The Food and Agriculture Organisation, (FAO), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Uganda have released a new report that seeks to restore the degraded Bidibidi forest in Yumbe district by refugees.
The plan, according to the three partner bodies, will be replicated for managing natural resources at other refugee settlements around the country.
The report outlines a five-year plan for managing forests in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, in Uganda. It analyses the impact on forest resources in the area, and identifies strategies and interventions to relieve that pressure.
The forest landscape management plan for the Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe district, Uganda, 2023-2028 was produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Government of Uganda, Yumbe District Local Government, landowners and representatives of the refugee and local populations.
The detailed report is the first of its kind and aims to have significant environmental, economic and social impact. Its methods, strategies and interventions have the potential to be replicated in other refugee settlements in Uganda and elsewhere.
Speaking at the launch of the plan on 15 December 2022 in Kululu sub county, Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District, the Minister of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Eng. Hilary O. Onek, commended FAO and UNHCR for collaborating with the Government of Uganda and local leadership to enhance environment and livelihood outcomes.
“Investing in sustainable natural resources management and rural livelihoods is essential for realizing harmonious co-existence of refugees and host communities,” said Onek.
The Forest Landscape Management Plan for Bidibidi Refugee Settlement acknowledges the challenges of using natural resources and provides both short- and long-term solutions for sustainable management of natural resources in displacement situations and a guide for reforestation efforts and energy needs in this country.
He called on the various ministries, development partners, District Local Governments and the private sector partners to support refugee response interventions.
“We have taken lessons from this work and I would like to recommend other refugee settlements and nearby hosting communities to develop their forest landscape management plans to guide and structure interventions aiming at addressing environmental concerns and forest degradation”, he added.
Extraordinary pressure on the environment
Forest cover in Uganda fell between 1990 and 2020 from 17.7 percent to 11.6 percent, according to FAO’s most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment.
Forest cover loss is mainly attributed to deforestation for biomass fuel and timber. Other drivers are expansion of agricultural land, urbanization, poverty, industrialization and inadequate incentives for private plantation of forests.
An influx of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing long-running and recurrent conflicts in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Somalia has added to the pressure on the environment.
Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and with about 1.5 million refugees mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Burundi.
“A planned approach for the management of forest resources in displacement situations is crucial to minimize the environmental impact of displacement and increase the resilience of refugee and host communities to climate change and other shocks,” said Antonio Querido, FAO Representative in Uganda.
“It is also a way to promote more efficient use of natural resources and ensure more sustainable livelihoods. Development agencies, local governments and partners of the Government of Uganda should take the use of plans such as these, into programming and implementing interventions to protect and restore the environment, especially forests”, he added.
“UNHCR acknowledges that there are significant environmental concerns associated with the large refugee presence in Bidibidi and other refugee settlements, and mitigation measures have been put in place to address the associated risk. This plan includes realistic guidelines for UNHCR and partners to further alleviate the pressure on the available natural resources,” said Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Country Representative.
“Forest and water resources are important to the survival of refugees and host communities. This plan brings us together to collectively cater to their cooking fuel needs while ensuring that the environment in Bidibidi and other settlements is preserved”, he added.
Representing the Yumbe District Chairman, Asiku Kassim- District Speaker, thanked FAO and UNHCR for setting the pace for restoration of the “once green” landscape in Yumbe, by working with the district officials and landowners to develop the Plan.
“Development of the Forest Landscape Management Plan for Bidibidi has been a result of many working sessions, documentation and consultation with the technical teams from FAO and UNHCR. I am happy to confirm that Yumbe District Local Government reviewed and approved the plan, which we now ‘own’ and will implement diligently to restore the forest cover and green spaces that the district has lost”, he said.
He applauded the local land owners, who since 2016, have offered over 250 square km of land Bidibidi to refugees; exemplifying the neighbourliness of the people, and the Government of Uganda.
“The population is strained and many people in the district have resorted to over exploiting the natural resources like forests to earn a living. The Plan will enable the district to effect tangible solutions to foster restoration. Tree growing must be a priority for 2023 in all sub counties in Yumbe District, he said. The District will also identify all the nursery operators in the district, ensure they get certification and provide quality inputs for establishment of woodlots and restoration. This will spur local economic development”, he added.
The plan focuses on the country’s largest refugee settlement, known as Bidibidi, which hosts about 270 000 refugees and is one of the biggest in Africa.
The plan presents practical guidelines for protecting and maintaining forests and biodiversity in and around the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, in West Nile, which hosts some 270 000 refugees settlement, sustainably supplying fuelwood, timber and non-wood forest products, improving the quality of life of the refugees and host communities and involving everyone in the management of forest resources.
To do this, the report first analyses the forest resources available in and around the settlement and assesses the human impact on those resources, with precise calculations of biomass demand, supply and overall loss per annum.
The report then identifies three strategies for ensuring a sustainable balance between supply and demand: establishment of energy woodlots over three years, restoration of degraded resources and conservation of intact or partially intact natural forests over six years.
It also provides recommendations on how to put these strategies into practice and calculations of the number of woodlots and the suitable area of forest and land restoration and conservation needed.
Rapid production of fuelwood
The report focuses in particular on the demand for woodfuel by both refugee and host populations and shows how that outstrips supply within the settlement and a 5 km buffer zone around it.
It explains how to plant energy woodlots to maximise biomass production in a short period of time by increasing tree density to the optimum growth per unit of area and using fast growing species and short rotation coppice management. It also recommends planting multi-purpose species which offer other benefits besides fuelwood and incentive schemes to help motivate people.
Other demands for wood – construction, energy for commercial and economic activities, and agricultural activities, as well as losses to fire – also contribute to overall demand but are not included in the calculations.
This Forest Landscape Management Plan builds on work started in 2019 and reflects the most recent changes up to July 2022, including both non-spatial and spatial data and trends that have occurred in and around the Bidibidi refugee settlement.
It follows publication by FAO and UNHCR in 2018 of a general handbook titled Managing forests in displacement settings.