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Community conservation of closed forest biodiversity in East Africa: can it work?

W.A. Rodgers, R. Nabanyumya, E. Mupada and L. Persha

The authors are all on the staff of the
project "Reducing Biodiversity Loss
at Cross-Border Sites in East Africa"
W.A. Rodgers and L. Persha in
Arusha, United Republic of
Tanzania, and R. Nabanyumya and
E. Mupada in Kampala, Uganda.

Communities need incentives to conserve biodiversity - some examples from the GEF-UNDP-FAO project "Reducing Biodiversity Loss at Cross-Border Sites in East Africa".

Biodiversity can be defined in utilitarian terms as the underpinning of the varied resource base that gives resilience to both household and national economies across much of Africa. Management of these resources - which provide food, shelter, energy and income - means maintaining their diversity at various levels, and in a manner that allows their evolutionary and ecological processes to continue. Conserving forest biodiversity means maintaining ecological conditions suitable for forest cover. The management of forests for biodiversity is compatible with management for water catchment and, if well planned, for production of a range of products.

If local people recognize how they benefit from the products and services provided by forests, they will be motivated to modify their resource and land use practices and to invest time and effort in forest conservation activities. The authors propose that given the right enabling environment and the right incentives, communities can and will manage forests and woodland resources for biodiversity.

This article examines the community or collaborative management ("co-management") of closed forests for their biodiversity values. It describes several conservation processes involving different incentives which are being tested in the project "Reducing Biodiversity Loss at Cross-Border Sites in East Africa", funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by FAO and the Governments of Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. The article adds to the growing debate on the process and impact of collaborative management of natural forest resources in eastern Africa.

Agricultural encroachment and fire are threats where steep slope cultivation abuts Chome Forest Reserve, United Republic of Tanzania; the cross-border biodiversity project has worked with villagers to clear the forest boundary each year to prevent farm preparation fires from spreading into the forest



The history of post Iron Age people-forest interactions in Africa can be divided into three periods (Rodgers, 1993; Wily and Mbaya, 2001):

Before colonization, people clearly used forest resources as evidenced by the great decrease in forest extent in eastern Africa as the Iron Age spread from the northwest (Hamilton, 1984). There is some evidence of conservation of natural resources; scarce resources, such as water springs and dry-season grazing, were husbanded through development of rules, regulations and community sanctions. Forests were also conserved, but primarily for a value other than the resources they contain: they provided a refuge, and often took on a religious significance. The Wa-jikenda of the Kenyan coastal forests, for example, protected kayas, or forest patches, for religious reasons.

The colonial period was characterized by a deliberate separation of people from the legal use of, or access to, closed forest, as colonial powers reserved forests for provision of water and timber resources for the State (Rodgers, 1993; Newmark, 2002). Much of East Africa's forest estate was reserved before the First World War. After independence most governments continued colonial practices; more forests were reserved and more people were excluded. But gradually government forest institutions lost their funding and the capacity to conserve, which resulted in rapid forest degradation.

More recently, there have been changes in East African forestry, as elsewhere in the tropics, with the emergence of community forest management (management driven by communities, usually on community land) and joint forest management (where rights of ownership and management are held jointly by communities and the State). This shift in management policy started slowly in East Africa, and relied a great deal on the Indian experience. Acceptance of the concept was slow, but as elsewhere, the increasingly obvious failure of underfunded government forestry gave credence to possible alternatives - primarily for management of forests and woodlands of localized value.

Forests have lost biodiversity value over the past hundred years of management, primarily under government control (Burgess and Clarke, 2000; Hamilton, 1984; Hamilton and Bensted-Smith, 1990; Howard, 1991; Lovett and Wasser, 1993; Newmark, 2002). At first the loss was deliberate as the forest estate was managed for timber production and a few high-value species were favoured. Selective felling was used to eliminate climbers, figs and what were termed "weed trees". As natural forests were seen to have slow rates of timber tree recruitment, some were replaced with plantations of exotic softwoods.


Much of eastern Africa's experience with co-management has been with forests that provide goods and services that are of predominantly local value. These are often robust woodlands rather than closed evergreen forests. An example is village management to combine the sustained use of miombo (Brachystegia spp.) woodland resources with measures to reduce degradation - mainly policing and fire control - in the United Republic of Tanzania (Wily, 1996).

