Apac | Residents of Akokoro sub-county, Apac district who are living around Maruzi Central Forest Reserve have accused the National Forest Authority (NFA) of extending the boundaries of the forest into community land which they have been using for grazing their animals.
The residents claim that NFA has extended the boundaries from the original land that their grandparents gave to the government between 1967 and 1968. Now, they say the government has entered by more than 3 square kilometres.
Samuel Ogwal Oboma, the team leader of the aggrieved residents, stated that at least 3000 families have been affected while some have been displaced, noting that the problems started in 1986 when the past leaders connived with NFA officials to extend the boundaries with consulting stakeholders and members of the community.
“The problem is our land which our grandparents and elders gave to the government, but the way the boundaries have been extended is too much. The officials of NFA deployed in the area kept on extending the boundaries to our land,” Ogwal said.
He noted that so many people have now been left without land and the majority of them are people who came during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency.
He added, “We allowed them to settle with us here, they even extended the boundaries to my own land. I have about 3 square miles of land with mark-stones but my land is claimed to be inside the protected area.”
“If this matter is not addressed, there is going to be death, me at my age, I am ready to die for my children and my grandchildren and the community of Akokoro,” he insisted.
Emmanuel Ogola is another aggrieved resident. He expressed disappointment saying, “Our parents gave about 52 square miles to the government for the establishment of a Ranch and again another 66 square miles for the forest and again they are extending the boundaries of the forest to our land.”
“Here we are, we have animals, but now we cannot graze in our own land, when we graze our cattle they bring us armed men to beat us, we are going to start making use of our land,” Ogola added.
“We pay money for grazing our animals in our own land to some people who are not natives of the area, we have become slaves in our own land, what we demand is for NFA to only use the land that our grandparents gave but not to extend the boundaries,” Titus Obote also a member of the community said.
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The district speaker, Peter Obong Achuda, acknowledged having received a petition from the community of Akokoro sub-county implicating the NFA of encroaching and extending their boundaries of the forest to the community land.
“I received the petition last year in February and I have instituted a committee of councillors to do fact-finding and investigate the claims made by the community, the committee has not yet given me a report since then,” the speaker said.
The speaker further alluded that, he is aware that the land that belongs to the community has been encroached, adding that his disappointment is seeing non-natives being allowed to graze in the area and torturing the natives.
The district surveyor is Bob Odyero. He said their attempts to resolve the matter could not materialise since the district does not have GPS machines to demarcate the boundaries.
The NFA area supervisor Juliet Auma, clarified that Maruzi Central Forest Reserve was gazetted in 1932 by the British government and not in 1967 as the community is claiming.
“We have not extended any boundaries of the forest. When we got the complaints from the community, we advised them to write to the Executive Director of NFA and make a formal complaint. There is a department of survey which is mandated to do boundary opening, I am just like a watch lady,” Auma stated.
The Apac Resident District Commissioner George Abdul, said, “I was wondering how a government entity in this case (NFA) could encroach into community land, it could be vice versa. For when I came here, very many people came to me, claiming Maruzi ranch had been extended, but when I went on the ground I found more than 272 people inside the ranch,” the RDC said.
The RDC suggested that there is a need to open the boundaries because if the boundaries are not opened it could turn out to be dangerous to the government.
According to the NFA, Maruzi’s CFR is 6118 hectares. Uganda has in total of 506 Central Forest Reserves covering 1,265,471 hectares.