Kampala, Uganda: Uganda Wild Life Authority(UWA) has urged communities around National Parks to organise themselves under cooperatives, to better benefit from the annual park revenue collections shared with wild-life hosting communities.
Since the enactment of the Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000, UWA has been remitting 20% of the annual park gate collection fees to host district local governments, to strengthen cooperation between the Wild Life body and the hosting communities towards sustainable management of wildlife resources.
Over the years, however, there have been persistent complaints about the utilization of remitted funds, with host communities accusing their local government officials of misappropriating the funds to benefit their own interests, yet they(communities) are the ones who pay the price in form of ruined seasons when animals stray into their gardens.
Now, UWA is moving to mobilize and encourage host communities to organize themselves into cooperative groups and societies, to be able to better benefit from the remitted revenue and hold their local governments accountable.
Speaking during this year’s annual Editors Breakfast meeting held at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala on Tuesday, UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha said: “Once people get organized, it becomes very easy to mobilize and address their problems.”
He said following the formation of SACCOs and Cooperatives by communities residing next to the parks, they are now able to closely monitor how the cash that we give them is utilized.
“Before, it was very hard for us to get them to agree on what development projects they (communities) needed to engage in. sometimes, because of these disagreements, the districts took advantage to utilize the funds remitted,” said Mwandha.
He said UWA had taken it upon itself to train organized groups in projects like beekeeping, and that they are now reaping from the skills gained.
Mwandha said UWA will this year release over Shs.30billion to National Park hosting districts, and would going forward pay keen interest in how the funds are utilized.
He said that a total of Shs.6billion had already been released in May this year, to benefit communities in the districts of Kasese, Mitooma, Ibanda, Kamwenge, Rubirizi, Rukungiri, and Kanungu.
Justus Agaba from the Bwindi Ruhija SACCO around Bwindi National Park applauded the Revenue sharing program, saying that it was having a real-time impact on the lives of his community. “Apart from the construction of schools, health centers, and latrines, we are now getting to benefit as organized SACCO members,” he told theCooperator.
TheCooperator has established that most organized groups around parks are now engaging in Bee Keeping and handcrafts making to supplement their incomes. Local beekeeping around Bwindi Impenetrable Natural Forest, in particular, is dominated by the use of traditional hives, commonly known as basket hives.
Others are moving to take advantage of tourist arrivals in their localities to sell their products. “Through the various trainings that we have got as SACCO members, we are now in a position to appreciate the importance of tourism, especially through the sale of crafts to tourists who come to visit the parks,” said Rosemary Komuntale from the Rubirizi Women’s SACCO.
She said they have been trained and supported under the Bwindi Collection to produce high quality handicrafts that appeal to international tourists.
Handing over a cheque of Shs.4.4billion to the district leaders of Kisoro, Rubanda and Kanungu – all of which surround the Bwindi- Mgahinga Conservation Area, Tourism Minister Ephraim Kamuntu hailed the emerging organization amongst Wild Life hosting communities, noting that it is a win-win for them and the government.
“We (government) do appreciate the contribution of communities neighboring protected areas in the conservation of wildlife in Uganda, and want to see them prosper,” he said.
Mwandha said that part of the money will benefit 24 community projects in Rubanda district, and another 35 projects in Kanungu.