The success of mountain gorilla conservation hinges above all on reconciling the conflicting needs of endangered wildlife and people who are hanging on to life by their fingertips.
Local communities and their basic survival strategies pose the greatest threats to wildlife areas, yet these same people are also the ones on whom species and habitat protection ultimately depend. The only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs.
The people living near the forested slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are generally subsistence farmers, living below the poverty line and wholly dependent on agriculture. IGCP has worked with communities around the parks to develop enterprise compatible with conservation objectives and helped them to devise other viable and sustainable ways of earning a living. The development of enterprise linked to tourism is helping to bring in alternative revenue for the community and support forest conservation. IGCP is also seeking to broaden the scope of enterprise development, by investigating other means by which communities can reduce their dependence on dwindling forest resources.
IGCP worked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to develop a revenue sharing programme and policy and establish mechanisms for its application around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Managed by committees including local community representatives and UWA officials, the scheme is used to fund projects for the benefit of communities living alongside gorilla habitat. Training has been provided in ecotourism and tourist-based enterprise development in conjunction with the Uganda Community Tourism Association.
From 2005 the revenue sharing programme has also been operational in Rwanda. The overall goal of the programme is “To ensure sustainable conservation of the National Parks with the participation of the neighbouring communities by contributing to the improvement of their living conditions”.
Three objectives have been defined:
- Conservation impact objectives: to reduce illegal activities; to ensure sustainable conservation; and to increase community responsibility for conservation
- Livelihoods impact objectives: to improve livelihoods by contributing to poverty reduction; to compensate for loss of access and/or crop damage; to provide alternatives to park resources; and to encourage community based tourism
- Relationship impact objectives (between park and population): to build trust; to increase ownership; to reduce conflicts; to increase participation in conservation; and to empower communities.
The Revenue Sharing Policy in Rwanda stipulates that 5% of the total annual tourism revenue of ORTPN is to be devoted to supporting community projects. The total amount is divided among the three parks in Rwanda: 40% (Parc National des Volcans), 30% (Parc National Nyungwe) and 30% (Parc National Akagera). The benefit sharing money is spent on community projects, priorities include: primary schools, water tanks and health centers.
IGCP is working with the park authorities, the private sector and the local communities in Uganda and Rwanda to establish community lodges beside the parks. These lodges will provide an important source of income for thousands of people living adjacent to the protected areas. The communities involved in the project are also undertaking other income generating activities including community walks centered on socio-economic activities of the people and cultural centers with traditional music, dance and drama. A feasibility study is being done to look at establishing a similar project in DRC.
IGCP is working with Forum des Apicultuers des Volcans (FAV) to promote apiculture around PNV (Rwanda) and Union des Apiculteurs du Secteur Mikeno et Nyamulagira (UDASEMINYA) in PNVi (DRC) and the Bwindi Beekeepers Development Association (BBDA) around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda). Prior to IGCP’s intervention, beekeeping was an activity for the old people done basically for honey production in a crude manner both from the forest habitat of the gorilla and within the community area. Following the intervention of IGCP, beekeepers around the Virunga Massif have relocated their hives just outside park boundaries, in order to avoid entering the forest illegally to harvest honey. In return, IGCP recruited a technical consultant to analyze the hives and assess beekeeping techniques.
The recommendations have led to the introduction of training in modern apicultural methods and the purchase of modern beehives. Honey is not only produced hygienically and marketed professionally but also many bi-products have been added to the production line including candles, bees wax, propolis, and mead. Other beekeepers’ associations have since begun to participate in similar training programmes, designed to improve collection, preparation and marketing techniques and to maximize income from by-products such as candles.
Enterprise development in the Democratic Republic of Congo is severely constrained by the security situation. Many people abandon homes and crops after their villages are attacked and are then unable to survive without recourse to park resources for food. In the absence of longer-term solutions, IGCP has solicited donations from the World Food Programme, in order to minimize poaching and illegal harvesting.