Resolving conflict, securing food

01 September 2011 | News story

On the border of Kenya and Uganda, where IUCN has been helping to resolve conflicts between local people and the authorities over the use of natural resources, improved food security has been a notable result.

Over-grazing by cattle and conflicts between local communities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority over sharing resources have hampered conservation efforts in Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda, which is an important water catchment for Lake Victoria.

For hundreds of years, the Benet people have been forest dwellers, deriving their livelihoods from the forested landscape of Mount Elgon but in 1983 the Government declared Mount Elgon a National Park, evicted the Benet communities and resettled them outside the forest.

During the past 30 years, the situation between the Benet communities and the Government has been tense. Even though an area of 6,000 hectares was degazetted to settle the Benet people, population increases in the resettled areas has led to overuse of natural resources both inside and outside the National Park. This has led to land degradation, landslides, and a rise in poverty. Reduced livelihood options and belief in their ancestral rights led the Benet communities to exploit the resources of the national park itself for survival.

Concerns arose over the ability of this mountain ecosystem to maintain the ever-increasing demands of the people, particularly in the face of climate change.

IUCN took up the challenge, and through its Livelihoods and Landscapes Initiative, has worked with partners and local communities to help redefine conservation and the future of Mount Elgon in this area. A buffer zone has been established around the national park that helps to address problems such as boundary disputes, access to forest resources, illegal hunting and grazing. Livelihood improvements are also promoted within the buffer zone and the adjacent landscapes. High value fruit trees have been planted, backyard vegetable gardening has been established and local people carry out bee keeping and have improved market access for both natural and farm-based products for income.

IUCN has worked with both the local authorities and local communities to develop simple bylaws regulating agriculture in farm areas close to the national park. Local communities have designed forest resource management policies and by-laws that secure rights to their own investments, reduce conflict with the park authorities and which are integrated into local and national development plans.

As a result, local farmers agreed to restrict open grazing on lands, especially towards the end of the dry season. The breaking of this simple barrier resulted in greatly enhanced local efforts to reduce erosion and retain soil, water and nutrients, and to plant trees (mainly indigenous) on farm. As a result of this, the National Park Authority granted local communities greater productive use rights within the park, through the signing of collaborative resource management agreements that allow local people to harvest certain agreed-to resources (foods and medicines for example), and allow bee hives to be located inside the National Park.

The project has meant that local communities have increased their incomes by more than 100%, thanks to honey production within the park and improved agricultural yields. Crop yields have increased with many farmers now able to plant two cycles, while soil erosion has been reduced and water retention increased with many more trees being planted on farm. The project is currently being expanded to more areas.