Lake Victoria islanders - out of the frying pan?
The people who live on Bugala have traditionally earned their livelihood from the waters that surround their island in Lake Victoria in East Africa. But the waters have become so clogged with water hyacinth that this source of livelihood is in jeopardy. The plan to grow oil palm on part of the island's 29,600 hectares, and to build an oil palm extraction and refinery plant, was intended to reduce Uganda's import bill for vegetable oil but it could also have brought an alternative source of livelihood to the islanders. Now that has faltered. (See News). The islanders must be wondering if they have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.
Implementation of the Vegetable Oil Development Project on Bugala Island in Lake Victoria has stalled as a result of environmental concerns raised by, among others, the National Environment Management Agency (NEMA). The grounds on which they are basing their challenge are potential soil erosion and siltation of Lake Victoria as a result of clearing vegetation for the palm plantation, and the disposal of chemical waste from the would-be oil palm factory.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the government wants the project to succeed because Uganda has, for a long time, been importing 75 percent of its vegetable oil and fat products at an estimated annual cost of over US$100,000. Furthermore, Uganda's edible oil intake is only 2.3 kg/capita, lower than the 3.3 kg/capita recommended by the World Health Organisation. Ms. Connie Magomu Masaba, the technical officer in charge, says the government has prioritised the development of palm oil because of its economic value. She says the project would save Uganda over US$60 million annually in imports.
The project is supported by a US$60 million loan from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), BIDCO (the prospective investor), and the Ugandan government. Farmers will also contribute to its funding.
Protestors claim that the government's plans to deregister more than half of the island's 6,500 hectares of protected forest estate, to allow more land for palm oil production, will threaten a unique flora and fauna. The move would also affect the European Union's five-year forestry programme which is intended to support the development of eco-tourism on the island. The government has appointed a 10-man team of academics to study the concerns.(From an article supplied by Ben Ochan, Uganda)