Benchmark programme addresses cultural values in Ugandan communities

Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) pioneering Cultural Values Programme has launched its third phase with an inception meeting in Uganda last week. Implemented in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the project has piloted FFI’s cultural values approach with park management in Uganda for five years now.  Support for the third phase of the project, from the MacArthur Foundation, will enable two additional conservation areas under the auspice of the project resulting in a total of four project sites throughout Uganda.

The third phase is a three year strategy that will see the project – the first of its kind to be developed by a conservation organisation – extended to the Semlike National Park in the Albertine Rift where park managers and indigenous Batwa hunter gatherers have struggled since the park’s creation to develop positive relations. Dr Mark Infield, Director of FFI’s Cultural Values Programme, was at the meeting, and commented, “The project will identify core values, practices and traditional institutions that link the Batwa people to their forest home, looking for practical ways to integrate these into the park’s management.”

The project will also support community conservation activities on and around Musambwa Island in Lake Victoria, Africa’s only breeding site for grey headed gulls Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus.  Nature Uganda and concerned fishermen formed the Musambwa Island Joint Conservation Group that has used the cultural beliefs of the fishing community to discourage the collection of birds’ eggs.  The population of the gulls has increased from less than 2000 to over 100,000 in 10 years along with increases in the numbers of many other water bird species including egrets, herons and sacred ibis.

Dr. Andrew Seguya, Acting Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, also attended the project inception meeting, held at Lake Mburo National Park and urged the project to establish focused and energetic implementation committees at each of the four sites.  Already a successful model is seen at Lake Mburo National Park, where the project has helped reduce conflict between the park and Bahima pastoralists by supporting the conservation of the famous long horned Ankole Cow.  The Conservation Area Manager of the park noted that the cultural values approach had helped him and his staff make significant advances in the way they related to local communities and how the communities related to the park.

Photo credit: Mark Infield

For several participants, the cultural values approach being spearheaded by the project was new.  For others, it was an exciting development that was helping to deliver important benefits to both communities and conservation.  The Honourable Kule Waluwe Silvest, Minister of Environment and Cultural Sites in the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu , the Rwenzururu Kingdom, spoke at the meeting explaining, “Culture tends to bring a sense of belonging of these conservation areas to the people and as we promote cultural values in conservation the management of these areas will find it very very easy and the communities very friendly.”

Dr Arthur Mugisha, the Project Manager told meeting participants, “We have a wonderful opportunity to cement the progress we have made in Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Mburo National Parks in helping to re-establish the links between communities and nature based on their own cultural values and by doing so, we will increase their interest in its conservation and in the national parks.”