Noeline Nabukenya – Daily Monitor

Noeline Nabukenya

Daily Monitor

Smart Plan Tech Sends Panic to Environment Degraders

The ongoing success of the implementation of Smart Tool Technology in the West Nile-based Ozubu forest has sent shock waves to environment degraders, with two culprits netted-thanks to the wise partnership of Uganda Biodiversity Fund (UBF), the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The three friends of the environment last year took a bold decision to implement the use of Smart Tool Tech, intending to bring to an end the atrocities inflicted on the environment by self-seekers-the fact that two culprits who are serving on remand, is a partial success of the program which aims at enhancing forest protection and law enforcement in highrisk conservation forests. 

During a media-guided tour of the Ozubu forest in Koboko district where this tool has been installed, journalists were taken through different steps of how it works.

The high-quality, yet internet-cost-friendly tech has provisions for reporting illegal activities, patrolling the forest using the Global Positioning System (GPS) point that tracks where you are standing, and capturing the satellites. 

Ozubu conservation forest, for example, sits on four villages of Kangai, Moje, Midrika, and Menika measuring 1682.79 acres (681 hectares), but one can monitor every activity being conducted on it with a clique of a button.

While demonstrating to reporters using a log, Mr. Patrick Abiyo Akule, the Forest Supervisor, Yumbe district said that when an encroacher for example came and cut down a tree, removes one log, and leaves the others, they expect him to come back and pick the rest later. 

“We organize and come back and take covers especially where there are routes he is likely to use.” He said.

Mr. Patrick Abiyo Akule illustrates how the smart tool woks during an interview with journalists at Ozubu forest in Koboko district. Photo by Noeline Nabukenya

Mr. Akule further explains; “Once an illegal activity is identified, a technician enters the case in the application indicating where it was committed. And at the end, they produce a smart report which is uploaded on the map of that forest, and the tool can fix the exact point where the illegal activity is located.”

Some of the illegal activities in Ozubu forest is illegal cutting down of trees. Photo by Noeline Nabukenya

 A woman after collecting firewood

This application, according to its framers has the provision of the transport means that you as an operator, choose to use while conducting an operation.

The tool asks for signs of encroachment in case of any, and after entering the correct data, it is immediately uploaded to the server where it can be accessed by NFA staff.

Majority of Uganda’s forests with Ozubu inclusive face common illegalities from encroachers which include among others; charcoal burning, cultivation, timber cutting, settlements, and poaching among others.

This innovation can locate where cases of these illegalities are practiced in the forest. This can be done through tracing using the Smartphone, which is directly connected to the computers with servers, monitoring the entire forest.

Ms Never Driciru, 40, one of the local people who collect wood fuel from Ozubu forest. Photo by Noeline Nabukenya

Mr. John Bosco Muruli, the forest supervisor of Ozubu said before the introduction of the tool, NFA was finding it grim to handle illegal activities in the forest. The field workers had to move around the forest which was costly and time-consuming but now there is some relief.

“We have two Uganda Police Defense Forces (UPDF) officers we move with during our operations and the strategy has since been successful.” He noted.

He explained that on the day of camping at the illegality points, they identify footpaths most likely to be used by the criminals.

“We get two to three days and camp in that area where trees have been cut, after knowing that in most cases those people leave some tree logs behind and chances are high, they will come back for them.” He added.

Community people going to Ozubu forest in the evening to collect firewood. Photo by Noeline Nabukenya

Ozubu forest is one of the forest conservation reserves in the Koboko bit. Others are; Mt. Kei, Koboko, Liru, and Kadre Central Forest Reserves.

The 1682.79 acre forest is managed by NFA with a nursery seedling garden funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that produces 1 million seedlings every year to give away to people especially district hosting communities of Yumbe and Koboko.

The most common tree species in Ozubu are Tectona Grandis popularly known as teak trees currently at 14 years of existence, and Pine trees (8 years).

