Mismanagement threatening biodiversity in Uganda

Posted on August 13, 2015 12:01 am

Uganda is among the top five in terms of ecosystem diversity among “mega-diversity” African countries, but is also highlighted as one of seven mega-diversity countries with a disturbing number of threatened species.Wildlife is a critically important resource for meeting the food and livelihood requirements of human communities in many biodiversity-rich regions of the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ The utilisation of wildlife is mostly driven by the value of wildlife itself, but in terms of wildlife conservation, the pattern of utilisation is mostly focused on hunting for nutrition and trade.People living in or near tropical forests in central and Western Uganda region have been hunting for thousands of years. This remains standard practice among many people living in the tropics in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo formerly Zaire. Forest dwelling communities depend on meat from wildlife for both food and income. Wild meat contributes significantly to rural communities in West Nile,Western and Southern Western Uganda, where it is often the sole available source of dietary protein. According to latest scientific data, people in many regions of Uganda still rely on wild animal meat as a primary source of protein.The motivation to hunt or trade wildlife depends on both nutritional and economic factors. In addition, opportunities for free food and alternative income also encourage people to hunt.

In northern Uganda, for example, geographic barriers complicate government sponsored programs, whereas copious wildlife resources in the forest are cheaper more accessible for local people.Consumption of wild meat has strong roots in indigenous forest dwelling communities of northern Uganda, as proven by a multitude of different studies conducted around the region.Comprehensive information is less available in Eastern Uganda, although papers on hunting practices in Karamoja region have been published.The indigenous population still rely on wild products for their subsistence needs, particularly animal protein. In North Western Uganda, the hunting and wildlife trade patterns of the Lugbara people have significantly impacted the regional ecosystem. There are indications that most hunting activities there are no longer sustainable, and increased demand for wild meat has had dramatic effects on efforts to restore local wildlife. A similar situation confronts the Madi people, who are still heavily reliant on animal protein and fat secured from hunting and trapping.Hunting wild animals has always been and continues to be an important aspect of life in rural Ugandan communities. Even in modern times, some ethnic groups depend almost entirely on traditional hunting and gathering practices.

Does hunting contribute to mitigating rural poverty? Research material that I have come across has pointed out that traditional hunters in forest sites in African countries like Uganda earn less than US$0.8 per day. Still, hunting in Africa remains an essential means of supplemental income for the poorest rural households.Poverty encompasses more than a lack of money. It is inability to provide for basic needs. People in rural areas like in Uganda, Kenya, Congo basin and other places often lack education, skills, capital and market access. They have no options for alternative livelihoods or sources of food. They are forced to hunt and trade wildlife as a source of income. Non-traditional economic demands have led to alarming levels of unrestrained hunting in tropical forests with Democratic Republic of Congo being the most affected. As a consequence, numerous species are facing extinction in countries like Democratic Republic Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Congo Brazzaville.The loss of species has consequences for rural communities. For some people, the loss of wildlife presents a real threat to food security and alternative income.Poverty alleviation is a primary developmental goal of Ugandan government focusing on improving livelihoods and solving problems of food insecurity. Sustainable interaction between people and nature is important to fighting poverty.

Contador Harrison think Uganda need is a better understanding of the links between environmental sustainability and the utilisation of wildlife for alleviating extreme povertyIt would be naive to expect that sustainable use of wildlife alone can constitute a realistic means of eliminating food insecurity.Uganda need to carefully evaluate the issue of declining supplies of wild meat and the impact this has on food security. In this context, it is critical to understand rural areas like West Nile versus urban patterns like that of Entebbe of wildlife utilization and disentangle the ultimate causes of over-exploitation. Over-exploitation of wildlife can be difficult to control as Uganda Wildlife Authority has acknowledged in the past. What Uganda can do is improve law enforcement and build monitoring capacity. Sustainable use of biodiversity will directly affect the utilisation of natural resource by, for example, suppressing illegal hunting and the trade of wild animals that has seen seizure of illegal wildlife trophies at Entebbe International Airport.There are two fundamental questions to consider in exploring the potential for collaboration between conservation and development in Uganda where conservation goals are compatible with the goals of the development sector and the common ground on how the two sectors can work together effectively.Food security and poverty alleviation are two critical issues that should be explored simultaneously to save biodiversity in Uganda that late former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill preferred calling ‘Pearl of Africa.’

Contador Harrison