The African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) recently held its 16th meeting of African governments, professional hunting associations, community-based sustainable use organisations and wildlife experts in Kampala, Uganda from November 13-16, 2018. It is the first time the meeting was held in Uganda and focused mainly on African lions and leopards, elephants and rhinos. Among the highlights of the meeting were a research presentation about lion surveys in Tanzania, and sustainable hunting practices in central Uganda.
Representatives of the Uganda government led by the Minister of Tourism Ephraim Kamuntu were emphatic, and rightfully too, that Uganda is doing all it can to preserve its status as the Pearl of Africa, diversify its natural endowment, and earn income from tourism and agriculture. The Minister drew attention to the continued unstainable competition for space between humans on one hand and elephants, rhinos and lions on the other. He pointed out that unless we learnt to coexist with nature, there is a risk of Uganda ceasing to be what Winston Churchill baptised – The Pearl of Africa. In the Minister’s own words, ‘although it is such a hurdle to brave, government is doing all it can to contain the spiralling human/wildlife conflict.’
It is pertinent to point out here that wildlife management in Uganda was once the responsibility of the government alone. Section 3 of Uganda’s Wildlife Act 1996 vested the ownership of every wild animal and wild plant existing in its wild habitat in Uganda in the Government on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the people of Uganda. The Act also provides for sustainable management of wildlife. The birth to the Wildlife Use Rights provides further motivation for communities to sustainably manage wildlife on both communal and private land. The six classes of Wildlife Use Rights include: hunting, farming, ranching, trading, educational and research and general extraction use rights.
This means that there is a firm framework for the government and people to work in partnership to promote sustainable tourism through the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity. It therefore made difficult listening when Minister Kamutu lamented that during election time, opportunistic politicians tend to play the electorate against the government by promising them the degazetting of national parks, forest reserves and swamps. This is inspite of the fact that 9% of Uganda’s GDP is dependent on tourism and could earn sh10 trillion by 2020 replacing coffee and cotton as a major foreign income earners. The Minister also revealed that government is making giant strides in conserving nature by sharing 20% of each gate collections revenue with communities living in the neighbourhood of game reserves. These are fair efforts by the government to build sustainable partnerships.
Stemming wildlife and biodiversity loss
Achieving sustainable development and mainstreaming biodiversity and the value of our natural ecosystems into economic growth and development objectives should be a crucial element of the government’s strategy towards eco-tourism and agriculture. This will be in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 14 and 15 on Life under Water and Life on Land, among others. Wildlife and biodiversity provide a wide range of ecosystem services such as food provisioning, water purification, habitat provisioning, erosion control, nutrient cycling and climate regulation, all of which humans depend on to support life. The government and people of Uganda must work together to stem biodiversity loss while pursuing economic growth and development. The fundamental importance of biodiversity to the economy, society, health and cultural systems cannot be overemphasised.
Given the multiple pressures on biodiversity in Uganda and globally, to deliver on sustainable tourism, conserving wildlife and biodiversity will require strategic, coherent and well-coordinated policies and actions. There should be new radical thinking along the line of embedding our national, collective and individual aspirations in nature rather than in the prevailing unsustainable production and consumption practices. An example is Costa Rica, the first tropical country to have stopped and reversed deforestation: over half of its land is covered by forest, compared to 26% in 1983. Costa Rica prides itself on being the Green Republic with 28% of the country’s territory protected by national parks. Costa Rica have an ecosystem services law which taxes gasoline and use the revenue to benefit reforestation. In Africa, Botswana has recognised that its wilderness and wild animals are an incredible source of economic benefit, so it outlawed the hunting of lions and other trophy hunting. The country has a thriving ecotourism industry.
Uganda being a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, also signed by 150 governments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is required to halt the loss of biodiversity. The big challenge is the 2020 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in China, which will set the next set of targets for the next decade. Adequate evidence to characterise the beneficiaries and losers as wildlife and biodiversity services change in space and time should be determined and used as the foundation for future national policy trajectory. A characterisation of the distribution of access to, and benefit from, wildlife and biodiversity services (in time, space and by user at global to local scales) will enhance our understanding of the complex social and political dynamics that are key determinants on the ability of every wild animal and wild plant existing in its wild habitat to continually provide ecotourism services, and sustainable livelihoods.