Ugandan environmentalists have condemned as “superficial and absurd” a court ruling that authorized the government to authorize the clearing of parts of a tropical forest for a sugar cane plantation.

Three environmental groups had taken the government to court over the decision to allow Hoima Sugar Ltd to build on 5,500 hectares (13,500 acres) in the Bugoma Forest Reserve.

Along with sugar, the company plans to build schools, a market and a hospital, as well as develop an ecotourism center.

The Water and Environment Media Network, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists and the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) filed a complaint against the government’s environmental agency, the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) and the company in September.

The disputed land was leased to Hoima Sugar in 2016 by Solomon Iguru Gafabusa, king of the ancient kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara, who said the land was ancestral and not part of the protected forest.

Last week, Judge Musa Ssekaana, head of the High Court’s civil division, dismissed the case. He said it was based on unsubstantiated allegations to gain public sympathy and mislead the court.

“It appears that the claims in this case were based on distorted facts and the claimants attempted to suppress the real facts in order to present a ‘flowery’ case in court by exaggerating that all the forest is cleared for the sugar cane plantation. , ”Ssekaana said in his ruling.

Dickens Kamugisha, Managing Director of AFIEGO, said: “The whole decision is very superficial and absurd. The judge absolutely did not appreciate the legal questions relating to the questions to be decided. “

Robert Akugizibwe, secretary of the Bugoma Forest Conservation Association, said: “We express our displeasure that once again a court is wasting an opportunity to clear the ground on the shameful issues related to the destruction of the forest. Bugoma forest. “

The reserve, 250 km northwest of the capital, Kampala, covers more than 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres). It is the largest remaining block of natural rainforest along the Albertine Rift Valley and was to be designated a national park.

Activists said the reserve plays a huge role in preserving wildlife migration corridors. They plan to appeal the decision.

The forest is home to more than 34 species of mammals, including nine on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, including gray-cheeked mangabeys and 600 chimpanzees. There is 255 species of birds and 260 species of trees.