect the wetland becauseMpologoma is the major link with L.Kyoga.
The Resident District Commissioner Juliet Ssenkole said that the worrying trend of farmers encroaching on R.Mpologoma needs to be urgently addressed by asking those still cultivating to vacate. (For comments, email us at email@example.com).