By Zadock Amanyisa
The government of Uganda through the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities is in the final stages of annexing forest reserves to their nearest protected areas in a move that will see them upgraded to national parks aimed at enhancing the protection status of Uganda’s networks of protected areas and other critical landscapes for wildlife conservation.
Forest reserves that are being considered in the program include Kalinzu and Maramagambo central reserves which are going to be annexed to Queen Elizabeth National Park and Budongo central forest reserve which is going to be added to Murchison Falls National Park.
According to the letter written by Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary, Ms. Doreen S. Katusiime last week to the District Chairperson, Rubirizi district, where Maramagambo forest is found, the government through Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, is reviewing the National Wildlife Protected Areas Systems Plan (2002) to conserve wildlife resources of Uganda in a manner that contributes to the sustainable development of the nation and the well-being of its people.
The Tourism Ministry is engaging councils in districts surrounding the earmarked forests so that they (districts) can consent to the proposal.
“The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to request you to liaise with the head of your Council to organize a District Council meeting on 23rd January 2023 on the proposed upgrade,” Ms. Katusiime said in a letter
Under section 25(1) of the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019, the Minister is required to consult with the local government within which a proposed conservation area falls before making submissions to Parliament. The Ministry is committed to fulfilling this particular requirement of the law.
In 2018, Uganda’s network of Protected Areas and other areas of significant wildlife resources were assessed to ascertain their importance and values in conserving wildlife. This was a multi-stakeholder exercise involving the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Uganda Wildlife Authority, National Forest Authority, NGOs, and the Private sector.
The findings of the assessment recommend appropriate actions to enhance the protection status of Uganda’s networks of Protected Areas and other critical landscapes for wildlife conservation.
For Kalinzu and Maramagambo Central Forest Reserves, the assessment recommends that they should be accorded a higher protection status and thus be upgraded into National Park and integrated into Queen Elizabeth National Park so that the neighboring communities benefit more from these natural resources.
Speaking to Daily Monitor on Monday, Mrs. Eunice Kansiime, the Tourism Ministry Principal Public Relations Officer said that a number of district councils sharing borders with proposed areas have already been engaged and they are consenting.
“A good number of district councils are consenting and there will be a working method with nearby communities on how they can still benefit from the areas once they have been annexed. We understand communities have been getting firewood from these forests, but there is going to be guidelines and policies to follow in that respect,” said Mrs. Kansiime
She added that other benefits in the form of revenue sharing and other forms will be communicated so that communities can keep coexisting with animals and protected areas in general.
Mrs. Kansiime further noted that all efforts shoot in the Tourism Ministry’s mission of developing and promoting the tourism, wildlife and heritage resources for enhancement of Uganda as a competitive and preferred tourist destination, with accelerated sector contribution to the national economy.
Engagements with districts are being spearheaded by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, which are expected to come to agreements on the resolutions to upgrade the forests into national parks.
Mrs. Kansiime told this reporter that the upgrade was done for a number of reasons, including to protect the forest from encroachment, illegal logging, deforestation, poaching, and human settlements given the anticipated future population pressures, as well as for conservation efforts, wildlife protection, ecosystem preservation, and protection of birdlife species.
Mr. George Oweyesigire, the Acting Commissioner for Wildlife at the Ministry of Tourism,Wildlife, and Antiquities, says the move has been long awaited and that the Ministry is extremely excited to see this upgrade take place as a boost to the growth and development of Uganda’s tourism industry.
“Budongo Central Forest Reserve has reached that maturity to grow into a national park status given its abundance of wildlife, variety of bird species, and tree species that distinguishes it from all other forest reserves. We do believe turning it into a national park will increase Uganda’s tourism value proposition and increase tourist revenues,” he said
Adding: “After the upgrade process, we hope to meet with the Uganda Tourism Board to talk about product development, packaging, and marketing of this destination in order to draw business to Masindi and Uganda as a whole.”