Alternative livelihoods developed to protect World Heritage Site in Uganda
Communities independently running enterprises while protecting the environment
3 December 2004, Bwindi, Uganda / Rome -- Small enterprises have been created in communities around the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to generate income while conserving the park, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Thanks to an FAO project, funded by the United Nations Foundation and the government of Norway, communities that used to live off the park's forest resources have developed small-scale enterprises and now earn income from a wide variety of products, such as handicrafts, honey and mushrooms, while conserving the park.
"This pilot project shows that it is possible for communities living around high biodiversity or protected sites to create alternative sources of income using the natural resources in a sustainable way," said Sophie Grouwels, an FAO expert in participatory forestry.
Park conservation vs. people's livelihoods
Bwindi Park is home to half of the world's mountain gorillas and 12 other animal species threatened with global extinction. To protect the mountain forest's rich biodiversity, the Ugandan government declared it a national park in 1991.
This, however, threatened communities that depended on the park's forest resources to make a living. Forty percent of the population living around the park lack sufficient land to meet basic needs and 16 percent of the population are landless. They relied on the forest for weaving materials, medicinal plants, hunting, honey collection, fruit gathering and building poles.
When Bwindi was named a national park, the people were barred from removing forest products, some of which played a crucial role in their livelihood. The inaccessibility of the park to those living around it fuelled conflicts between the communities and the park.
Environmentally friendly community-based enterprises
The FAO project, launched in 2001, has enabled more than 300 small-scale natural resource-based enterprises to be set up around the park, with community members running them independently and earning income. Activities range from food production to tourist tours.
The Buhoma Village Walk is a guided tour offered mainly to tourists visiting the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for gorilla watching. This initiative adds to the variety of tourist activities offered in the area, while also providing members of the local community with an alternative source of income directly linked to conservation.
Trained community guides lead tourists to a number of interesting natural and cultural sites, ranging from rural homesteads to visiting the local traditional medicinal healer. The guides have been trained in presentation skills, park knowledge, handling tourists and first aid. The initiative has been quite successful, with the number of visitors jumping from 94 in July 2003 to 148 in July 2004.
Apiaries have been established and beehives populated so that people can produce and sell honey and beeswax, using traditional knowledge and appropriate technology. Those who used to keep hives made from logs found in the park now have their own improved hives made of woven grasses, which increase yields and the quality of the honey. The expected income from the improved hives is about US$30-40 per household a year.
Raw materials for traditional handicrafts are now mainly grown in home gardens, rather than in the park. The crafts are sold in the local tourism market and also exported generating an average of US$17 of additional income per household a month.
Cultivation and sale of oyster mushrooms has reduced the illegal harvest from the park. The producers make an average of US$10 in additional income a month per household from this activity.
All these activities have generated employment and created additional income. Requiring less space than other agricultural activities, they also exert less impact on the land and make best use of existing local knowledge and resources.
Community members' involvement
"The involvement of the community members themselves from the outset -- that is, from the selection of products, development of business plans, to the operation of the enterprises -- has been key to the success of the project," Grouwels said.
To increase the capacity of community members to plan, develop and run their enterprises independently, workshops were held in the villages, interest groups were created around promising products and able local entrepreneurs with leadership qualities were identified.
"We will use the lessons learned and share best practices from the project at other high biodiversity sites," Grouwels said. "It shows it is possible to conserve valuable natural resources while also protecting the surrounding people's livelihoods."
Information Officer, FAO
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