How do you even manage to love and protect the same animals that trouble and destroy your gardens, we asked the group of conservation activists – Gitenderi environment project group. As hard as it can be, the community living around Mgahinga gorilla national park have managed to live in harmony with the destroyers of their farms. According to the group members, although not sufficiently or entirely satisfactorily, the benefits of conservation have some what proven to outweigh the costs. Forty-five-year-old Sebuhinge William reveals that the revenue sharing money extended to this community neighboring the park, has facilitated community development and as result encouraged them to find solutions to crop raiding instead of retaliating back. With support from IGCP and Uganda Wildlife Authority, Gitenderi environment project group was able to put up a 1.5m high and 2Km long buffalo wall along the border with Mgahinga gorilla national park in 2010 to deter problem animals away from their park adjacent farms. The community group of about 65 members has continued to maintain this buffalo wall, three times a week.
Unfortunately, crop raiding has remained a challenge in Gitenderi area. According to the group members, the buffalo wall is short and the open section at the border of Rwanda and Uganda (Muremeri area) has continued to serve as a quick path for the animals to the crop fields. “Maybe if a joint logical solution to seal off this open section can be devised then the frequency of crop raids can reduce. We wish that the two governments Rwanda and Uganda can work together and strengthen transboundary human wildlife conflict challenges affecting border – park adjacent communities like ours. We are available to offer our in -kind support towards any joint initiative to end this problem.” Sebutozi David, Chairperson Gitenderi environment project, notes.
Human wildlife conflict is one of the biggest challenges faced by communities adjacent to protected areas. It frustrates conservation efforts of wildlife, protected areas and also undermines community development. In Gitenderi area, the community which largely depends on farming for survival has continued to suffer crop raids from animals especially buffalos and antelopes. In February this year, two group members had their gardens severely raided. About 3.5 acres of Emmanuel’s garden was raided by buffalos and antelopes, leaving all his Irish potatoes, beans and wheat destroyed, while, Gad Duhumbazi lost half of his 1.5 acres of Irish, beans and peas destroyed too. Commenting on how they manage, Emmanuel says most often they replant the destroyed crops, noting that its very tiring, expensive and demoralizing to keep doing. He appeals to government to consider a practical compensation mechanism of the affected persons.
In February 2019, the parliament of Uganda passed the long-awaited Uganda Wildlife bill 2017 into law, among others to provide for compensation to people whose life and property shall be destroyed by wildlife.
Bimenya Apophia, who has a garden in the main pathway of the problem animals decries the losses she makes every season “Countless times I have had my garden destroyed. Even when I replant, I hardly harvest enough for my family. Where I expected about 5 sacks of Irish potatoes, I have harvested one. At times I feel like giving up but then again, I don’t have many options”. Apophia reveals that in order to raise more food for her family, she and many other women in her shoes take on odd jobs in the community.
Adding onto this, Lydia Nyirankunzi says “We want to farm in peace, harvest and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Hopefully improving the existing buffalo wall to a quality/standard one will help us realize this. We have already rolled out plans of doing this”.
The community longs for a lasting solution to keep wildlife in their natural habitat without crossing over to their farms. They are certain this would promote sustainable peace. “We appreciate that it’s hard to achieve but we can only hope that more robust or collective measures will be deployed one day for the benefit of both us and our wild friends” says Serutokye Stephen a community member.
Irrespective of all these challenges, the community still believes in conservation of wildlife and its natural habitat. According to the members of Gitenderi environment project, the financial support and sensitization from conservation institutions like IGCP and BMCT also helps in calming the affected community members. For example, the community group received about two million Uganda shillings from BMCT. With this money the group was able to plant irish potatoes on one of the lands acquired away from the park boundary. Fourteen sacks of irish potatoes were harvested, sold and the profits were shared and also re-invested in their savings and credit scheme.
The case of Gitenderi community is a demonstration that with adequate community sensitization about the importance of conservation, collaboration with conservation stakeholders and provision of practical measures to conservation challenges, harmonious living between park adjacent communities and the protected areas can be achieved.
Gitenderi environment project group is one of the several park adjacent community-based groups in the Virunga landscape supported by IGCP through its Sida funded – Leading the change project. The project aims at empowering park adjacent communities with knowledge and skills that can enable them to be instruments of their own development and also be able to influence polices and decisions in natural resource management in their communities.