An issue of fundamental concern in the debate on co-management of forests is whether co-management protocols developed for such woodlands can be applied to forests of great biological complexity which have global and national value for conserving water and biodiversity. This debate first surfaced in the first half of the 1990s, with discussion over the involvement of communities in managing the forests of Bwindi National Park in Uganda (Cunningham, 1996; Wild and Mutebi, 1996) and the closed forests of the Eastern Arc mountain forests in Tanzania (Rodgers and Aloo, 1996) - a patchwork of fragmented forests within 11 mountain blocks, recognized as one of the world's 25 global biodiversity "hot spots" (Myers et al., 2000), areas in which there is a high concentration of diversity. The debate is still not resolved; while the miombo protocols are incorporated into national "best practice" management codes in Tanzania (Government of Tanzania, 2001), many national forestry officials oppose their application for closed forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains.

The opposition is rooted in the following beliefs:

However, excluding communities from the conservation process would also be likely to lead to failure. A compromise set of solutions is needed.

Experience suggests that co-management can be effective if there is sufficient incentive for communities to invest in conservation within a framework acceptable to policy-makers. In terms of sustainability, short-term project support is of limited use in changing resource use patterns; developing economic incentives will have a more lasting impact (DGIS/WWF, 2001).

The experience of ten years of joint forest management in India showed the complexity of managing multispecies forests for multiple purposes. Setting sustained yield targets and seeking multiple product regeneration targets requires retraining of field staff, new research and new silvicultural guidelines. Communities wanted to manage their forests for a diversity of products - not only the traditional timber, pole and fuelwood products, but also grazing, fruits, medicines, mushrooms, fibres, gums, etc. - but lacked the skills and the social cohesion to agree on management inputs (Poffenberger, 1990).

Potentially divergent goals for forest management and their success parameters


Success parameters for these goals

Species conservation

No consistent decline in populations
Populations not vulnerable to extinction

Maintaining ecosystem services

Primary productivity and nutrient cycling maintained
Landscape patterns maintained
Watershed capacity maintained

Human livelihoods

Resource availability maintained
Poverty alleviated and per capital income increased
Participation by local people in governance increased


The following section describes various conservation programmes, involving different incentives, from the UNDP-GEF-FAO project "Reducing Biodiversity Loss at Cross-Border Sites in East Africa". The project is based around four areas of cross-border closed forest ecosystems (see Map). The forests are of global (biodiversity), national (water, timber and biodiversity) and local (wood and non-wood resources for livelihoods) significance, but are under threat because of reduced institutional regulatory capacity, overuse of resources and encroachment. The project philosophy is to work at all levels of resource use decision-making, from the household (awareness, alternatives) to the village (by-laws, peer pressure, markets), district (land-use guidelines, funding programmes) and national level (policies and law).

The project's central activities are developing participatory forest management plans and promoting co-management by government and communities to conserve forest resources and use them sustainably. People are seen as an integral part of the solution to the problem. Since problems, people's interests and potential solutions differ among sites, solutions must be site specific, although basic frameworks can be used to guide actions across all sites.

The four cross-border sites in the project "Reducing Biodiversity Loss at Cross-Border Sites in East Africa"

Traditional natural resource management by the Ik people, Karamoja, Uganda

Karamoja, located in northeastern Uganda, is largely flat with forested mountain peaks rising to 2 500 m above sea level. Rainfall is low and erratic with rain-shadow areas receiving less than 400 mm per year. Much of Karamoja is covered by grassland and degraded bushland/woodland as a result of many years of livestock pressure. Recent settlements on the mountain slopes have an impact on both the mountain forest and montane pasture resources.

The main ethnic groups in Karamoja are the Karimojong, Tepeth, Dodoth, Pokot and Ik. The Ik are virtually restricted to the Timu mountain forests of north Karamoja. They depend on the diversity of species found in forest ecosystems for many basic livelihood needs such as food, fuelwood, medicine, meat, honey and water. In the late 1990s, some of the Ik moved into the more remote Morungole forest to escape frequent cattle raids between the neighbouring Dodoth and Turkana.

The Ik are among the least socio-economically developed ethnic groups in Uganda, with a literacy rate of 29 percent. They have neither cattle nor guns. The Ik have practised agriculture in small enclaves in the forest for many generations. Their agricultural livelihoods are fragile because of both recurrent droughts and raids by neighbouring groups. They supplement their agricultural production by hunting wild game, gathering fruits and collecting honey. Every Ik family has at least one beehive. Some honey is sold in nearby trading centres.

