Mrs. Grace Karukuhe has been using Mpanga forest reserve for her livelihood. The 35 year old resident of Kitoro village in Kabwoya Sub County in Hoima district collects herbs, firewood, mushrooms and white ants from the forest for her family.
“As a woman, I depend on this natural resource for livelihood so I have to actively participates in all efforts to conserve it,” Mrs Karukuhe, a member of Mpanga Conservation Development Association narrates.
Mrs. Karukuhe is among over 100 residents from four villages of Kitoole, Kahembe, Nyakabaale and Kinsonsomya in Kabwoya who have teamed up to protect Mpanga forest from encroachers.
National Forestry Authority (NFA) has registered incidences of illegal timber harvesting, charcoal burning and clearing part of the forest for agriculture and settlement in forest reserves.
NFA officials believe that involving local communities is one of the best ways of curbing down illegal activities in forests because these communities highly depend on them for their livelihood and would have strong interest in their protection. In March this year, the communities under Mpanga Conservation Development Association signed a collaborative forest management agreement with NFA to access the forest to implement eco-friendly activities such as beekeeping but also to whistle blow information about illegal activities.
“We are so much interested in protecting this natural resource because it is the source of rain. Our vision is a well conserved environment contributing to improved community livelihood by 2036. And to achieve this, we have to, among others, report illegal activities, create community awareness, apprehend offenders and act as witnesses in court. We are determined to save our forest for our next generation,” says Steven Koojo, the chairperson of Mpanga Conservation Development Association.
Micheal Mugisa, the NFA Executive Director says conservation of forests starts with communities and urges them to work with conservation bodies to ensure that the forests in Uganda’s oil region are protected.
“The group has more than 100 people. If you all report illegal activities then we shall register success in protecting this forest. Climate change is real and we are soon starting oil production phase and it comes with its challenges,” said Mugisa while addressing the conservation group recently.
According to Keneddy Mugume, the coordinator for Midwestern Regional Anti-corruption Coalition (MIRAC), using the community participatory approach makes them own their endowed natural resource thus protecting it jealously.
“As MIRAC, we have over 70 volunteer community informants in areas that host forest reserves in Bunyoro who whistle blow illegal activities. Such community alertness has become the first line of responding to illegalities in the protected forests,” says Mugume.
Mpanga forest measuring 544 hectares in Kabwoya Sub County was gazetted in 1948 for the purpose of water and soil conservation; according to NFA
Francis Madrama, the Kisindi Sector Manager says community members have been cooperative in reporting illegalities in forest reserves like Bugoma and some success has been registered.
“In December last year, I was formed that people from Kampala cut timber and store it in Nyaburende village in Kyangwali. We went and recovered 1430 pieces of timber. Early January this year, a Lorry, was also impounded carrying timber. All these cases are reported by community members,” explains Madrama.
He adds that, “the former Hoima Municipality Mayor, Francis Atugonza was arrested after clearing 239.1 hectares in Bugoma forest which he claimed to be of Ababyasi clan. This was also after a tip off from our informants.”
Situart Maniraguha, the Range Manager Budongo systems notes that there is too much pressure on forest reserves for illegal timber harvesting because indigenous trees on private land has been cut down.
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) is working with communities in Kizirafumbi and Buseruka sub counties in establishing indigenous tree nursery beds and also planting the indigenous trees at household level.