Lying on the outskirts of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kafuga Forest is a remnant patch of ancient rainforest that offers a rare glimpse of Uganda’s remarkable biodiversity. Situated in a highly cultivated landscape, ITF partners PROBICOU have been working for over a year now to secure this area against the ongoing threat of encroachment.
Kafuga itself serves as a valuable resource for neighbouring communities, offering ecotourism opportunities and a source of medicinal ingredients, food, water and firewood. Deforestation and subsequent loss of resources would jeopardise Bwindi’s protective buffer and encourage illegal forest intrusion, potentially degrading habitat of the critically-endangered mountain gorilla.
Stakeholder engagement, including key government departments and authorities, international partners, conservation NGO’s, community members and local political and cultural leaders, forms a key component of PROBICOU’s Save Kafuga Forest campaign. Stakeholders are those people who are affected by the deforestation of Kafuga Forest, or those who hold an interest in its preservation. Engagement is thus likely to encourage more coordinated and efficient adaptive actions, ensuring that the local resource of knowledge and experience is incorporated into future responses. Additionally, community meetings have allowed forest-adjacent communities to share their concerns, in turn motivating members to operationalize a forest protection task force committee.
PROBICOU reports that the stakeholders reached a binding resolution to protect Kafuga Forest and in turn, the district Council have passed a decision to conserve the forest area. This is a very encouraging outcome, boosting support for the campaign and escalating it as a matter of national interest.
Alternative Income Generation
Low household income is arguably one of the greatest drivers of deforestation and encroachment – forcing families to look to the forest for resources. In an attempt to prevent such instances, PROBICOU continue to promote alternative income generation activities and have supported a number of village savings and loan groups which received training on record-keeping and financial management.
100,000 passion fruit, 20,000 mango and 1,000 commercial trees have now been distributed to 50 local farmers. They are already generating an income from the sale of passion fruit. By increasing resource availability, these trees will improve local livelihoods and alleviate the need to exploit Kafuga’s natural resources.
Kafuga – a disputed resource?
Currently, the main threat to Kafuga arises from a drive to expand the tea industry in Uganda. Supported by an influential company, businessmen, and to some extent by government policy, local community members have also jumped at the opportunity to raise large numbers of tea seedlings. This is already a densely populated and cultivated landscape – so where to plant the tea? The ‘easy’ option for some people is to cut down the forest, privatise its benefits and establish tea plantations on which the local community can work as labourers.
What makes this more complicated is that Kafuga holds a range of resources used by the local community. Most farmers grow climbing beans on poles in their field. Most have livestock. Everyone needs firewood. Where to get the poles, fodder, and fuel? From the forest! The level of extraction by community members is likely already unsustainable – even without considering the threat from the tea planters. In particular, the presence of livestock grazing in the forest precludes regeneration and restoration.
These are the tricky issues that a community forest management plan must balance. Local authority and national agency (UWA, NFA) support is essential – but not sufficient by itself. In the end it is for the community themselves to agree on a sustainability plan for the future in which private benefits from the forest will be limited and managed, in order to maximise community benefits for all.
Kafuga in Court
Earlier this year, a group of people encroached Kafuga Forest, searching for land to plant tea. These individuals have been evicted and aligned before the courts, however, the presence of a court injunction means the forest is ‘out of bounds’. With plans to restore degraded forest areas, having raised 30,000 indigenous tree seedlings, this activity cannot proceed until the case has been closed. Nonetheless, the case allows time for other activities; the Ministry of Water and Environment has initiated the exercise of formally gazetting Kafuga as a community forest.
It is clear that the matter of forest ownership is highly disputable – is it a governmental possession, or does it belong to neighbouring communities? Recently we realised just how tangible this threat of uncertainty is, having noticed that Buniga Forest, which neighbours Kafuga, has been invaded by a tea plantation. This emphasises how important it is to have guardians of the forest – those who work to prevent these precious areas from being swallowed-up by the unrelenting appetite that is population growth.
We thank you for having made this protection possible.