Community-based forest enterprise development for improved livelihoods and biodiversity conservation: a case study from Bwindi World Heritage site, Uganda

C.N. Mujuni, K. Nicholson, P. van de Kop, A. Baldascini and S. Grouwels 1


Current trends in economic liberalization and governmental decentralization provide opportunities for local communities to develop small-scale forest product enterprises that improve their livelihoods and provide incentives to better manage and protect resources. This paper examines the experience of the Mgahinga Bwindi Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT), a local non-governmental organization in Southwest Uganda, in assisting poor communities in parishes adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with the identification and development of enterprises that improve their livelihoods while protecting natural resources. Because of the limited scope to develop enterprises that implied harvesting of the Park's resources, MBIFCT supported the development of enterprises based on alternative resources and services provided by the park (such as eco-tourism). The paper highlights the importance of the communities' involvement in the identification and planning of such enterprises, and of supportive policies and strategic business alliances for the development of economically viable and ecologically sound enterprises.

1. Introduction

This paper presents the experience of the Mgahinga Bwindi Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT), a local non-governmental organisation in Southwest Uganda, in supporting the conservation of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park through the development of community-based enterprises. It describes how communities used FAO's Market Analysis and Development approach (Lecup and Nicholson, 2000) to identify and select viable enterprises that improve their livelihoods and contribute to the conservation of forest biodiversity at Bwindi World Heritage Site. It illustrates innovative ways to link enterprises to conservation in a situation where opportunities for commercial use of forest resources by communities are limited, but also stresses the need for supportive policies to enhance the engagement of local people in marketing of forest products and services. The paper also presents MBIFCT's strategy that ensures long-term service provision to the enterprises by using a combination of community-based enterprise motivators, as well as public and private services providers.

2. The project area

Bwindi World Heritage Site, Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in Southwest Uganda, is a World Heritage Site (WHS) with almost half of the world's population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) and 12 other animal species threatened with global extinction. The park was gazetted in 1932 and declared a national park in 1991. BINP covers 330 km2 of Afromontane forests and is home to some of the richest biodiversity in East Africa. The park is a major water catchment for the large surrounding population (approx. 240,000). The three districts bordering Bwindi are the most densely populated of Uganda (100-200 people per km2), 40% of the population lack sufficient land to meet basic needs and 16% of the population is landless. Land productivity is low and there are few sources of non-farm income (Cunningham, 1996; Wild and Mutebi, 1996).

Prior to the establishment of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the local communities (Bakiga and Batwa) depended on the forest for resources such as weaving materials and medicinal plants, hunting, honey collection, fruit gathering and building poles. Batwa (pygmies) are said to have lived in the forests until the early 60's. However, when Bwindi was gazetted as a national park, the people were barred from removing forest products, some of which played a crucial role in their livelihood. Consequently, conflicts between the park and the communities arose. For example, numerous fires (burning up to 5% of the park in 1992) were deliberately set and harassment of park staff by local community members was severe.

Multiple Use Zones

These conflicts showed that in the long term the park could not be protected without the consent and support of local people. As a result a collaborative management plan was designed, which involved multiple-use zones (MUZ), community participation in park management and revenue sharing programmes. The MUZs were set up to ensure continued traditional harvesting of resources mainly for domestic use or for trade within the parish bordering the park. Although only a small proportion of the population around Bwindi has access to the Multiple Use Zones for a limited number of products (e.g. medicinal plants, honey, weaving materials), the MUZs have strengthened communication between communities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. In addition, MUZs have given communities some access rights and responsibility for this resource and ensured that traditional forest users continued to have access to the area which enables them to preserve indigenous knowledge about the forest.

The Mgahinga Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust

The Mgahinga Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT) was established as a local non-governmental organisation in 1995 with funds provided from the World Bank through the Global Environmental Fund (GEF). MBIFCT's goal is to promote and support the conservation of the Mgahinga and Bwindi National Parks through addressing the needs of the poor surrounding communities. All MBIFCT's programme components aim to make an explicit link between improving the livelihoods of these communities and conserving the park's natural resources. MBIFCT supports community projects, research projects, park management projects, education and awareness projects, the ecological monitoring programme, the Abayanda (Batwa) assistance project and the small-scale Enterprise Development Project.

