The GFW (Global Forest Watch) online mapping platform and Forest Watcher mobile app was launched in Uganda on March 17 at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala at a one-day workshop organized by the Jane Goodall Institute with the Honorable Flavia Munaba, State Minister for Environment, as the chief guest.
The app has been tested by Forest Monitors, rangers, and NFA (National Forestry Authority) staff in the forests of Budongo, Bugoma, Kalinzu, and Kasyoha Kitomi Central Forest reserves, as well as Kibale National Park and also by private forest owners within the Budongo-Bugoma Chimpanzee Corridor in the Hoima and Masindi districts for the last 6 months.
Just ahead of the launch, footage of a short video on the outstanding testers and their associated success stories of the Forest Watcher app was played for the audience.
Represented were development partners including USAid (United Stated Agency for International Development), DFID UK (Department for International Development), Norwegian Climate and Forests Initiative, GEF (Global Environment Facility), Tila Fund, civil society representatives, the media, and government agencies.
Vice President of Conservation Science for the Jane Goodall Institute, Lilian Pintea, preceded the launch by conducting stakeholders in plenary and breakout sessions. He is an expert with more than 20 years of experience using satellite imagery and GIS (Geographic Information Systems).
On how it works, Pintea explained that the app is an online monitoring and alert system that provides the most current, reliable, and actionable information about what is happening in forests worldwide. It unites satellite technology, and human networks, to show where and how forests are changing, who is using them, and how we can help sustain them for future generations. What’s more, GFW is free for everyone to use and easy to understand.
The app is especially pertinent to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and NFA, the respective government agencies that were present at the launch. These agencies are mandated to manage protected areas, forests, and reserves within the country, and as such, they shall be able to use GFW to better enforce laws, monitor concessions, and detect illegal deforestation.
Other users, such as Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) would use the app to identify deforestation hotspots in near real-time, mobilize action, and collect evidence to hold government and companies to account for forest-related commitments, as indigenous communities will upload alerts and photos when encroachment occurs on their customary forest lands. Buyers of major commodities shall be able to monitor compliance of suppliers with relevant laws, commitments, and certification standards while their suppliers shall be expected to demonstrate that their products are deforestation free and legally produced. In addition, the media shall be expected to highlight trends in deforestation.
In the last 100 years, Uganda’s forests have faced severe pressures mainly from agricultural conversion as a result of population increase, urban demand for charcoal, over grazing, uncontrolled timber harvesting, and weak legal and policy enforcement. This has been exacerbated by political expedience most noticeable during the recent campaign period in the country where politicians were observed to be in alliance with encroachers against conservationists and the authorities in order to win favor with their constituents.
Last year, more than 7,000 locals who had occupied Guramwa Central Forest Reserve in Western Uganda for over a decade were finally evicted after a rare twist of events, and following an appeal by the NFA, the magistrate ruled that the earlier court erred in its judgment in 2000 by ruling that the locals should occupy the forest.
In another bizarre incident, one local was slapped with a paltry 50,000 Uganda shilling ($14) fine for killing an endangered mountain gorilla in Bwindi forest.
More infamously, in 2007, riots broke out in the capital, Kampala, following the proposed giveaway of 7,000 of the 30,000 hectare Mabira forest reserve by the government to Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited for sugar cane plantations and biofuel processing which led to 3 deaths.
Much of Uganda’s national parks are also comprised of forests such as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a habitat to the said mountain gorillas; Kibale Forest hosting the largest number of 1,450 chimpanzees, East Africa’s largest population of the endangered colobus monkeys and l’hoests monkeys; Queen Elizabeth National Park which hosts the underground Kyambura Gorge forest which is a habitat to chimpanzees; and Murchison Falls National Park contiguous with Budongo Forest, the largest hardwood forest in East Africa which also hosts chimpanzees and birdlife, including the endemic Puvel’s Illadopses.
The launch of the GFW app will be a game changer in providing timely cutting-edge technology and information on deforestation never seen before, and will hopefully save the forests and diverse habitats, plants, insects, animals, and birdlife. Everyone can be empowered to play their role by browsing the app store on globalforestwatch.org which contains tools designed to address specific forest issues.