The Ik are an organized community and usually act as a group. In a participatory forest planning process carried out through the cross-border biodiversity project, the Ik demonstrated a wealth of indigenous knowledge on forest resources and resource management. They have established guidelines for fire regimes, tree cutting and grass harvesting. They expressed their dependence on the forest in terms of four major needs: security, agricultural land, water and income. They also identified the following other values derived from the forest:

While appreciating the values of the forest, the Ik also recognized the need to mitigate threats, including:

The Ik practices are generally not destructive to the forest. They do not cut big trees, preferring to lop branches. If they need to harvest fruits or honey, they normally climb the trees, unlike other groups in Karimoja which are more destructive to the forest. The Ik do not burn charcoal and do not deliberately set forest fires because they use the forest for storing grain, keeping beehives and as refuge in times of insecurity.

The Ik are aware that the forests they use have been formal protected areas since the 1940s. While the forest law has been operational for decades around Timu and Morungole, the Forestry Department has not been present since the original demarcation of the protected area by the colonial government. Nevertheless, because of the value the Ik attach to the forest, the forests have remained largely intact, unlike southern Karamoja forests such as Moroto where forest cover has been degraded through fires, overuse and severe agricultural encroachment.

The hierarchy of command and control ensures that everybody practises social norms of forest management. The no-fire rule is a traditional law; anybody who set a fire would be disciplined. As a result, there has been no incident of fire set by a member of the group. The Ik are concerned about fires set in Timu by Turkana and Dodoth invaders, which destroy their livelihoods.

The Ik have a collective responsibility for resource access and use. There is no permit system. The communities are within organized settlements, each with access to resources in the adjacent forest. They can access distant resources as well, but because of the threat of raids by other ethnic groups, this is rarely done. Because they have a vested interest in the continuous existence of the resources being as near as possible to their dwellings, care is taken to harvest wood and non-wood products with minimum damage.

The Ik are eager to participate in outside interventions and partnerships such as the cross-border biodiversity project. Local communities have traced and cleared the boundaries to Timu Forest Reserve with minimal input from the project. Each settlement has taken ownership of the nearest boundary portions. Community members tend the live marker trees planted by the project along the boundary, watering them and covering them with mulch during the extreme dry season. The project, with additional funds from UNDP, has provided secure windmills at the edge of the reserve to pump water from new boreholes, because the Ik often had to travel for kilometres to obtain water. This action is expected to trigger additional social contracts for forest conservation, including fire prevention and reporting illegal use.

The use of water as an incentive for forest conservation

Many of the cross-border forest sites are dry or have long dry seasons. Since forest catchments are important for water supply to local villages and other communities as well as supporting a diverse array of biological communities, water is a key resource. Project practice is based on developing social contracts (Government of Tanzania, 2001) with villagers, setting out rights and responsibilities for co-management of forest areas. The logic is that there is a vested interest in ensuring the continuation of watershed functions that supply livelihood processes. The watershed defines the overall sphere of interest of the community, within which agreed rules of resource use are developed and included in the social contract. Utilization varies from ecotourism (Shengena Peak in Chome Forest of Tanzania, the Taita Hills and Namanga Mountain in Kenya) to mountain pasture grazing (Karamoja and Turkana) to product collection (medicinal products, fuelwood, poles, thatch and fibre).

Village contracts are being embedded within the larger framework of the Participatory Forest Management Plan process. This plan will redesignate part of the larger forests as Forest Nature Reserves, which will permit ecotourism but no extractive resource use; access rights in other areas of the forest may include selective resource extraction. Additional support to the conservation process comes from the integrated conservation and development philosophy of the project (see Box). The management plan is being broadened to include alternative resource use strategies, for example promoting fuel-efficient stoves and home woodlots to reduce fuelwood use and promoting on-farm production of poles and timber trees (the latter being possible given a longer time perspective). The plan will also address needs for alternative income generation strategies.

Long-term incentive of timber - Minziro-Sango Bay swamp forests

Minziro-Sango Bay is a swamp system straddling the Tanzania-Uganda border, with extensive flood-plain grassland surrounding closed evergreen forest stands. Annual grassland fires affect the forest edge. One of the most complex topics related to co-management of these forest areas is the access to commercially valuable timber. Cash income is a priority for many communities in remote forest areas, and timber could supply that need. However, the Government of Tanzania banned all commercial logging in all mountain catchment forests approximately 15 years ago (Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, 2001). Building sustainable logging into village contracts is not a legal option. Limited logging is permitted for community development, but not enough to provide cash income or more than negligible employment. The concern is how to balance community conservation for water and sacred forest imperatives with the still present individual demand for timber.

