The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) handed over US$1.2 million (UGX 4,189,834,069) in revenue sharing funds to the communities neighboring the Murchison Falls Protected Area. A ceremony took place at Buliisa district headquarters. The Murchison Falls Protected Area is composed of Murchison Falls National Park, Karuma Wildlife Reserve, and Bugungu Wildlife Reserve.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority gives back 20% of its annual park gate collections to the communities neighboring the national parks under the revenue sharing scheme. Tourism revenue is playing a critical role in improving the livelihoods and development of communities around the national parks.
The ceremony was presided over by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu. He handed over the checks to district leaders of Nwoya, Buliisa, Oyam, Masindi, Kiryandongo, and Pakwach.
Professor Kamuntu said that it is a deliberate government policy of ensuring that people neighboring national parks benefit from revenue generated from the parks. He urged district leaders to follow up and monitor the funds so that they go to projects owned by rightful beneficiaries.
“I urge the leaders here to ensure that this money goes towards the improvement of the livelihoods of the communities neighboring the national park. The communities should feel the positive impact of the park. This can only happen when the money goes directly to them, and they see tangible benefits from it,” he said.
The Minister reiterated the need to ensure that wildlife conservation thrives, because Uganda’s tourism is largely nature based, yet it is one of the sectors that will propel Uganda into a middle-income country.
“Tourism is going to be the transformational force that will turn around Uganda’s economy and propel us into to a middle-income country. For this to happen, however, we must do our part by ensuring that we have good relationships with the communities so that they appreciate wildlife and participate in the conservation efforts,” the Minister added.
Prof. Kamuntu appealed to the communities to cooperate with UWA in fighting poaching by reporting known poachers in their areas so that they are dealt with according to the law.
He revealed that government is going to conduct a study to scientifically analyze whether it is possible to establish a hydropower dam at Uhuru Falls without undermining Murchison Falls, because government wants to develop tourism and all Uganda’s natural heritage. “The Murchison Falls are very beautiful, and we want them to remain as an iconic tourism attraction. That is the reason why we want to first undertake a scientific study to be sure that if a power dam is built at Uhuru, Murchison Falls won’t be affected,” he said.
The Executive Director of UWA, Sam Mwandha, said that the authority continues to improve its relationships with communities, because they are key stakeholders in wildlife conservation. He urged them to join UWA in protecting and conserving Uganda’s wildlife resources.
“We know that communities are important stakeholders in our business. We want to improve their livelihoods so that they appreciate the importance of wildlife conservation and join us in protecting wildlife,” said Mwandha.
On behalf of the district leaders, the District Chairperson for Buliisa Simon Kinene expressed appreciation to UWA for always remembering the contribution of communities neighboring the park to wildlife conservation.
“The communities are playing a big role in the conservation of wildlife. They suffer immediate impacts of conservation, yet they keep supporting your work. Thank you for remembering them by improving their livelihoods,” the Chairperson said.
Mr. Kinene said that UWA is playing an important role in supplementing the district budget for community development and as such, it is a real partner in development. He pledged that the district leaders will continue sensitizing communities against poaching and asked UWA to also sensitize the communities on the new wildlife law which hands tougher penalties to offenders.
The function was attended by, among others, Chairpersons, Resident District Commissioners, Chief Administrative Officers, and other technical officers from the 6 districts that neighbors the Murchison Falls Protected Area and community members.
The revenue sharing scheme is meant to strengthen partnerships between local communities, local governments, and management of wildlife areas leading to sustainable management of wildlife resources in protected areas. Funds given to districts under the revenue sharing scheme go to community income-generating projects identified by communities and social service infrastructure such as schools and health facilities.