3. Small-scale Enterprise Development at Bwindi World Heritage Site

Linking Enterprises to Conservation

MBIFCT's Enterprise Development Project at Bwindi WHS has received support from the Forestry Policy and Institutions Branch of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Foundation. It supports community-based enterprises that contribute to improved livelihoods and the conservation of Bwindi's biodiversity. Since the MUZs in Bwindi have limited scope to develop product-harvesting businesses the project decided to support enterprises based on alternative resources and/or services provided by the park such as community-based tourism. However, since the communities' perception about the linkage of MBIFCT's development activities to conservation was found to be a crucial factor in the protection of the park's resources (see also Salafsky et. al, 1999), a strong emphasis was placed on raising awareness of the link between MBIFCT's enterprise development project and the need for conservation of the park's resources. For instance, pilot sites were selected in areas where MBIFCT had already supported community development projects and the project was introduced by a local theatre group to attract the attention of the communities while giving educational messages on links between development activities and the conservation of the park.

Market Analysis and Development: a framework for implementation

The project used the Market Analysis and Development (MA&D) approach for the participatory planning of enterprises around Bwindi. MA&D especially targets cases where poverty alleviation coupled with resource conservation is the main concern and where forest-dependent populations are in need of alternative sources of income. It offers inexperienced community members interested in starting micro or small enterprises a market-driven approach to identify potential products for existing and potential markets as well as the support services they need to develop viable enterprises. The MA&D framework builds the capacity of community members to identify or respond to market opportunities. The systematic inclusion of four important aspects of sustainability (environment, market, social/institutional and technology) in the planning of the enterprises enables communities to directly link forest management and conservation to income generating opportunities.

Participatory selection of enterprises

Three parishes (Mukono, Nyamabale and Nteko) were chosen as pilot sites. To ensure maximum impact of the project's effort the following criteria were used to select the pilot sites:

Phase 1: Identification of potential enterprises

In Phase 1 of the MA&D process (Figure 1), village workshops were organized in the pilot parishes to brainstorm with community members on enterprise opportunities based on available resources and land use systems. A wealth ranking exercise was carried out to reflect the socio-economic diversity of the target group and to ensure that each subgroup had the opportunity to develop enterprises based on its financial needs. The workshops were attended by representatives of households with different economic status, people already actively engaged in income generating activities, representatives of formal and informal community groups and key informants from communities and private sector. Participants developed a list of potential products and services for enterprises. Similar products were grouped together and their opportunities and constraints were analysed in focus groups. In all three parishes discussions revolved around the opportunities and constraints related to handicrafts, beekeeping, tree products (fruits and fodder), livestock, fish farming and cash crops. For promising products and services additional information needs were formulated in all aspects of enterprise development (market, natural resource, social/ institutional and/or technological) and the information was gathered by project facilitators, group members and external consultants. In a second village workshop the available information was compiled and an initial prioritization of products and enterprises was made. To ensure that short-listed enterprises contributed to a reduction in the current deficits of their households, participants took their livelihood needs and income expectations into account when going through this first selection.

Phase 2: Feasibility studies and final product selection

In Phase 2 of the MA&D process, Participatory Rapid Market Appraisals combined existing knowledge with outside information while increasing local capacity for marketing and ensuring market driven selection of enterprises. Feasibility studies were conducted to assess markets and community capacity for prioritised products and make a final selection of the best products. Market studies were carried for products such as honey, handicrafts, passion fruits and mushrooms out at local and cross border markets, as well as markets in the capital. For community-based tourism services (e.g. community walk and birwatching tour) a survey was done at Bwindi's park entrance. With beekeepers, feasibility workshops were conducted to develop suitable strategies to solve problems with honey production to increase benefits. In addition, a survey on local savings systems and microfinance distributions determined the most effective and sustainable distribution mechanism for providing small amounts of investment capital to entrepreneurs. Based on all the information gathered in the surveys, community members listed the opportunities and constraints in each area of enterprise development and made a final selection of products and enterprise ideas using participatory ranking tools. Preliminary strategies for the marketing of the products were formulated by interest groups that had emerged for each selected product. An overview of the prioritised products and marketing strategies for each product are presented in Annex 1.

Figure 1 MA&D Planning Process

Phase 3: Plan enterprises for sustainable development

In Phase 3 enterprise plans with detailed organization structures for procurement, marketing and costing for each strategy were developed by each interest group. In some cases, villagers proposed new strategies for the business plans, which were checked with additional market visits in order to verify prices and feasibility. Trainings were given in appropriate technologies, post harvest management and accounting skills. In some cases strategic alliances were formed with potential buyers for the provision of training (e.g. handicrafts, honey and mushrooms). Market tours were organized for the entrepreneurs to meet buyers and develop contracts with them. Start-up grants and specific short-term subsidies were used to encourage the development of new enterprises. Seed capital for start-up enterprises was disbursed based on finalized business plans and matching contributions of the entrepreneurs. In most cases communities set up revolving funds based on existing savings groups in order to ensure long term use of the provided seed capital.

