Nelly Bassily | June 14, 2010
Conflicts over the use of forests have become common in some African countries. Such conflicts occur when communities who have traditionally lived in or depended on forests for their needs find that they are now valued for other purposes. While this week’s story about a community living near a forest is positive, other communities have not been able to adapt so well.
Mountain gorillas are officially an endangered species. They live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Forest in Uganda. As part of efforts to prevent them from being illegally hunted, the forests were granted the status of national parks. This designation protects the gorillas and their habitat, and also establishes an international tourist attraction. Tourists pay over 500 American dollars for a day of gorilla tracking. But there is another side to the story. Communities such as the Batwa were evicted from their forest homes by the Ugandan government in the early 1990s to create refuges for the gorillas. Giving the land national park status means that the Batwa have lost their traditional way of life. The Batwa, who see themselves as the original custodians of the forest, now have no land and no source of livelihood. They are now prohibited from using the forest and are struggling to survive and join modern Ugandan society. The Batwa community has received no government support. Many say that if they could return to the forest, they would. The survival of both the gorillas and the Batwa is threatened by modern society.
For more information, videos, and to read about work that supports both sides of this conflict, see:
Farm Radio International produced a script which you might find relevant to this topic. It is set in Cameroon, another country which has experienced conflicts between forest conservation and traditional forest use. The script is entitled “Forest communities generate income while conserving their environment” and can be accessed here: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/87-3script_en.asp.
This is a controversial topic. It may make for a lively call-in or text-in show. You could address questions like these:
-Do you think too much government money and time is spent on tourist attractions?
-What happens to the money generated by tourism? How do local communities benefit from these funds?
-Does tourism provide jobs for people in your area? How has tourism affected your community?
-Should forest communities be allowed to continue their way of life inside a national park? Are national parks valued more (by the authorities) than the communities who used to live in them?