The role of women in conservation of forest reserves in Mpigi, Uganda.



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The role of women in conservation of forest reserves in Mpigi, Uganda.

By Kunga Ngece* and Mildred Nafuna**- Friends of Mpigi Forests Conservation and Development Organization (FOMAF).
Technical Adviser, ** Coordinator.

Mpigi district, Uganda, boasts of about 40 forest reserves, all of which have been invaluable to the people living around them. An impoverished people, with nothing else to depend on, surround the reserves. 90% of these reserves have been massively encroached on, and as a result, biological diversity has been drastically decreased. Exploitation of resources in these forests has been so haphazard, excessive, wasteful and uncontrollable, seriously affecting the ability of these forest reserves to recover. The forests are a major catchment area for the rivers emptying waters to Lake Victoria, an international water body serving hundreds of millions of people. Forests such as Lufuka, Kyansozi, Nsowe, Lwamuda, Navugulu, Kalandazi and Kalombi have been seriously encroached on, and provide much of the charcoal, timber, and poles for the up-market Kampala, 40 kilometers away. They are also a major source for drum flames, medicinal herbs, wood for burning bricks, sand and clay. There has been a proliferation of drum business in and around Kampala, as well as in Mpigi itself, most of which derive their raw materials from the Mpigi group of forests. Only one forest remains intact in Mpigi, Mpanga forest.

The Mpigi group of forests cover about 260Km2, ranging from 1150-1190 meters above sea level. The forests are of great biodiversity potential, and host 28% of Uganda’s total plant specie. Some of these forests are classified as Guineo-Congolian rainforests, once a block of dense forest joining Western Kenya, across Uganda and Zaire. This summarizes their role in conservation of important and rare specie found in no other parts of the world.

These forests hosts over 190 bird species, 198 butterfly species, 170 species of moths, 20 species of small mammals and a host of rare insects. Two species; Crotolaria recta and Ficus wildemania are found only in these forests in the whole of Uganda. Others such as Acalypha acrogyna, Schefflera volkensii, Bruce antidysentrica, Psychotria succulenta and Tarenna fusco-flava are rare species found here (Davenport et al, 1996) . The forests used to host the Uganda Red colobus, included in the IUCN red data book as vulnerable (Oates, 1996) which has since been eliminated from them. The spotted Greenbul (Iconotus guttatus) Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinius), Shining-blue Kingfisher (Alcedo leucogaster), Uganda Woodland Warbler (Phylloscopus budongoensis) and the Pink-coated Puffback (Dryoscopus angolensis) a rare species in Uganda found in the Mpigi group of forests (Davenport et al, 1996). A total of 12 restricted range butterfly species and 12 restricted range moth species are common in the forests.
In 2001, a project trying to conserve these forests and promote economic development in the area was initiated. Through funding from the European Development Fund, funded Forest Resources Management and Conservation Programme of the Forest Department, Uganda and Voluntary Services Overseas, Uganda Programme Office, programmes targeting mainly women and youth as well as school children were started. The programmes include a Reforestation and Agro forestry project, an Environmental Education Project, the hoarse radish (Moringa oleifera) tree and Neem (Azadirachta indica) tree project, a Bee keeping project as well as a Sustainable crafts project. The projects have had tangible positive results as far as development economics and conservation of forests in Mpigi is concerned.

In 2002, women in Mpigi district on a quest to bring resources together for the sake of their families and conservation decided to form a steering committee to oversee their crafts programme. The women mandated FOMAF to oversee the programme. The women also decided to implement an Ecotourism and environmental education for schools programme.

Membership to the crafts programme stands at approximately 200 women, translating to a representation of 190 families. The environmental education programme has reached 17 schools of the about 100 in Mpigi district. Approximately 1000 seedlings of Moringa tree and 200 seedlings of the Neem tree have so far been planted by members. A further 3000 seedlings of Setala and 1500 of Eucalyptus have been distributed around the district.

