corner of Uganda that you stand, be sure to savour the nature, the vast
National Parks teeming with wildlife; the dense tropical rainforests; the calm
freshwater Lakes like Victoria, and a lot more. This is part of the stunning
package of Uganda’s natural beauty in tourism and landscapes that support
millions of livelihoods.
This is the
beauty that struck former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill when he
visited the continent in 1908. In his Book, My
African Journey, Churchill stated that for her beauty, colour, natural
wonders (flora and fauna) “Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.”
thick forests are known to provide obvious products like timber, firewood,
fruits, medicinal plants and nature walks for tourists, Mucwa forest in South
Western Uganda is home for the minority indigenous community of the Batwa:
Their livelihood is inseparable from the ecosystem as they feed and live off
what the forest offers in its natural habitat. It's not easy to imagine the
survival of the Batwa without the forest!
But Uganda forests are now under threat. Just like other
natural resources, a rapidly growing population and demand for forest products,
land for settlement, agriculture, infrastructure; and in some cases ignorance
of the values of conservation, have combined to put a strain on these valuable
assets. A report by the National Forestry Authority, the Ministry of Water and the Environment Forestry Sector
indicated the declining forest cover in Uganda, giving a trajectory of forests
being wiped out completely by the year 2040 should there not be urgent and
sustainable interventions to curb the high rate of deforestation.
If forests are extinct, not only will Uganda’s natural
beauty disappear and subsequently the “Pearl” fade, but also livelihoods will
be at peril and the achievement of Uganda’s Vision 2040 and the Sustainable Development Goals at risk.
Facing the challenge
Despite Government’s efforts to conserve the environment
and tackle deforestation - policies, laws, protection programmes, these have
not gained the right amount of traction to address the problem.
In the first 100-days of operation, the UNDP Uganda
Accelerator Lab has tried to have a fresh look at the drivers of deforestation
using a new set of methodologies.
The first stage was a sense-making
workshop in Entebbe, which drew representatives from multi-sectoral players
within the government and private companies managing natural resources. In the
meeting, we (proudly) included a set of unusual actors - illegal loggers,
charcoal burners and dealers, firewood sellers, housewives, consumers of
bio-fuel, schools, religious leaders and security agencies. Some of them are
not included in our programming efforts as much as they should, so this time we
made sure to get the right people in order to have the right discussion.
To map out and explore the possible causes of
deforestation, we modelled a traditional African fireplace discussion. In these
conversations, communities sat in a circle around a fire to discuss and find
harmonious solutions to pertinent community problems. Mimicking this allowed us
to candidly and comfortably harness interesting insights into the problem from
the variety of stakeholders in the room.
The representatives of the national authorities in charge
of environment and forest management walked into the room expecting the usual
sessions on natural resource depletion. However, they soon realised the new
approach and agreed that collective intelligence could have more far-reaching
results to tackle deforestation.
Schools in Uganda are listed as one of the biggest
consumers of wood fuel. It was, therefore, important to listen to their
insights. Walking into the room, the school administrator would not imagine how
this topic would be of concern to her. At the end, she acknowledged having been
enrolled in a class where she inadvertently learnt a lot.
“I have been blaming
people involved in deforestation and little did I know that as large volume
consumers, schools are also culpable. You have made me feel guilty. It’s time
for us to experiment on alternative sources of energy,” said Mrs. Joy Veronica Maraka, the Rector of Greenhill Academy.
Representatives of faith-based organisations agreed to act
and educate believers on the need to protect nature that God provided to man
and find renewable alternatives to wood fuel.
“Bring us on board.
We gather many people and can share this information with our congregations.”
The prisons commissioner, Dr James Kisambu, candidly shared how the burden of
feeding 152,000 prisoners leave them without an alternative, even when it's
known to them that deforestation is endangering the ecosystems and making
climate change worse. They can only mitigate their encroachment through
restoration. He said several attempts to use alternative sources of energy have
proved futile as either they cannot fuel their large volume of need, or the
technology is corrosive to utensils or highly risky and loathed like electric
“We have 152,000
prisoners to feed every day. We are also planting forests because prisons are
one of the largest owners of the land. So, we are restoring what we are
destroying,” he shared.
The wood business is a key source of livelihood for a vast
amount of the rural poor. A youth who represented the illegal loggers or
wood-cutters confessed to cutting the trees, with all the risks of arrest and
danger of the lurking wild animals and reptiles, as a last resort to fend for
“When my local
council chairman dragged me here, I was expecting summary arrest. I am
surprised we are merely discussing how to find a solution to the problem that
affects all of us,” he said adding, “I do this (logging) because I have no job
and I have a family to feed.”
Nonetheless, he was patient to sit through the proceedings
and even participated in the panel discussion for causes, possible solutions
and alternative sources of energy. “According to what I have learned today from
this workshop, I have realized that if I don’t find an alternative source of
income, my future and that of my children will be doomed by the disappearance
of the forests. Therefore, I will start thinking of an alternative source of income,”
Socio-cultural beliefs also influence the energy
choices people make. As one housewife confessed, some of these choices are
harmful to the environment, “Steamed
matooke (plantain) tastes and has a better aroma when cooked with firewood or
charcoal,” one housewife testified. Matooke is a staple food in central
“I just have to walk
out of my house, go to the stall of charcoal or firewood in the neighbourhood,
with only 1000 Uganda Shillings ($ 0.26)) and I will have fuel to cook food for
my family,” a mother shared.
Walking out of this session, there was a lot to learn from
having different players in the room. Together we realised the drivers of
deforestation were vast and no one solution would solve this. Could it be a
behavioural problem? Could it be a lack of alternative affordable energy
sources? Could it be a lack of real time accurate data to back up the
After what was a very enlightening workshop, the
Accelerator Lab team engaged the United Nations
Pulse Lab to obtain
real-time data using satellite imagery. Soon we shall embark on the ecosystem mapping to engage with
players doing some work in this arena, at their workplace, as well as mapping
out potential solutions.
The Accelerator Lab team is hopeful that the Pearl of
Africa will retain its shine and sparkle.