The Consequence of Deforestation towards Food Security During and after COVID-19

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By Freda Orochi

Globally there has been a general lock down in response to  COVID-19. The effect of the pandemic has had many countries instill emergency actions  to curb its spread. In Uganda, following the first case reported on 22nd March 2020, the government declared a number of emergency actions such as closure of schools, suspension of public and private transports, ban on large gatherings and curfews.

As a result of the prolonged lock down it has been noticed that many forests have equally not been spared by another form of pandemic – perpetrators who have mercilessly mismanaged natural resources such as forests, indiscriminately cutting down trees due to a number of socio-economic challenges. The “stay at home” orders and strict lock downs put in place, local authorities have not been able to patrol natural forests reserves a situation that communities living near these natural resources have taken advantage of. The focus of all enforcement agencies and security personnel and resources is on enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines. There are reports coming in from media of destruction of forests cover in several districts such as Kalangala and Mbarara, Rukungiri among others. With communities of these areas attributing this destruction of forest cover to lack of food availability, loss in income resulting in communities cutting down trees for charcoal burning, fire word and wood for income generation.

Forests in Uganda continue to play a vital role when it comes to food security from the perspective of forest function of climate regulation, soil protection, water provision, and for the survival of forest-dwellers, including many indigenous peoples among others. Forests, trees and agroforestry systems contribute to food security and nutrition in many ways, but such contributions are usually poorly reflected in national development and food security strategies. Farmers can increase food security by retaining trees on agricultural land, by encouraging natural regeneration and by planting trees and other forest plants in preparation for the period after COVID-19.

However, the country might be heading into a severe environmental catastrophe due to increased deforestation which will result into climate change if forests are not protected. The implication of deforestation contributes to climate change, and such change directly affects agricultural output and hence food insecurity. Amidst the government efforts to address the challenges of increased deforestation, National Forest Authority continues to be faced with understaffing who have the duty of protecting national forest reserves. Secondly, coupled with poor coordination between sectors, the net result is that forests are mostly left out of policy decisions related to food security and nutrition.

There is need for a concerted effort and recognizing the nexus between water-energy-ecosystems and food as an approach that will involve various stakeholders such as scientists, policy makers, and civil society, farmers and private sector in planning decision making processes at all levels to mitigate this dangerous trend of deforestation in Uganda. The Government through its relevant Authorities like National Environment Management Authority, National Forest Authority needs to follow up on management of natural resources by dedicating resources both human and financial to strengthen the governance of forest reserves during and after COVID-19. The government should also support communities living next to natural resources by providing alternative livelihoods to these communities so as to reduce on their dependency on these natural resources for their survival during this Pandemic.