What have you done to protect your environment ?
On one hand, there is the long, winding list of endless benefits to reap from our environment, its rich wildlife and plant life that has made our lands an irresistible action attraction for tourists from across the globe.
But on the other hand, also, has been a worrying spate of degradation, to the plant life, animals and the relief of our land, to a level where it starts to threaten the benefits we accrue from the resource.
This worrying spate has taken such forms as human encroachment on areas that are supposed to be left in their most natural state. Poor land use, which has seen forest cover taken over by man for farming, and poaching, which has seen the number of key wildlife dwindle, are developments, which now concern our environment to a level where we cannot ignore them anymore.
For this reason, authorities in Uganda are taking the challenges with the grave seriousness that they deserve. And in the end, the intention will be to see to a sustainable exploitation of tourism resources.
This same intention runs from the very top of the state, starting with the president himself, who has been at the forefront of calling for a sustainable management of the environment. Only in June, he was beseeching Ugandans not to destroy Lake Victoria. “Do not catch immature fish,” he said, adding that by doing so, Ugandans were misusing God-given wealth.
One of the biggest challenge that has faced the conservation of tourism to date, has been the illegal act of hunting down protected animal species, to sell them or their products on black markets abroad. In this grim activity, we have largely seen the hunt for especially elephants and rhinos take on a dangerous trend. Elephant are hunted for their tusks, as part of a global syndicate in the trade of ivory and its accessories.
Rhinos, on the other hand, are hunted for their horns, an initial part of a long chain of demand for an ingredient inside the horn, which is believed to have medical properties. The demand for rhino horn is mostly in South East Asia, with countries like Vietnam and China the leading the charge of demanding for rhino horn and ivory tusks.
Players in the tourism industry have called for strong action, saying the current laws are soft and weak, and ins tead encourage people to take part in poaching. B o n i f a c e Byamukama, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators chairperson, recently told the media to create a deterrent, there should be a life imprisonment to people to take part in poaching. “Current penalties for illicit trade in wildlife parts are no longer deterrent enough, thus the need for tougher penalties,” he said.
Government, in a response to these actions, has upped the operations of its game warders in protected areas, to prevent poaching, on top of heightened checks at exit points in the country to stop any of the ivory or rhino horn from being exported.
And in this, Uganda finds itself in a concern that is gaining attention, internationally.
“I don’t know about other countries but Uganda is largely a conduit for ivory and once confiscated, it takes a long time to establish its origin,” the deputy director of conservation at the Uganda Wild Authority, Mr Charles Tumwesigye, said recently.
“Africa’s elephants continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from high-levels of poaching for their ivory with over 20,000 elephants illegally killed last year,” said the secretary general of the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, John Scanlon.
But the state is going a step farther too. A proposed Wildlife Act that is now before parliament intends to introduce a new sanction mechanism that will make it a very costly venture to engage in poaching. For instance, trading in ivory and other wildlife species, could fetch a culprit a penalty of 20 years in jail or a fine worth the monetary value of the species, on the international market.
The UPDF too, passed out a ranger intelligence force, a move aimed at boosting surveillance in the crackdown against poaching. “Hardly a week passes by before culprits are arrested at the airport and other exit points in possession of illegal products headed to various countries overseas, especially the Far East,” said UWA’s Andrew Seguya.
A 2008 report by the National Environmental Management Authority showed that if the current rate of deforestation continued, Uganda would have lost all its forest cover by 2050, a catastrophe of no small proportions. Between 1990 and 2005, Uganda had lost 1.5 million hectares of forest cover. This trend has not been reversed yet, and that is why it is an alarming cause for concern.
In places like Kyegegwa and Kyenjojo district, forest reserves like Matiri, Ibambaro, and Buhungiro are losing forest cover, encroached on by the human population for among other reasons, farming and sand mining, local media reported this year. Although the National Forestry Authority is trying to recapture and reclaim the protected lands that have been encroached on, many of the evicted people are instead suing the authority, delaying the process of reclamation.
In its National Forest Plan, the NFA says that its vision is to have sustainably managed forests, woodlands and trees, providing ecological and social services, producing economic benefits for present and future generations of Ugandans, and making a contribution to the global community. This does not only stop at preventing the clearance of the already limited tree cover we have remaining, but also, to encourage Ugandans in their individual capacities, to grow trees. These strategies are being carried out through sensitisations of critical populations of the need to conserve forests and by carrying out research on new ways of sustainably managing forest resources.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority, in its attempts at conservation, is doing something similar too. Its approach however, is to harmonize the relationship between park managers and neighbouring communities, allowing these communities access to protected area resources. This, in turn encourages discussion and a continuous engagement between conservationists and the local population. This helps the local population see the benefits of protecting the environment, because it is they, and their children’s children, who will benefit from it.