Small Grants Changing Lives: Wetland conservation of Makanaga birds' paradise changes a community


Migratory Birds fly over the Makanaga Wetland in Bussi Islands Wakiso district (UNDP Uganda/PIEC 2014)

For James Ojowi, the vast Makanaga wetland in Bussi Islands, Wakiso district, was just another vast swathe of fertile land for agriculture.

Every year, the 37-year-old farmer would plant cassava, potatoes, bananas, and vegetables to feed his family and to sell in the market to cater to other needs.

Ojowi and over 40,000 other residents of the Island did not know what a rich resource this wetland would be especially in changing their livelihoods. The Island was plagued with poaching, bushfires, degradation through agricultural activities, and pollution of water through constant use of pesticides, herbicides, bad fishing methods and lack of awareness by the local people.

Key Highlights

  • Makanaga is a rich marsh that is home to important plants, animals and birds such as the rare and threatened Shoebill Stork.
  • The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre UWEC received a small grant of $16,000 (40,000,000Shs) in August, 2013.
  • The inventory was made to raise the profile of the wetland and support community participation in biodiversity conservation.
  • The project was supported by a Shs 40million ($16,000) UNDP/Small Grants.

To protect this vital resource, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) with support from the Small Grants Programme and the Piloting Initiatives in Environment and Climate Change (PIEC) project, conducted an inventory of birds and plants and also identified other potential tourism attractions.  

Makanaga, it was discovered,  is a bird watchers paradise. It is home to over 135 bird species including the rare and threatened Shoebill Stork, common terns, gull billed terns, Goliath Heron, African Jacana, Great Cormorant, African fish eagle and the Egyptian Geese among others.

The wetland is also a habitat for otters, Africa civet cats, Sitatungas, black and white colobus. It has important plants such as the Cyperus Papyrifera, Afromomum angustifoliu, and is also a breeding site for different types of fish, which attracts the birds to the wetland.

In a bid to better protect and promote this enormous resource, UWEC held a workshop in February 2014 and trained 20 island residents in tour guiding, equipping them with knowledge on biodiversity conservation and wetland management.  

Before the training, there were hardly any local tour guides nor regulation of tourism on the Island. Tour companies would ferry in boatloads of tourists and pocket all the profit without any benefit to the community. Following the training, the Makanaga Wetland Conservation Association (MAWECA) was formed to regulate all tourism activities and to sustainably manage, and conserve the biodiversity of the wetland.  

With the new guidelines in place, each tourist will be charged UG Shs50, 000 ($20) to sightsee on the island. The guides will earn 20% of proceeds, while the rest of the revenue will help in maintaining the boat and donkey trails, set up new information centre, and purchase equipment and material to support community projects.  Community members will also benefit from selling locally made crafts, food, and cultural entertainment.

 “We did not know that Makanaga wetland was rich with unique and sought after attractions such as the Shoebill Stork. We used to hunt the animals and burn the wetland for agriculture but we have now stopped,” Ojowi said of the initiative, due to be officially launched next month by the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities. 

Ojowi added that community members now understand the importance and benefit of conserving the wetland and are now looking forward to earning better income and improving the quality of their lives.

The project was supported by UNDP/Small Grants to a tune of 40million Uganda shillings.

Article contributed by Agnes Asiimwe Okoth, Communications Officer, Piloting Initiatives in Environment and Climate Change (PIEC) a WWF/GoU/UNDP project.