In Minziro and Sango Bay, past intense, unmanaged commercial logging completely destroyed a podo (Podocarpus spp.) population. Today there are no trees of marketable size. However, a less valuable timber species (Bakiaea spp.) forms some 25 percent of the canopy cover. The cross-border project is working with communities to develop pit-saw techniques for this species and harvesting regulations within village use areas on the borders of the extensive swamp forest system (Rodgers, Nabanyumya and Salehe, 2002). However, for timber production to work as a long-term forest management incentive, the project will have to ensure that the community as a whole benefits, and not just a few pit-saw specialists or intermediaries.

Integrated conservation and development projects

At the start of the 1990s, integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) were seen as the panacea to overcome both failing rural development initiatives and increasing rural antagonism to protected area conservation projects. The assumption was that if communities living around protected areas were to see increased benefit from the protected area, as well as have enhanced livelihood support, then those communities would be more supportive of conservation initiatives. The notion was laudable but naive, as a decade of analysis was to show. Evaluation of the first round of projects found little baseline information on either livelihood or conservation parameters to be able to evaluate impact.

Analysis of a second round of projects, incorporating lessons learned, showed that the main failure was the inadequate linkage between conservation and development. If people benefited from livelihood support there was no institutional linkage back to conservation agencies or goals. Lessons showed the need for improved institutional policies and greater capacity of communities to participate effectively. The cross-border biodiversity project can be seen as a third-generation ICDP. The project invests in capacity, in linkage and in the institutional space within which the initiative operates. A good example of linkage comes from the provision of water from forested catchments. Sustainable water flows are dependent on improved forest catchments - both conservation and development partners stand to benefit.

The jury is still out on the latest ICDPs. The concept has merit, but the breadth of institutional issues that must be addressed leads to complex project structures. If these structures work, then the concept has a real chance of success.


The debate continues on how to apply co-management, or even transfer of full rights and tenure to allow community forest management, to high-value national forests. Governments are not willing to transfer ownership of national forest values to local communities. However, they recognize that adjacent communities cannot be excluded from the forests as users or managers. Collaborative management (joint forest management) with clear roles, responsibilities and rights of partners might offer a way forward. The success of co-management depends on issues of tenure, access, ownership and institutional capacity to manage.

Communities will be reluctant to participate fully in co-management unless they receive adequate benefits or returns as an incentive to conserve. Developing incentives involves prolonged trust and capacity building as well as developing awareness among villagers and forest agencies of the benefits of co-management and sustainable resource use, including conservation. A site-based planning process entailing evaluation of forest resources and identification of specific threats to these resources allows the development of social contracts with the support of forestry agencies and local authorities.

These initiatives should be seen as experiments along the route to fully sustainable partnerships between people and their government in the joint custodianship of forests that provide benefits at local and national levels - including biodiversity conservation. Such initiatives will work with the support of all stakeholders, including global financing, and the presence of a strong enabling environment at the national and district levels. Initial goals must focus on building these partnerships and developing sustainable use regimes that satisfy multiple stakeholders.

A forest ranger apprehends a villager carrying a plank of camphor (Ocotea usambarensis) out of Chome Forest, where pit-sawing continues although banned and timber access rights remain controversial


A Village Environment Committee organized by the cross-border biodiversity project mobilizes villagers to prevent and extinguish forest fires and to replant burned areas in Chome Forest Reserve



Forest animal species that are especially vulnerable to hunting

Conservationists are concerned about large animal species that are currently being subjected to intense hunting pressure in many places, such as the elephants and great apes of African tropical forests. One of the concerns is the possibility that if different animals are subjected to similar hunting pressure, species that grow and reproduce slowly may be more vulnerable to hunting than species that grow and reproduce rapidly.

On the basis of detailed monitoring of species abundance in persistently hunted versus lightly hunted areas of the Amazonian forests of Peru, Bodmer, Eisenberg and Redford (1997) found that in mammals weighing more than 1 kg the degree of population decline caused by hunting was correlated with the species' intrinsic rate of increase, longevity and generation time (taken as the age at first reproduction). These results suggest that species with long-lived individuals, low rates of increase and long generation times are more vulnerable to extinction than species with short-lived individuals, high rates of increase and shorter generations.

Source: Adapted from Bodmer, R.E., Eisenberg, J.F. & Redford, K.H. 1997. Hunting and the likelihood of extinction of Amazonian animals. Conservation Biology, 11(2): 460-466.

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