Key objectives o the programme.
At the time on inception of the Friends of Mpigi Forests Conservation and Development Organization, the major objective was to conserve forests and wetlands in Mpigi district. The programme however realized there were other problems associated with deforestation of forests, which had to be tackled before forest conservation could be realized. The HIV/AIDS pandemic had rendered many families poor, many widows and child headed families were in place, and there was no way you could convince them not to encroach to the forest when they had nothing to feed on. Most of the people living in Mpigi are poor, and family planning was an issue to be tackled first. The family leaders, especially women had to be empowered financially to enable them feed their families. It was also realized that schools environmental education programmes were vital so that the programme could reach a greater audience through school children. Involvement of women and youth in Ecotourism was perceived as a way of positively and practically educating them on other values of forests, and other ways in which income could be generated from forests, instead o direct encroachment.

If these issues were successfully met, then conservation of forests in Mpigi could be achieved. And the project does not only target women and the youth, but men are encouraged to participate in programs such as bee keeping. Some of the forests in Mpigi that have benefited from these programs include Mpanga, Lufuka and Kyansozi, today living examples of how women can successfully promote conservation through crafts, Ecotourism, environmental education and agro forestry.

Gender mainstreaming, as a way of forest conservation.
Mpanga forest reserve in Mpigi is a living example of how Ecotourism, crafts and environment education can enhance conservation and protection. An Ecotourism site at Mpanga, under management of the Forest Department has played a key role in employment and revenue generation, some of it ploughed back to the local people. Villagers have also benefited by providing catering facilities to visitors, while nearby traditional shrine owners earn direct income from visitation by tourists. Initially, the people sabotaged the Ecotourism sites programmes by tree felling in the forest due to a feeling that the people were being denied access to their own resources from the forest. People utilized the forest for resources such as flames for the drum market, poles to support banana stands, poles for building, timber, charcoal, sand, clay, medicinal plats, mushrooms, wild honey, papyrus, raffia palm, bisalu grass, mud fish, pine sap, small mammals and birds for food. Farming in the forest was also extensive. People had to be made to understand the essence of the forest reserve, which is also the only source of clean drinking water through its network of underground streams.

To enable the people understand why the programme was concerned about Mpanga forest, an environmental education programme was initiated for both schools and the community. Use of the local administration was important to enable people understand issues further. The programme also utilized the power of the woman in the house, as the major consumers of the forest products. Most of the meetings were also attended chiefly by women, who also participated in the planning process of meetings held to educate them on forest values.

The Sustainable Craft Project: A positive example of women in conservation and development of Mpigi district.
Women through the sustainable crafts programme have contributed to conservation of Mpanga forest reserve. The project, funded by VSO Uganda and the EDF funded FRMCP was able to train 200 women in making export quality crafts using local materials, sustainably. These are exported to Europe, or sold in the local tourist destinations, at fairer prices than they would fetch if sold locally. 30 trainers were also trained. Their work is to follow-up the craft project and shows other women ways of making international market selling designs.

The impact of the craft project has been immeasurable. This means about 190 families now have direct income from sale of crafts. This multiplies to about 1000 individuals directly benefiting from craft income. As a result, people now view forests with more interest, not on what they can directly utilize them, but how they can use them to raise some income, while maintaining their intact state. Through the craft project, many families have been able to plant trees as Moringa and Neem, which are also a source of food, and have medical qualities. The craft project alone has distributed 200 trees to women participants.

Through the project, a forum for educating women on socio-economic issues in the society was created. During one of the training sessions, a local women counselor and the district Gender, culture and youth official delivered important speeches, that were captivating and have impact to the ways of life of the women. Among the topics discussed included family life, HIV/AIDS prevention as well as community relations. Information on the essence of forest conservation is also passed on during these sessions

The impact has been good. Mpanga forest is today not as encroached as it used to be 3 years ago. Some of the patches that had been created due to farming in the forest have almost recovered. Drum businesses along the Kampala-Masaka highway that depended on flames from the forest have had to find alternative sources of these flames. While Mpanga has been considerably conserved, these forest encroachers might be shifting their bases to other nearby forest reserves, which require similar programs to counter illegal encroaching. Finally, people have understood why they seriously need Mpanga forest. It’s the source of livelihood for thousands of people depending on its waters. This makes the FOMAF’s Sustainable Crafts Project a mouthpiece for development and conservation in Mpigi district, from which other forest reserves need borrow a leave.

TEL 256 (0) 77 580935/ FAX 256 (0) 41 510090.

Copyright 2003, Friends of Mpigi Forests Conservation and Development Organization. All rights reserved.