Ric Rawlins, Send a Cow’s Multimedia Producer, explains why the key to protecting wildlife in Uganda's oldest national park, is the communities who live beside it.
In Uganda, poverty is threatening communities that are living around Murchison Falls National Park. Food is scarce and income opportunities are extremely rare – as a result, local wildlife is struggling to survive.
Ujeni, a farmer living across the Nile from the national park, gave us a good understanding of the situation.
Changes to the land
"The rains are scant and unreliable. There are no other sources of income." - Ujeni
Ujeni and his wife Serena have 3-4 acres of land, and although there’s a clear potential for planting, almost nothing was growing. When we arrived around midday with Julius, Send a Cow’s coordinator for the area, none of the family had eaten anything all day; they didn’t expect to until the evening.
Ujeni explained that changing weather patterns have made farming difficult. Having lived in the area his whole life, he’s seen a lot of changes.
"We’ve stayed here (on this land) for a long time. My father was born here, I was born here. I’ve seen changes, a few good ones and some bad ones… When we were young, life was good." - Ujeni
Why hunting happens
Although the Uganda Conservation Foundation is working hard to patrol the park and protect animals, the setting of traps is difficult to prevent – because it is driven by food insecurity and poverty in the surrounding areas. When you think of poachers, you might not automatically imagine a family like Ujeni’s, who do so simply because they have no other option. Most people think of it as a lucrative business driven by greed, yet as Ujeni explained himself:
"If people had enough to eat, they wouldn’t go there [to the National Park]. What takes people there is poverty… If people had alternative livelihoods, then they would leave the animals alone." - Ujeni
While talking to us, Ujeni and his wife Serena seemed indifferent to the wildlife, and studies suggest there is a negative perception of local conservation efforts: that communities feel they don’t benefit from the national park. This is one of the things the Living With Wildlife appeal will change.
Ujeni rowing across the Nile
Hopes for the future
Like many of our projects, Living with Wildlife will work to help farmers develop their agriculture and business skills to make the most of their land. Aware of his land’s potential, Ujeni told us that he’d like to learn how to farm successfully to save money for hospital and school fees.
"If I could earn an income, I could take my two disabled children to the hospital. I’d love to see them on their feet again. And for myself, I’d love to have a tin roof... If I used this land well, we’ll have a future." - Ujeni
As well as helping people develop the skills to earn, the appeal is all about transforming attitudes. Our Send a Cow Uganda colleagues will listen to local communities and engage them with conservation, so that they can become guardians of the national park. Schoolchildren like Ujeni’s grandchildren will learn to become young conservation champions, who advocate for the protection of their local wildlife.
This will take time, but ultimately, breaking the cycle of poverty around Murchison Falls will help animals and humans thrive alongside each other.