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We have never cleared rice growing in Lwera – official 

A man at a rice field in Lwera swamp on the Kampala-Masaka highway in Kalungu District. PHOTO | MUZAFARU NSUBUGA

The natural resources officer for Kalungu District, Mr Zepharia Bakenga, has distanced the entire district leadership from sanctioning a rice growing project in Lwera Wetland on the Kampala –Masaka highway.

The rice project is managed by a Chinese firm, Zhong Industries Limited.

Mr Bakenga said increasing human activities in Lwera are posing serious risks to the environment.

“We are blamed as district leaders, but we never participated in licensing the projects and personally I am not supporting rice growing in Lwera and neither the resident district commissioner, the chief administrative officer nor the district chairperson permitted those people to grow rice in Lwera,” he said while opening a half-day training for environmentalists in Masaka City on Tuesday.

Mr Bakenga also disclosed that during a recent meeting in Kampala, he said officials from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) to share with him the details of the licences for all activities going on in Lwera, but the environment watchdog team is yet to respond.

He attributed the recent flooding of River Katonga partially to the current destruction of Lwera catchment area. 

On May 11, Katonga Bridge got damaged following the flash floods, forcing motorists to use the route through Mpigi-Butambala-Gomba-Sembabule –Bukomansimbi –Villa Maria-Nyendo-Masaka, which is more than 50km longer. Although part of the bridge has since been restored, it can only be used by light vehicles. Heavy trucks like trailers and buses are still using the alternative.

Mr Muzafaru Nsubuga, the youth councillor for Kalungu District, condemned the uncontrolled sand mining in Lwera, which is being carried out by various companies with some leaving excavated pits open and putting the lives of the residents at risk.

“What they [sand mining companies] are doing is wrong, unfortunately, they are tightly guarded by the military and all these acts continue to pose a threat to our environment. We ask the responsible authorities to enforce the existing policies,” he remarked.

Mr Kevin Bakulumpagi, a programmes officer at Advocates for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE), a non-governmental organisation, said the process of licensing companies occupying wetlands should involve local communities. 

“The bitter outcomes affect immediate communities. It is absurd that even the district leadership was ignored. Excessive use of herbicides and fertilisers by farmers are threatening the entire biodiversity in Lwera,” he said.

Mr Bakulumpagi, said in the next three years, ANARDE is going to empower environmentalists to protect wetlands and forests in the areas.

“We are going to equip them with skills and knowledge so that they can do meaningful work,” he added. 

Mr Tonny Achidria, the Nema spokesperson, told this publication on Monday that Zhong Industries Ltd was cleared to use part of Lwera for rice growing after assessing the impact of the project on the environment  

“We issue permits after a thorough analysis of the ecosystem and our technical team followed all the legal requirements. Our technical team inspects the project after every three months and once we find any mess, we will advise accordingly, but so far, they are complying with all the guidelines set in the permit,’’ he said.

On sand mining, Mr Achidria said some companies have been flouting the set guidelines and those that fail to comply are ordered to suspend operations.

“Don’t say sand mining is everywhere in Lwera. It is carried out in permitted parts of the wetland and we also regularly monitor their operations,’’ he said.

Lwera Swamp stretches about 20kms on the Kampala–Masaka highway and is a major water catchment area that connects several rivers and wetlands in Gomba, Mpigi, and Kalungu districts and drains directly into Lake Victoria.

Due to its strategic location on the Kampala –Masaka highway, Lwera swamp has in the past decade attracted many investment companies and individuals who are engaging in sand mining, fishing farming, and crop growing.

While addressing local leaders in Masaka District on July 23 ,2019 during his countrywide wealth creation tour, President Museveni warned rice growers in Lwera against destroying the wetland saying rice growing in swamps is ‘kisirani’ (misfortune). 

He said wetlands are part of public land which should not be owned by individuals.

In 2020, the State minister for Environment, Ms Beatrice Anywar, echoed the presidential directive, insisting those owning residential houses in Lwera must vacate the wetland. However, people have ignored the directive and continue to encroach on the wetland. QR Code

Published Date: June 22, 2023

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