Service provision to the enterprises

At the initial stage of entrepreneurship development a team of facilitators was formed that consisted of project staff, district and sub-county extension officers, community conservation wardens and rangers of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The team was trained to guide the communities through the MA&D process. Special attention was given to demand-driven service delivery along the lines of Uganda's National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS) by which producers contract advisory services from private service providers.

As part of MA&D process the enterprise groups identified the business support services that they needed to develop their enterprises (e.g. skill development, bookkeeping training, forward linkages, promotion, price information, technology development and transfer). The enterprise groups also planned how these needs could be addressed, either by the project itself or by mediation and strategic alliances with other governmental, non-governmental or private sector partners, or by extension agents from the community itself. To ensure that community members would be able to operate their enterprises independently after the project ends and facilitators leave, the project encouraged a market approach for the delivery of services.

Because of the limited capacity and reach of local service providers in remote areas like Bwindi, the project identified a need for locally-based extension workers with specific enterprise development skills that are able to provide services to community enterprises on a regular basis. Therefore additional training was provided to promising entrepreneurs in order to build their capacity to become model entrepreneurs that provide business development services to interested people in their communities at affordable fees. This form of service provision is currently being piloted and preliminary findings show that local providers are trusted by their fellow community members but also need technical back-up from district level service providers such as more experienced sub-county or district-based consultants or extensionists who can provide training and support. The main challenge is to ensure an enabling environment in which capable community-based model entrepreneurs can emerge and are then supported by district based service providers. As long as there are markets for the enterprise products, these model entrepreneurs will be able to charge compensation for their services at local rates that are affordable by their fellow community members.

4. Lessons learned

The experience from Bwindi shows the importance of a supportive policy environment for the development of enterprises based on forest products from a protected area. Because MUZs had limited scope to develop enterprises based on the park's resources the project supported enterprises based on alternative resources and on services provided by the park (such as eco-tourism). Although MA&D was particularly designed to select tree and forest products that can be harvested at sustainable levels for the development of micro and small-scale enterprises, the experience from Bwindi showed that it can also be used to identify enterprises based on alternative resources and on services provided by the park such as community-based tourism. While the selected enterprises in Bwindi were not based on the park's resources, communities did perceive a strong linkage between the project's activities and the protection of the park's resources due to the benefits that they had received through MBIFCT's long presence in the area. It is hoped that the experience of MBIFCT's enterprise development project will provide an entry point to discuss possible adjustment of regulatory frameworks to enable sustainable commercial use of some forest products from multiple use zones in the near future.

The experience from Bwindi and the variety of forest management situations and institutional set-ups where MA&D has been applied all over the world such as the development of Pro-Poor Sustainable Tourism, community forestry enterprises in The Gambia, development of enterprises as alternatives to the exploitation of endangered marine turtles in Colombia, and others (See Annex 2), show that MA&D offers a flexible approach to assist local communities to develop strategies to use the opportunities that their natural assets offer while coping with the pressures on these assets.

Capacity building of local people is a crucial factor in the development of the enterprises. To ensure that local people develop viable enterprises and operate them independently they were involved from the outset in the planning of the enterprise (i.e. from idea generation, feasibility studies, product selection and development of business plans). The poorest and most marginalized women and men in a community which might be dependent on threatened species are involved in the process by ensuring that social mobilization takes place before MA&D is initiated. Market study tours and exchanges between farmers are being used to develop entrepreneurship cultures and transfer knowledge between farmers. Participatory Rapid Market Appraisals combined existing knowledge with outside information while increasing local capacity for marketing and ensuring market driven selection of enterprises. The participatory planning process also enhanced the establishment of community-based producer groups that are able to participate in commercial and policy negotiations.

Whereas the MA&D approach assists local people to identify and plan viable enterprises and the support needs that they require to develop their enterprises, a range of public and private service providers are attempting to provide these services, and they all operate in the national regulatory and legal context (see also Murray and Boros, 2002). To ensure the long-term provision of business development services to the enterprises the project encouraged the formation of strategic alliances between local enterprise groups and private sector partners. It is anticipated that these partners will continue to provide support services to the enterprises once the groups improve their production and orders are being placed. In addition the project supported a demand-driven approach for service provision, in which enterprise groups request services from different providers. Because of the limited capacity and reach of service providers in remote areas such as Bwindi, the project supported promising entrepreneurs to become community-based service providers that will provide services to other entrepreneurs at small affordable fees. The main challenges are to improve the capacity and outreach of district-based service providers to provide technical backup to the community-based providers and to develop mechanisms that ensure that the poorest community members benefit.

