KANUNGU – The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu handed over two pieces of land measuring 7.5 acres worth UGX 180 Million to a group of 35 people of the Batwa community neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
One piece of land is situated in Musana while the other is situated in Nyagacence both in Kisoro District.
Prof. Kamuntu said that the purchase of the land for the Batwa is the beginning of interventions that will address the challenges of Batwa that have been exerting pressure on the park and its resources. “I want to pay tribute to all those partners including Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust who have over the years invested heavily in improving the welfare of the Batwa including the acquisition of this land.
He said that Community participation in conservation has been beneficial in and around the protected areas of Uganda and Mgahinga in particular. “Communities participate in a number of activities such as problem animal management, resource access ( dry bamboo, firewood, handicraft materials, honey extraction, medicinal herbs), employment both formal and informal therefore their participation cannot be taken for granted”.
Prof. Kamuntu further said that the existence of the protected area comes along with projects that help in improving the livelihoods of the community. “Because of this protected area, projects such as road construction, electricity extension to the park and the neighbouring areas, water extension to the neighbouring communities, Community enterprises and Revenue sharing projects among others have come up and as a result, communities are able to transport their goods, access clean water and electricity that has contributed to the growth of small scale enterprises”.
The Executive Director UWA Sam Mwandha, said that the beneficiary group is composed of those people who have been working with UWA to give tourists a memorable experience while in the park but have been facing a challenge of inadequate land for settlement and cultivation. As a result, it was agreed that UWA buys them land out of the revenue generated from the Batwa trail product. “The revenue generated from this product is shared equally between UWA and the Batwa. The share for the Batwa is saved on their development account and it is from these accumulated funds that the land was purchased for them”
Mr Mwandha expressed optimism that with acquisition of land, the Batwa community have will start engaging in farming and hence alleviate poverty. “It is my hope that the Batwa will use this land for farming projects such as Irish potato growing and livestock rearing. The crops will be used for food and the surplus sold for income to meet other household needs, as well as education of their children”
The Batwa leader Kyakabingi Hagumimana thanked UWA for knowing their problem and solving it. He said that they will use the land to cultivate crops for the market to earn income and educate their children.
The beneficiaries of this land are a community of 35 who work on the Batwa Trail product and are registered under Mgahinga Batwa Cultural Development Company Limited. The land belongs to the company and nobody is allowed to sell it.
The role of UWA is to provide technical support as well as ensuring proper land ownership rights.
About Batwa Trail
The Batwa Trail Tourism Product was developed in MGNP in July 2010 to diversify tourism activities in Mgahinga forest by sharing the unknown Batwa culture with the tourists as well as improving the Batwa livelihood. The Batwa used to earn a living from in Mgahinga forest before it was gazetted a Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and they have a strong attachment to the forest.
To date, the Batwa trail product has transformed the Beneficiaries with skills, gained confidence through exposure and they are able to generate extra income through handicrafts and are now integrated with other communities in various areas.