The World Bank/WBI’s CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: February 12, 1998

Author: Kabann Kabananukye

Fax: +256-41 532-821


Community Involvement in Protecting Forests in Uganda

COUNTRY:   Uganda, East Africa.

Protected areas for biodiversity conservation. The case studies focus on the socio-cultural context of communities in and around "Protected areas" as National parks and game reserves.


Two case studies are taken from Western Uganda, East Africa. Bwindi impenetrable forest - Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Karuma Game reserve. The Bwindi impenetrable forest - Mgahinga Gorilla national Parks (Bwindi-Mgahinga Gorilla Parks) constitute some of Uganda's "protected areas". They are "protected" as a conservation measure, for Uganda's biological diversity. Even after designating the areas as protected areas, the communities continue to have vested interests and playing a leading role in terms of management and utilization of the areas. A scenario of forest utilization by traditional hunter-gatherers, the Batwa pygmies has also been presented. More importantly, these areas play host to the more than half (about 300) of the endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) in the world. Karuma game reserve is yet another conservation area. It boasts of a successful resettlement scheme of formerly living inside the game reserve boundary.

The two conservation areas, are examined from the socio-economic context. Specifically, they are examined in the framework of the communities traditional (cultural) association versus the new management regimes. What could be the socio-economic effects arising out of the new management changes? On one hand, there is a multi-ethnic and cultural diversified community. It comprising both agriculturalists (livestock and crop production) and traditional hunter-gatherers. On the other hand, there are new institutions (Uganda Wildlife Authority, UWA; The Mgahinga-gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable forest conservation fund- MBIFCF Trust, funded by The World Bank; Environmental Protection and Economic Development (EPED) funded by USAID; International Gorilla Conservation Programme, IGCP; Development Through Conservation, DTC; Institute of Tropical Forests –Mbarara University; Park Management Committees, PMAC). New interests in the protected areas arise out of the new interactions. What have been the balancing factors in harmonising each other's competing needs?


Karuma game reserve: I am the Sociologist Consultant. Completed work: a socio-economic survey; and a community profile survey. The Environmental Protection and Economic Development Project (EPED) is a pilot effort aimed at testing effective measures for reducing degradation of bio-diversity and initiating sustainable integrity of Masindi's protected areas by reducing the illicit use of protected resources by a subsistence population. This will be accomplished by identifying practical and effective means for raising incomes in buffer zone sub-counties and by supporting environmentally-sound district planning. The project has three objectives, TO:

Bwindi - Mgahinga Gorilla Parks: I carried out a socio-economic survey: Duties and responsibilities: Designing research techniques and carrying out socio-spatial, socio-economic and demographic research profiles on Batwa pygmies in and around interlacustrine forests of South-Western Uganda. This is part of the buffer zone management programme. With an active involvement and participation of local communities, the study sought a way forward for the Batwa Pygmies. This was a means of identifying sustainable steps which the MBIFCF/Uganda government could undertake to help Batwa Pygmies. This partly is a means to compensate for the loss of their forests that were gazetted as National Parks.

In a second assignment (Bwindi - Mgahinga Gorilla Parks ), I worked as Sociologist consultant on a study that aimed at:


The situation before the institutional changes:

Bwindi - Mgahinga Gorilla Parks: Communities in and around the forests, traditionally depended on forest resources for fuel wood, charcoal burning, pitsawying/Timber, vines for crafts, building materials, herbs, and gold panning. Some communities, especially the Batwa pygmies inhabited inside the forests, while others carried out some subsistence agriculture. Deforested and the heavily cultivated areas, charcoal and bamboo trade left mountain slopes vulnerable to soil erosion and landslides. Seasonal presence of human activities, such agriculture and hunting and gathering threatened some wildlife habitats. Mountain gorillas, buffaloes, duikers, elephants, wild pigs among others were forced to migrate to deep-inside the forests.

Inside Karuma game reserve, intensive cultivation, including the use of tractors and oxen-ploughs, had greatly reduced the natural vegetation cover. Trampling over vegetation by livestock and humans was common. Hunting of most of the wildlife species, especially wild pigs, buffaloes, Uganda Kobs, Wartlogs and Bush -bucks rampant. Charcoal and trade provided income to a small percentage of the population. The reserve had been a traditional source of fuel-wood, herbs, craft-and-building materials for most of the community members. Bush-fires by hunters and cattle-keepers were a common phenomenon, especially during the June - August long dry season.

It is only since the 1990s, in both case studies (Bwindi - Mgahinga-Gorilla Parks and Karuma game reserve) that the situation has changed with new institutional changes. Both flora and fauna in the study areas would have continued to suffer. Furthermore, the communities in and around Bwindi - Mgahinga Gorilla Parks would have suffered heaviest, especially as a result of the landslides mentioned above. Tourist potentials and other conservation benefits would have been thwarted.


The Uganda government, with donor funding took up to initiative to uplift the status of the protected areas. In the case of Bwindi-Mgahinga Gorilla forests, these areas acquired the status of national parks during early 1990s. This called in new management changes that restricted the traditional unsustainable forest uses. Illegal hunting was burned. So was un authorised harvesting of forests resources, such as charcoal trade, pit-sawing/timber and gold panning. The communities neighbouring the forests constituted themselves into Park Management Committees (PMAC) with elected officials to oversee their interests in the new forest management changes. This was the situation in both case studies. Thus in consultation with government, the local communities neighbouring the protected areas, also actively got involved in bringing about the changes.


The Institutional reforms that were adopted and implemented (see paragraph two above). With the establishment of these institutions it is expected that communities in and around the protected areas (under study) will be socially and economically empowered. This will be through sharing the revenue realised from the protected areas, including Tourism revenue. They will understand better the importance of protected areas. The research, social and economic empowerement potentials will strengthen the established institutions. This is likely to disorient the people's dependence on, and unsustainable use of the protected areas. Through these new changes in the management and utilisation of the protected areas, improved welfare lingers in the pipeline.


Active involvement of communities that live in and around protected areas can play a vital role in the overall management of the protected areas. This works well if there is a degree of transparency in the management, including sharing revenue realised from the protected areas. The communities' interest in harvesting some of the forest resources works as an incentive to motivate them jealously guard against unsustainable utilization of the forests. Local communities are better police to police themselves.

The strengthening and facilitating the established forest – management institutions, as well as well as commitment of the staff have an important role to play in the management of the protected areas.

Availability of "a willing to sacrifice neighbourhood". For example, in the case of Karuma reserve, the neighbours volunteered land on which to resettle the people resettled out of the reserve. This was partly because the communities that live inside the reserve were not significantly different (in terms of social, cultural and economic) from their neighbours - outside the reserve. Homogeneity of communities in and around the protected areas reduces friction and socio-cultural adjustment with each other. Basic premise for coexistence (protected areas and communities in their neighbourhood) relies heavily on systematic planning of multiple-use areas.

It is possible to persuade some communities living inside protected areas to voluntarily be resettled outside it. This is especially when some basic infrastructural facilities (roads, water sources, schools, health services) are put in place.