UWA buys Shs 180 million land for the Batwa

There is a hope for a better life for the Batwa people in Kisoro district following the resettlement of some Batwa families by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities minister, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu has handed over land measuring 7.5 acres to a group of 35 people of the Batwa community neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

The land was procured by UWA at a cost of Shs 180 million which he said 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,” Kamuntu said.

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,fire wood, handcraft materials, honey extraction, medicinal herbs), employment both formal and informal therefore their participation cannot be taken for granted,” Kamuntu said.

“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,” he added.

Prof Ephraim Kamuntu (in yellow) and UWA executive director Sam Mwandha pose with some of the beneficiary Batwa group members

In the early 1990s, the Batwa people were evicted from the forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga where they lived in their traditional life as hunter-gatherers.

This followed the gazetting of Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable forest as national parks living the indigenous Batwa as a marginalized landless community. Many were forced onto the streets of Kisoro town as beggars.

UWA executive director 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,” Mwanda said.

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,” Mwanda explained.

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 ensuring proper land ownership rights.

Batwa Trail

The Batwa Trail Tourism Product was developed in MGNP in July 2010 to diversify tourism activities in Mgahinga 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 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 handcrafts and are now integrated with other communities in various areas.