Despite the great strides made to recover Uganda’s protected areas, poaching still prevails in vulnerable park-adjacent areas.
The five main factors driving wildlife crime are: meeting basic needs (subsistence); generating income (commercial); responding to perceived injustice (human-wildlife conflict (HWC) and exclusion from economic benefits of protected areas); maintaining cultural traditions; and responding to political influence (IIED, 2015).
“Countering Wildlife Crime: Livelihoods, Intelligence & Prosecution Capacity Building in Uganda”, funded by the UK government via the IWT Challenge Fund, has been a game-changer in tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Uganda. The project wove together community initiatives, like food gardens and community scouts, to provide alternative incomes to wildlife crime at a park level, whilst building capacity in legal and intelligence sectors to tackle high-value wildlife trafficking at a national level.
The project was implemented by UCF with help from a number of partners including Tusk Trust, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Natural Resource Conservation Network (NRCN), Soft Power Education and International Institute for Environment and Development.
Poverty alleviation and reduction of wildlife crime
Community Food Gardens:
UCF and SPE recruited 50 gardening participants in target locations (both Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) and Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area (QECA) where stats of HWC and illegal wildlife trade (IWT) were rampant. Buliisa (MFCA) and Rubirizi (QECA) were selected as pilot sites to run community food gardens—a proposed sustainable livelihood option in lieu of IWT. These 2 X 25 member groups, of which a good number are already smallholder farmers, underwent permaculture training course and subsequently established irrigation systems and planted crops based on recommended permaculture garden designs. In addition, they have also received training in group dynamics, constitution development and conflict resolution; group savings schemes; record keeping; deforestation issues; and practical gardening techniques such as mapping contours, digging swales, producing grow beds and composting.
With additional farmer-buyer-linkage training, both groups were empowered with the knowledge to market their produce and secure contracts from neighbouring lodges thus ensuring sustainability of said gardens.
Through this program, HWC mitigation and park relations were improved through the formation of Community Scout Teams in focus areas. These scouts were fundamental in installing HWC interventions in the trouble areas. The project recruited 2 X 25 member groups in both Nwoya District (MFCA) and Rubirizi (QECA).
The recruited scouts were trained in group dynamics, coordination, group savings, environmental stewardship, and reducing HWC (e.g. making elephant repellent, planting non-palatable crops). The livelihoods program was well received, for example the group saving scheme helped generate capital to buy seeds, send children to school and provide emergency funds; whilst seeing strong potential in beekeeping as a both an alternative income stream and a known elephant deterrent. This repellent recorded positive initial results following the respective farmers spraying the solution on crops and hanging them in bottles from fence lines. In addition to this, non-palatable crops, including ingredients of the deterrent (chilli, ginger, garlic, neem trees) are being planted in frontline communities to both ensure that the deterrent production is sustainable as well as secure community livelihoods in spite of elephant crop raids.
Intelligence & prosecutions
The project also saw an increase in prosecutions of IWT suspects via capacity building within the intelligence and legal sectors of Ugandan law enforcement. UCF engaged the expertise of Maisha Consulting to train UWA intelligence officers.
Capacity building in prosecution and legal skills was improved with the provision of five diploma of Law scholarships. This way, each national park has a prosecutor. Beyond these scholarships, UCF, with help from Save The Elephants, Space for Giants, U.S Agency for International Development, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and The Judiciary Uganda, facilitated a Judiciary sentencing committee workshop which validated and incorporated sentencing guidelines for wildlife and forestry crimes into the guidelines for non-capital offences.
Though it is too early to tell, once the project’s initiatives come into full realization of their potential, livelihoods of some of the poorest households living around MFCA and QECA will be improved through the income from the food gardens and HWC interventions like beekeeping by community scouts. The food garden groups will sell produce to tourist lodges, yielding enhanced and diversified income for the households involved.
The community scouts are developing new strategies for monitoring and preventing HWC incidents, which will not only provide enhanced incomes but reduce crop losses for farmers living alongside conservation areas.
For wildlife crime, the project has invested heavily in building the capacity of law enforcement, intelligence and monitoring personnel, networks and systems – strengthening wildlife crime prevention at strategic and field levels. This is already yielding positive results. NRCN has experienced a steep increase in number of cases featuring high value species:
- The average weight of a seizure has doubled for elephant and hippo ivory cases, whereas the average weight of a pangolin seizure is in decline;
- The number of concluded cases in 2016/17 is more than double that of the previous year, and the conviction rate has leapt from 68% to 96% over the same period;
- The average sentence in month per kg of elephant ivory has increased from 2.93 months per kg to 3.90 months per kg during this timeframe (+32%), but the average fine per kg (in GBP) has increased from £17.62 to £30.99 (+75%);
- The proportion of custodial only sentences has increased from 24% to 45% year on year.
Improved livelihood opportunities, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and enhanced park-community relations for the most vulnerable park-adjacent communities, supported by increased IWT convictions via law enforcement capacity building; will reduced the drivers of wildlife crime at the community level, and provide a meaningful deterrent to the financial beneficiaries of IWT.