The Albertine Rift is also home to some of the highest rural human population densities (up to 1,000 people per km2), and also some of the poorest households in Africa. People use natural forests and savannas to supplement their household income from cultivating crops and raising livestock. In some areas of the Rift access to forest products increases household incomes by up to 35% per year and they often provide income during times of year when crops are not ready for harvesting and income is minimal (the hungry gap). In addition the sale of forest products often provides the extra cash needed to pay for schooling of children or medical bills.
There is also a cost that people face when they are living next to protected areas or natural habitat, usually from depredation of their crops or livestock by wild animals. This leads to human-wildlife conflict and often negates any programmes to work with communities to obtain benefits from the protected areas. Any conservation in the region therefore needs to address the needs of people living around the protected areas and natural habitats in each of the landscapes.
In the Albertine Rift WCS has preferred to partner with development NGOs rather than implement development projects ourselves, partly because we generally don’t have the expertise in this area, but also because the funding for conservation is limited and partners can access additional funding for development activities. Instead we have tended to focus on providing information to highlight the current situation and help plan projects that improve the livelihoods of people in the areas where we work.
One of the first activities the WCS Albertine Rift Program made was to hold a workshop on human-wildlife conflict to bring together experts in the field to develop a document that would summarise lessons learned and approaches to tackling such conflicts. The first report in the Albertine Rift Technical Report Series was produced: Human-wildlife conflict: identifying the problem and possible solutions from this workshop. Following up on this we have made several socioeconomic surveys around the protected areas in the Albertine Rift to assess the impacts of human-wildlife conflict on households and which crop raiding species are perceived to be the most important to tackle.
We have also worked on assessing how people benefit from forests in various sites in the Albertine Rift as well as in Uganda as a nation. WCS worked with the Uganda National Forest Authority (NFA) with support from the EU Forest Resources Management and Conservation Programme to put a value on the livelihood and ecosystem values of forests in Uganda. Surveys were carried out around four forest types; protected Afromontane, and Medium Altitude Tropical High Forest, forest on private lands and savanna woodland. This study showed that natural forest and woodland contributed income totaling 5% of Uganda’s GDP in 2004 to people living next to forest and woodland as well as to the nation as a whole . These and other results are summarised in a report: Bush, G.K., Nampindo, S., Aguti, C. and Plumptre, A.J. (2004) Valuing Uganda’s Forests: A Livelihood and Ecosystems Approach. The results of this study were publicised at national level to influence policies regarding use of natural forest.
We have assessed the socioeconomic status and income from forests in most of the landscapes where we work in the Albertine Rift and have developed several reports which highlight the importance of people’s access to natural resources (see publications section under Human livelihoods). These studies provide baseline assessments from which changes in people’s livelihoods can be assessed. An assessment has already been, by Pam Jagger of Indiana University comparing with baseline data we collected in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape, that shows that household income has decreased for the poorest people because of widespread loss of natural forest in the region.
WCS also supported the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) together with CARE to undertake an assessment of the impacts of various integrated conservation development projects (ICD) around the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Following its establishment from a forest reserve to a national park in 1991, local communities lost a lot of access rights to the forest. To compensate for this loss several projects were developed that: a) improved agricultural production, b) established a trust fund that provides funding for schools and health clinics and more recently economic development projects, c) tackled human-wildlife conflict, d) provided revenue from tourism gate receipts to local communities for development projects, e) developed a program that tackled the needs of the Batwa community, and f) allowed controlled access to certain resources in the park such as harvesting of medicinal plants and allowing bee hives in some sectors of the park. The assessment was published as a report: Development and Gorillas: Assessing fifteen years of integrated conservation and development in south west Uganda. It shows that the ICD projects definitely improved relations between local people and the park authorities and that aspects of their livelihoods had improved. However it also showed that they had not had much impact on the level of illegal activities in the park. In other words attitudes had changed but this hadn’t led to behavioural changes yet. In part this was because the poorest people, who are more likely to be involved in the illegal activities because of a lack of options, were not specifically targeted and did not benefit greatly from the ICD projects greatly. This has led to changes in approaches to working with the communities and there is more of an approach to target the poorest households now.
In response to these assessments we have looked at options for increasing income to people and have been investigating carbon financing options through REDD+ at several sites. These projects are also starting to link to private sector companies to work on ways of improving agricultural production around natural forest while at the same time generating funding form carbon credits by conserving the forest.
We have also started a program to tackle human-wildlife conflict between pastoralists who are losing livestock to lions in and around the Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is primarily aimed at improving rangeland and herding practices outside the park to reduce the risks of lion attacks on their livestock. It also aims to improve water supply to households so that they don’t have to bring their livestock into the park to get water.
In the Maiko-Itombwe and Marungu-Kabogo Landscapes we are working with local communities to develop new protected areas in a participatory manner, involving them in where the limits of the protected areas should be placed and in designation of different zones from core protected areas to multiple use and development zones