Field Journal

Chance Conservationist: An Agroecologist Localizing Biodiversity Policies in Uganda’s Kidepo Landscape

Chance Conservationists is a series highlighting AWF staff who have embraced people-centered conservation in their professions despite coming from diverse academic fields. These remarkable individuals now espouse conservation values to propel the organization’s vision for sustainable development and biodiversity protection.

Pius Loupa began his career with a diploma in entomology, focusing on apiary and economic insects. He then obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with a major in agroecology, a crucial aspect of agriculture and ecosystems. As a skilled agroecologist, he currently serves as the African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF) Project Officer in the Kidepo landscape, starting in April 2022.

What does agroecology entail, and how does it relate to conservation?

Agroecology is a scientific field that applies ecological principles to agricultural practices. It aims to optimize and stabilize yields while reducing environmental impacts, addressing the issues caused by the current agricultural system, such as deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions. Agroecology is a crucial food system that supports food production, security, nutrition, and income generation while restoring ecosystem services and biodiversity necessary for sustainable agriculture. 

To promote conservation in agriculture, it is vital to establish a win-win situation that benefits both wildlife and farmers. An example is developing models that complement farming, wildlife economies, and how conservation can support livelihoods. Determining the appropriate farming system and crops that can be grown along protected areas and corridors is essential. For example, cropping and agroforestry systems like sunflower, chili, sesame, and tree planting that are not appealing to wildlife can mitigate Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC), replenish soils, improve livelihoods, promote conservation farming, and biodiversity conservation.

What has it been like switching from agroecology to conservation?

I wouldn't classify it as a switch. Agroecology and conservation are interrelated and not mutually exclusive. Agroecology promotes sustainable agricultural practices that do not harm the ecosystem, which in turn helps preserve the soil and vegetation cover, a form of conservation. 

Conservation has always been a subject of interest for me. During my undergraduate studies, my research focused on indigenous fodder tree conservation for livestock. Since then, I have been involved in several conservation and climate change campaigns in the Karamoja region. I am a founding member of Go Green Karamoja, a climate initiative encouraging indigenous tree planting. I also integrated conservation and indigenous tree planting initiatives into the Miss Tourism Karamoja Model as an activity and a critical question for candidates.

What drives your passion for policy and governance?

 Effective governance and leadership that values our natural heritage are vital for conservation to thrive. AWF collaborates with government leaders and strategic partners at all levels to align development in Africa with this vision, benefiting both people and wildlife. 

Natural resource management is a subject that I am deeply passionate about. African Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) own these resources, and conflicts can arise if their benefits are not well-managed. Good policy and governance can help prevent disputes, but solutions and resolutions must also come from the local communities. As a pastoralism and rangelands management trainer, I facilitate grassroots workshops to help smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and youth leaders in my community understand conservation policy and leadership. It is rewarding to see them gain knowledge and apply it to managing resources within their communities.

I am fortunate to work in my home region and serve on various committees where we analyze and adapt different international regulatory frameworks. For example, we use the African Union's Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Protocol on Transhumance of Pastoralists, and localized resource-sharing agreements among pastoral communities. My role involves giving guidance on essential topics, such as wildlife resource conservation and rangeland ecosystem management.

At the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), we believe in putting people at the center of our conservation efforts. We work closely with local communities, engaging them in participatory activities that benefit both people and wildlife. Recently, with the support of AWF's Global Leadership Department, the Karamoja Development Forum, and the African Leadership Institute, we conducted a consultative dialogue. The dialogue engaged pastoralist communities of Karimojong (Uganda), Turkana of Kenya, Pokot of Kenya and Uganda, and government officials from Uganda and Kenya. The focus was on resource sharing in the transboundary Pian Upe and Matheniko-Bokora wildlife reserves and rangeland areas in the Karamoja sub-region of Uganda, which spans Uganda and Kenya. 

These consultations and negotiations resulted in a resource synthesis paper and a Draft Resource Sharing Agreement. These documents also informed the Presidential Executive Order Paper No.3, which addressed several important issues. These issues included banning commercial charcoal production in Northern Uganda, prohibiting illegal possession and movement of arms into the Karamoja sub-region for poaching and causing insecurity, and unorganized transboundary grazing of livestock by Turkana and Balalo pastoralists.

Tell us about your AWF Charles R Wall Young African Policy Fellows Program journey.

This opportunity has been incredibly significant for me and has filled a missing link in my career. As someone who already loves policy and leadership, it has been enriching to learn more and elaborate on the gaps in my knowledge. I now have a deeper understanding of local and international policy frameworks, which positions me well to advocate for better policies and models for Africa. Minimizing the implementation gap can benefit the local communities we work with in Africa. My knowledge has been broadened, and I am looking forward to using it to make a positive impact.

SBSSTA25 Pius Loupa

Additionally, I am excited to share that I will attend the upcoming SBSTTA25 meeting in Nairobi. I plan to apply the theoretical skills and knowledge I have acquired through the intensive modules of the AWF Charles R Wall Young African Policy Fellows Program. Anticipating this significant event, I am eager to delve into discussions with fellow experts, policymakers, and scholars in the field of biodiversity conservation. Armed with a deeper understanding of policy frameworks, I am prepared to engage in meaningful dialogues and contribute substantively to the meeting's objectives. I aim to bridge the gap between theory and practice, bringing practical, actionable insights. By applying the expertise I have gained, we can develop policies that protect our natural heritage and uplift the communities that depend on these ecosystems. This meeting presents a unique opportunity to translate theoretical knowledge into tangible, favorable outcomes, and I am enthusiastic about the prospect of making a lasting impact.