Sawa Pius | June 14, 2010
Communities living near Bwindi National Park, in western Uganda, have traditionally relied on the forest for many of their daily needs. The forest provided food, timber, fuel and game. Farming, whether for food or income, had never been a priority.
When the forest was designated as a national park in 1991, conflicts soon arose between park authorities and the locals. People were no longer allowed to use the forests as they had always done. In addition, communities were not aware that human beings and the mountain gorillas that live in the park could transmit diseases to each other, such as colds and scabies.
To address these issues, an organization called Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) establishes relationships with communities around national parks. Their aim is to ensure community health while addressing conservation issues. To put these ideas into practice, CTPH trained 26 volunteers to serve as community health workers. The volunteers sensitized the local people, and treated some of the diseases. Working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, they help to protect the gorillas in Bwindi National Park.
But the volunteers need income to continue their community work. So they presented a project proposal to CTPH. They proposed to divide themselves into two groups. One group would rear goats and the other group raise cows. The proposal was accepted and funded by CTPH.
Three years down the road, farming has become a major activity in Buhoma parish, near the park. The two groups use manure from their animals to grow vegetables and other food crops. They till the vast lands near the national park and plant tomatoes, cabbage, onions, maize, beans, bananas and potatoes.
The cows and goats give the locals milk. This is shared among the group members, and some is sold to nearby tourist camps.
Siamu Gabirwe, the chairman of the goat rearing group, says his children haven’t been sick since he started using manure for farming. Many children now look healthier than before because they are drinking milk and eating green vegetables. Mr. Gabirwe sells some of his vegetables at the nearby market. He buys sugar, cooking oil, salt, and kerosene with the money he earns.
The project has inspired other community members to grow vegetables and other crops. They no longer illegally cut trees from the forest to burn charcoal. In the past, this was their only way to earn money to buy food.
Samuel Rugaba is another happy volunteer. He says his life has really changed. He plans to hire more land from his neighbours so that he can grow enough vegetables and other foods to supply both the tourist camps and the market.
The locals are planning to start a milk collection and processing plant. CTPH is helping. According to CTPH founder, Dr. Gladys Kalema, these kinds of projects are being rolled out in all national parks in Uganda and the rest of Africa.
Communities living near the national park have a new understanding of the importance of conserving the forest. They now earn their living through farming, and there are no more conflicts with park authorities. In addition, a percentage of the park revenues is given to the community to help with health services, water and other essential needs.