Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tourism revenue changing lives in Uganda

Tourism income has made huge strides in addressing poverty in rural Uganda. For most Ugandans, spending on tourism is more or less a foreign concept. Yet, even then, tourism reigns up there as one of the main foreign exchange earners for Uganda. The high tourism revenue is mostly attributable to the increasing number of tourists visiting the national parks and wildlife reserves in recent years. In 2004, 125,203 visitors were received in the national parks and by 2009; the number had risen to about 145,000. Given the horrendous tales told by the international media about our country following a spate of ugly incidences such as the Bwindi massacre of tourists in 1999, the ADF incursions between 1998 and 2001, the murder of the Jimmy Sekasi Institute students in 2001 and the violent raids on villages in the north by Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels, this increase in five years is admirable.

One of the key objectives of wildlife conservation is to address poverty in the rural areas especially among the communities neighbouring the protected areas. In a bid to address poverty, Uganda Wildlife Authority has, for years, implemented the revenue sharing programme under which neighbouring communities are given 20% of annual park entry fees. 

To date, a total of sh4b has been disbursed to neighbouring communities through their local governments, with the funds being used to bring services closer to the people as well as start income generating projects for the local communities. In all the over 30 districts neighbouring the protected areas, local communities have taken the lead in selecting a project for funding under the revenue sharing project. To that end, various communities have over the years insisted on getting projects like classroom blocks, school latrines, health centres, teachers’ houses, irrigation schemes, construction of community halls, road construction and rehabilitation projects, trench excavation, tree planting schemes, gravity water schemes and goat rearing projects among others.

The projects have helped to ease the life of several rural people who had to trek long distances in search of basic social amenities such as education, health care or markets for their produce. In some villages where school latrines have been constructed under the revenue sharing programme, sanitation in the area has improved. Farmers who used to get stuck with their agricultural produce are now able to sell off their produce at a good profit after new roads were opened up and old ones rehabilitated.

Probably the biggest beneficiaries of the revenue sharing scheme have been the pregnant women who used to give birth in banana plantations or in bushes but now have access to medical facilities. The number of maternal deaths in many of the villages neighbouring the protected areas have considerably reduced as a result. The assertion that tourism income has not benefitted the local people is a misrepresentation of the facts. Moreover, apart from the revenue sharing scheme, many people living in the communities neighbouring the national parks are accessing tourism income directly through the sale of tourism merchandise, being hired for cultural performances as well as increased employment opportunities with tour companies, lodges and Uganda Wildlife Authority.

For instance, it is now an open secret that a community member who works as a porter in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kibale National Park or Mt. Rwenzori National Park earns more dollars in a month than any average civil servant will earn in a year. The total combined direct income earned by all communities neighbouring the protected areas in Uganda in a year could be as high as sh5b. Uganda has 10 national parks, and tourism is thriving in most of them.  At Uganda Wildlife Authority, we believe that while there may still be room for improvement, the achievements that have been made in addressing poverty in the communities neighbouring the parks should also be acknowledged.

Conserving for Generations!

1 comment:

  1. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. Cheap Flights to Entebbe