In conclusion, MBIFCT's experiences confirm recent findings of Scherr et. al (2002) that with supportive policies in place, with well designed capacity building of local people and with strategic business alliances, local people are able to improve their livelihoods while protecting and managing in sustainable ways their natural resources.


Cunningham, A.B., 1996. People Park and Plant Use. Recommendations for multiple-use zones and development alternatives around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Peole and Plants Working Paper 4, UNESCO, France.

Lecup, I. And K. Nicholson, 2000. Community-based Tree and Forest Enterprises: Market Analysis and Development. A Field Manual. FAO, Rome, Italy.

Murray, A. and R. Boros, 2002. A guide to gender sensitive microfinance (draft). FAO Socio-economic and gender analysis programme (SEAGA). FAO, Rome Italy.

Nicholson K. 2000. A concept paper for a central level marketing information system. NTFP Network, Nepal.

Nicholson K., Ling. L and S. Wen 2001. Results on implementation of MA&D Phase 1 at Mt Emei World Heritage Site Sichuan Province China. Internal report. Sichuan Province Forestry Department, China/ FAO, Rome, Italy.

Salafsky, Nick, Bernd Cordes, John Parks, and Cheryl Hochman, 1999. Evaluating Linkages between Business, the Environment and Local Communities. Final Analytical Results from the Biodiversity Conservation Network. Biodiverstity Support Program, Washington, D.C., USA.

Scherr, S. J., A. White and D. Kaimowitz, 2002. Marking markets work for forest communities. Forest Trends, Washington.

Wild, R.G. and J. Mutebi, 1996. Conservation through Community Use of Plant Resources: establishing collaborative management at Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. People and Plants Working Paper 5, UNESCO, France.

Annex 1 Products for micro enterprises at Bwindi World Heritage Site


Enterprise strategies

Honey and beeswax

Introduction of new skills and appropriate improved technologies for production and for value addition (improved traditional beehives, wax extraction and processing, collection centre for packaging)

Potential new products (sieved honey and wax)

Potential new markets (Kampala)

Market linkages with suppliers and buyers


Introduction of new skills and appropriate technologies for production and for value addition (improving local designs, natural dying techniques and improved packaging).

Central collection of finished handicrafts at own workshop at Buhoma

Market linkage with buyer in Kampala with export links

Community Based Tourism

Adding new products with new attractions (village walk and birding circuit) to existing tourism market

Collaboration with Uganda Wildlife Authority to mainstream quality with park standards.

Collaboration with private sector tour operators and managers of lodges for promotion

Cultivated Oyster Mushrooms

(fresh and dried)

Introduction of new high value/low volume product for existing local and national markets

Introduction of skills and appropriate technologies for production and for value addition through processing and packaging

Formation of growing groups to initially share high capital investments

Market linkages with suppliers and buyers

Passion Fruits

Improved production and post harvest management

Linkages with transport companies for access to major buyers in urban centres

Irish Potatoes

Improved production and post harvest management with guidance from National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), and district extension agents

Annex 2 Other examples of MA&D application for forest based enterprises


Forest Management Context and purpose of MA&D application

Institutional set-up


Traditional forest dwellers in remote mountain areas developed enterprises based on medicinal and aromatic plants. Market innovations: value addition through improved technologies. Market information supplied by a central NTFP Price Information System.

Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) / Ministry of Industry / Semi-private sector consulting services


Poverty alleviation through enhanced off-farm income generating opportunities. Community-based enterprises based on

tree, forest, and homegarden products such as rattan, honey, blackpepper, silkworms and grassflowers.

German-Vietnamese Integrated Food Security Project


The NTFP Project used MA&D as its main conceptual framework to identify products that promote improved forest management and reduce threats to protected areas.

Non Timber Forest Product (NTFP) Project. IUCN and Lao Government.

The Gambia

Support to viable community-based enterprises that contribute to improved livelihoods and create incentives for sustainable management of Community Forests.

Gambian Forestry Department, GTZ funded Gambian German Forestry Project (GGFP) and FAO


Identification of enterprises based on forests on private lands and marine-based ecosystems.

Ministry of Environment Colombia / Alexandre von Humboldt Institute and FAO

Sources: Lecup and Nicholson, 2000; Nicholson et al, 2000 and 2001 and case studies in preparation.

1 Mgahinga Bwindi Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT), P.O. Box 1064, Kabale, Uganda. mbifct@utlonline.co.ug