Need for Alternative Livelihoods around Uganda’s Forest Reserves

Trekking along the fringes of Budongo Forest in Masindi District, one cannot help but be awestruck by the beauty of nature all around, but beyond this lies a pervading darkness that threatens the security of this Central Forest Reserve – encroachment through human economic activity. With the struggle for land especially between refugees and the host communities, there has been heavy encroachment on the forest reserves with areas of the forests shifted to agricultural production. Another major factor which has lessened availability of land for use is the discovery of oil in the Albertine Rift, with vast areas where Government of Uganda is set to construct the planned Hoima-Tanga crude oil pipeline which will run through Uganda and Tanzania. While a source of development, such are the reasons conservation must be seriously considered.

The Mid-Western Region Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (MICOD), a Civil Society Organization in Masindi District, organized the communities nearest the forest into an initiative for a harmonious and profitable set up to enable all the forest dwellers, human and other to coexist. The Program Officer, Elly Kiirya acknowledged that people in the community had to have means of survival, but it was key to curb indiscriminate felling of trees. “A way had to be found of interacting with nature without compromising the authenticity of the forest ecosystem,” he said.

In February 2019 four groups were set up in the community to mobilize interested members to participate in the conservation effort. These were Garasoya Collaborative Forest Management Association, Waaki Collaborative Management Association, Albertine Environmental & Collaborative Natural Resource Management Organization, and Budongo Youth & Development Initiative. MICOD provided alternative livelihood options for socioeconomic and sustainable environmental conservation.

The actions funded by the American People, through USAID, were meant to equip the communities to identify environmentally friendly alternative livelihood options for their households. The communities were given free local beehives and seedlings and trained in managing apiary and tree planting as a business. A year on, these skills have enabled income generation, while at the same time contributing to plant and wildlife preservation.

In Waaki Village, 58-year-old Stephen Mugema who is a father of eight and beneficiary of the project, explains what a difference understanding the ecosystem makes to one’s quality of life. “This was very appealing to us,” he said. “After the training I received over 100 seedlings of Musizi trees and four local beehives,” he adds. “I planted all the trees and almost all of them survived and are growing well. I no longer cut trees from the forest for timber and mainly rely on the small income from honey as I wait for my trees to grow so that I can harvest and sell wood,” adds Mugema. He continues to say that he would like to continue planting more trees and expand his honey business by acquiring modern hives.

The seven-month project although short-lived, enabled a start to a sustainable venture and options for different types of trees, both fast-growing and slow-growth trees for immediate use, and conservation for the future. The area has seen restoration of over four hundred hectares of forest in the Budongo CFR and establishment of twenty hectares of community woodlots. The conservation steps taken in the community show that there can be a symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment. “It is possible to live off the environment while still conserving its biodiversity for our children and their children,” Stephen Mugema said.

A few kilometers away in Akim Village, Moses Muhumuza, a member of the Garasoya Collaborative Forest Management Association, is enthused by the fact that he is going to his third honey harvest. The honey yield is promising as he harvested only three liters of honey at the start but with each yield it has increased. “I am looking forward to harvesting more honey to sell!” Muhumuza says. Both farmers indicate that they would like to expand and have apiaries which would harvest copious amounts of honey for sale. In addition, planting trees in their homestead woodlots as a source of firewood and timber that they could take to market on a big scale.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the role of forests for rural households in Uganda is majorly to provide energy and to contribute to providing a home and furnishings, food and nutrition security and health. The forest, therefore, is a convenient and lucrative source of livelihood, but the beneficiaries of the alternative livelihood projects comprehend the importance of the venture which they took on.

Interventions like planting woodlots with fast-growing trees like bamboo would ease the burden on the centuries-old trees that are being cut down and causing a climate crisis. Bamboo is a versatile tree that can contribute to economic value as it can be used in construction, production of charcoal, furniture, among others. It also supports a clean environment through controlling soil erosion, oxygen production as well as its function as carbon sinks.

To achieve socio-economic transformation, communities need more people like Muhumuza and Mugema who recognize the need to plant trees and conserve the biodiversity of forests like Budongo Central Forest Reserve. Anything less, and it will be a sad case of having missed the forest for the trees.

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