I’m writing to respond to several inquiries made to us about the various mechanism to save forests in Uganda, particularly in Buikwe District – central Uganda. I briefly mentioned (about a year or so ago) that we were on a venture to acquire some land in Sanganzira for the purposes of setting up a protected area for wildlife, which would also double as a sustainable forestry initiative that would economically and socially benefit surrounding communities through a mix of sustainable natural resource use, Eco-tourist activities for local and international visitors, and sustainable farming.
I’m happy to announce that we are in the process of working with the authorities of Uganda, civil societies, conservationists to steward a small tropical forest reserve just inside my home village of Sanganzira, called Kisisita Forest Reserve. Located in Uganda’s Buikwe District, Ssi Sub County, the forest was gazetted as a protected area in 1932. It is a small yet ecologically important tropical forest that is 741 hectares/1831.05 acres in size.
Ecologically, Kisisita offers excellent protection from siltation for Lake Victoria, which is water pollution caused by particulate terrestrial material, with a particle size usually dominated by silt or clay. In other words, the forest acts as an important catchment for the local river, known as the Kisisita River, which flows into the Lake Victoria.
This allows for clean Lake water and a healthy ecosystem for birdlife and other wildlife, including crocodiles, hippos, buffalo, elephants, and fish, which are caught by local fishermen thus helping support them and their families.
The biodiversity of Kisisita forest, while informally known to locals, has not been adequately surveyed or studied. In other words, there is little known about the richness and abundance of species, both flora and fauna. Local communities have spoken of the diversity of flora and wildlife, the latter including a wide array of birdlife, butterflies, primates, and reptiles. A few of these species that we know of include the red-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius), blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata), and various species of hornbill (Family – Bucerotidae). It is not known if mammal carnivore species such as African wildcat (Felis lybica), African civet (Civettictis civetta), caracal (Caracal caracal), or leopard (Panthera pardus) inhabit Kisisita Forest Reserve, an initiative we hope to zoologically catalogue in the future.
On the human side, the forest is utilized by locals for firewood and other natural resources, usually on a small, fairly sustainable scale. However, local threats to the forest include unsustainable timber harvesting and the continued burning of charcoal, both of which are symptoms of the endemic poverty surrounding the forest.
Meanwhile, outside interests have been pressuring Uganda’s government to cut down the forest for a large sugarcane operation. The figures behind this are usually wealthy Ugandans, Indian business magnates with immense influence, who often line the pockets of local and a few national politicians with money in order that Uganda’s National Forestry Authority will turn a blind eye and allow a protected area that they are legally supposed to protect to be razed.
Moreover, the money made from these environmentally damaging mono-culture operations almost never reaches local people such as those who live in Sanganzira and nearby villages. Rather, it almost exclusively benefits the businessmen on a level that is astronomically absurd. This is one of the biggest problems with international investments in sub-Saharan Africa; almost none of the profit from natural resource extraction ever reaches the local level.
The good news is that, as of now, all deforestation efforts aimed at both Mabira, Kisisita and other forests have been suspended due to immense pressure from civil society organizations and the current orders of the head of State to denounce all permits that do not want to see these beautiful tropical forests destroyed. Many of these protests are by local men and women who use the forests sustainably.
That is why Moses and his brilliant team are putting together a proposal to Uganda’s National Forestry Authority, Buikwe Local Governments Departments and the Uganda Wildlife Authority in the hopes that we can help manage the forest for the economic, social, and environmental benefit of the people and species that live in the forest.
This includes continued wildlife surveying and monitoring. We have a meeting with Bruce Jones, a South African gentleman out of Johannesburg and the CEO of Earth Ranger – about a wildlife monitoring software that we plan on using to quantify the number and type of species that occupy the forest in efforts to lobby Uganda’s government to turn down any continued pressure to transform the forest into a mono-culture initiative for Eco-tourism.
We realize that this is an uphill battle, but it is one we are hoping to engage on for the benefit of people and the natural world. Despite our ecological and biological work at USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Services/Wildlife and Plant Protection Services. That is why if anyone is interested in working with us, we would be most grateful. While purchasing clothing and other items for villagers does go a long way in the short term, we are trying to look at an initiative that would benefit a larger swathe of the population, including the ability to sustainably harvest resources from the forest, open up new ecotourism initiatives which would create local employment (e.g. bird and wildlife watching expeditions, tourist lodge proprietorship, goat herders, farming, etc.) while reducing environmental pressure on the forest, and to ultimately sustain the forest, not just for its wildlife, but in order that the forest continues to act as a protective buffer against erosion and the terra firma pollution of Lake Victoria, which fishermen in and around the forest rely on to make a living.
I will add that we do not (and will not) profit from this in any capacity. As wildlife conservation lifers, we live with the awareness that we’ll never get rich in our efforts, but that’s not why we do what we do. If you’d like to learn more about my work in Buikwe District, please follow us. Though we would claim authorship as the sole researchers, the document is open to all the citizen of Buikwe District as a learning document.
Thank you for considering what we believe to be a worthwhile endeavor.