On the same land, NFA leased two private farmers and they are paying ground rent. Out of the 1 million tree seedlings produced by Ozubu tree nursery, Yumbe district takes a lion’s share of 80 percent because of the highest number of refugees and the rest of the 20 percent remains for Koboko communities.

The forest is at a high risk of encroachment from local people who seek firewood for cooking food, poles for building, and herbal medicine for treating diseases.

It harbors river Kochi that flows from the East through the conservation forest going to the Western direction and this is the major source of water in the area. This makes accessibility to the forest easy, exposing it to encroachment threats.

Sensitisation

Mr. Akule said that they, at NFA are working with the local leaders to sensitise their communities in case illegal activities increase in Ozubu forest to help them not to fall victim to arrests. 

“When the illegal cases are on a surge, the local council chairpersons are engaged to invite all people in their communities and we educate them on how to use the forests without depletion.” He said.

Mr Akule inside the forest demonstrating how the tool operates on a smartphone. Phone by Noeline Nabukenya.

However much there is a law on forest encroachment, locals are free to pick dry wood fuel, mushrooms, herbs, and white ants from Ozubu forest.

The forest not only provides food and other household items, but local people have also acquired employment opportunities, especially in instances when there is a fire line opening, boundary opening, and cultivation of land for the nursery tree seedlings.

In total, Ozubu Forest alone employs more than 50 workers and 90 percent of these are people from nearby communities, with the rest of the 10 percent being technicians hired based on their qualifications.

Refugee pressure

Mr. Pascal Ajusi, the Imvepi Refugee Settlement Commandant, said that they have a total of 450,000 refugees in West Nile region active in his database, out of which, Imvepi refugee settlement has 75,000 and of which majority come from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of change Congo.

He revealed that from 2021 to date, the Imvepi refugee settlement alone receives 3,000 refugees every year, which number he said, can cause a substantial impact on the environment like the depletion of the tree covers due to a result of wood fuel.

A case in point is the trees which were along the banks of River Kochi, which were depleted by the refugees who had settled in the area due to wars in their mother countries.

Some of the illegal activities in Ozubu forest is cutting down trees. Photo by Noeline Nabukenya

It was after the repatriation of those refugees back home by their countries that NFA took over the land currently occupied by Ozubu forest, and planted indigenous trees thus the current conservation forest reserve. 

Mr. Levand Turyomurugyendo, the UBF Projects Manager, believes that the future of their organization is having all the trees planted in all the restoration places grow into conservation forests.

He noted that their partnership with nature-loving organisations has paid off since there is a slight development in conserving the environment. UBF has collaborated with the Uganda Wildlife Conservation, Nature Uganda, and Ecological Christian Organization among others.

He revealed some of the sources of their funding including the Endowment fund and sinking funds. And their current 4-year project dubbed “Restoring and conserving degraded ecosystems within the refugee settlement areas” is funded by the European Union to improve the livelihoods of refugees and the host communities and build resilience of the landscape in the face of climate change.

He further explained that NFA has collaborated with WCS to plant indigenous trees. The project is intended to restore 353 hectares of formerly degraded land.

WCS donated smartphones and UBF provided three computers to NFA officials who are on the ground to ensure that the tool is used successfully.

 Mr. Ivan Amanigaruhanga, the Executive Director of UBF, said they seek shs.36 trillion by the end of 2026 to fund more work of biodiversity conservation.

This he said will help in managing the already established forests and planting more trees in areas occupied by refugees in Uganda.

The organisation also uses the investment mechanism to locally generate some money for security when there are no funds from foreign donors.

“The future relates to financial resources because every work we do needs funds to support all the activities.” He noted.

Uganda Biodiversity Fund is a non-governmental organization that helps the government of Uganda to conserve nature. It emerged in 2016 after realising that there was the need for resources to assist the government in conserving the environment.

To date, UBF projects are currently in Karamoja, West Nile, Bunyoro, and the Rwenzori regions.

Biodiversity rests on three areas, species, the ecosystem level, and the gene component of the species.

The American Museum of Natural History defines Biodiversity as a variety of life on Earth ranging from genes to ecosystems and can incorporate the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.