Restoring biodiversity hotspots in Uganda empowers communities

About the Author

George Okwaro spent more than seven years at African Wildlife Foundation, joining as one of the first Conservation Management Associates in our More

Close-up of lone chimpanzee in foliage

Sustainable agricultural enterprise, community conservancies, and education campaigns protect wildlife and natural resources across Uganda’s landscapes. Integrating these approaches with local economic growth ensures their continued success as they provide communities with opportunities to benefit from conservation.The five-year U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Uganda Biodiversity Program funded by USAID and implemented by African Wildlife Foundation focused on three national parks and two forest reserves. Working closely with both the Uganda Wildlife and National Forest Authorities, the program developed context-specific approaches to address threats facing its iconic species and habitats. While the protection of chimpanzees was a priority in Budongo and Kalinzu Central Forest Reserves, enhanced anti-poaching capacity was required in the Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Parks. In the Lake Mburo landscape, human-wildlife conflict is prevalent in dispersal areas.

Ecological monitoring mitigates wildlife threats                                         

Improving the management of Uganda’s priority protected areas ensures that natural resources are maintained for their ecological value and contribute to the growth of the tourism industry. To strengthen the capacity of Uganda’s wildlife and forest authorities to manage biodiversity, the program provided equipment, software, and training for over 300 staff from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and National Forest Authority to collect ecological data seamlessly. Monitoring trails were also constructed and repaired, opening areas for tourism.

With enhanced ecological data capture and analysis, rangers are now able to determine poaching and trafficking hotspots in northern Murchison Falls National Park which shares a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo on Lake Albert. The training and technology have boosted rangers’ morale as they are able to develop specific conservation strategies and measure their success. The data is also useful in highlighting where community engagement is required within wildlife dispersal zones.

Photo of female farmers and child inspecting chili crop in Uganda

Developing conservation-friendly livelihood strategies

Many farmers struggle with elephants wandering outside of protected areas. For these targeted households around Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Parks, AWF and Uganda Wildlife Authority introduced chili growing to ward off elephants with its unpleasant odor. The program soon transformed the chili from a human-wildlife conflict measure into a social enterprise project — encouraging sustainable cultivation of the crop, providing seeds and linking the farmers to markets.

Chili is now grown on an improved scale proportionate to the land holdings of the farmer. Upon harvesting the fruit, the highest quality crop is sold while the rest is mixed with cow dung and burnt to deter elephants. Generating almost twice the revenue in just one harvest, this non-traditional agricultural enterprise has diversified incomes and made communities more resilient. The continued success has enabled farmers to purchase assets and, in some cases, provide school fees for their children.

Similarly, the introduction of beekeeping in Budongo and Kalinzu Central Forest Reserves boosted household livelihoods while delivering critical conservation results as locals realized that maintaining the forests’ flowering plants guarantees higher harvests. Over 80 farmers from three of the seven collaborative forest management groups were organized into apiary production units and provided with training and equipment to run successful agribusiness enterprises. Loans provided by cooperatives allowed beekeepers to reinvest for expansion as well as hire trainers to build on technical knowledge. A diversifiable and adaptable enterprise, the focus shifted from honey as the main product and community members started producing bee wax, propolis, and bee venom later in the program. Going one step further, beekeepers from the Nyarugote Integrated collaborative forest management group even developed a ‘honey wine’.

Photo of Sarachom Primary School in Kidepo Valley landscape

Instilling a conservation mindset  

Women make up 43 percent of the seven collaborative forest management groups established in the reserves, while youth comprise 44 percent. As the program progressed, it became clear that even though beneficiary household is registered to the male, all family members play a significant part in the different stages of the value chain.

The program highlighted the role of women in biodiversity protection with the formation of a working group led by female executives from five organizations. They mentor young women from the community and within the Uganda Wildlife Authority to excel in leadership roles.

To inculcate a conservation mindset in Uganda’s school going population, the program developed a range of awareness-raising activities at schools all over the country. Through this targeted conservation education campaign, thousands of primary and secondary school students across Uganda planted trees, participated in essay-writing and fine art competitions, as well as park cleanups and field trips. Within the Kidepo Valley landscape, AWF’s Classroom Africa initiative is improving learning facilities in two rural primary schools. They will also integrate conservation education into the curriculum with the hope that Uganda’s youth are empowered to make informed decisions to protect the wildlife next to them.

The USAID Uganda Biodiversity Program ended in November 2017, but AWF’s mission to protect the species and landscapes of this richly biodiverse country extends beyond protected areas. As a wildlife trafficking hotspot, Uganda requires enhanced wildlife law enforcement and detection of wildlife criminals. In addition to prosecutorial and judicial training sessions, AWF has deployed sniffer dogs and handlers to Entebbe International Airport. Building on this strong foundation ensures that Uganda’s iconic species stay where they belong, allowing them to recover and improve the lives of its citizens.

> Learn how AWF streamlines wildlife law enforcement, investigation, and detection across eastern Africa