Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has Thursday handed over cheques worth Shs 4.4bn under the revenue sharing scheme to communities surrounding Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area.
The funds were handed over by the Minister of Tourism, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu to the district leaders of Kisoro, Kanungu and Rubanda at the Bwindi Conservation Area head office in Buhoma.
The Minister said government appreciates the contribution of communities neighbouring protected areas in the conservation of wildlife in Uganda. He also appealed to the communities and leaders to support efforts of fighting illegal activities in protected areas.
The funds will finance a total of 76 projects: 17 in Kisoro, 24 in Rubanda and 35 projects in Kanungu. Unlike in previous years, this disbursement will finance four community camp sites (In Bujengwe, Mpungu, Ruhija Sub County and Karangara) plus one community Resource Centre in Mukono Parish, Kayonza sub-county.
Once completed, the community tourism camp sites will generate more revenue from the increasing tourism business to the community. This will be an additional benefit from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park besides several other benefits which the neighbouring community is already deriving from the park.
“We are giving this money in recognition of the important role that communities play in our conservation efforts; we believe that we cannot effectively conserve wildlife without the support of the communities. I want to use this opportunity to thank you all for rallying behind UWA in conserving the two gorilla parks. It is my humble appeal to you that you continue with this support to conservation and ensure that all forms of illegal wildlife activities, are eliminated,” he said.
Minister Kamuntu further gave assurances that Uganda is safe for visitors and warned that anyone who tries to endanger tourists who come to Uganda will be dealt with according to the law.
He said that the money disbursed under the revenue sharing scheme keeps on increasing because of the ever increasing number of tourists who visit the parks to track gorillas and urged them to work closely with the park management by ensuring that wrong elements do not infiltrate to parks so that visitor numbers keep on increasing.
“The revenue share to the Districts will continue to increase, in response to the increasing number of tourists who come to our protected areas. I would like to appeal to everyone to play their role to ensure the parks and their surroundings do not get infiltrated by wrong elements that can cause insecurity,” Kamuntu reiterated.
Earlier on, the Minister officially opened a modern visitor information centre at Buhoma where he expressed government’s commitment to improving infrastructure in all tourism destinations and applauded UWA for putting up a centre that will help all visitors and community members to access information about the conservation area and the attractions therein.
On his part, the UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha described the event as historic and in line with UWA’s mission which emphasizes, among others, benefits to the community from wildlife conservation.
“Today is very historic moment when we celebrate another important milestone in our effort for sustainable wildlife conservation. In line with the UWA mission, I am pleased with the release yet another sum of these funds which include 20% park entry fees and $10 per gorilla tracking permit sold in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, this money will improve the livelihoods of communities and alleviate poverty” said Mwandha.
He called for adequate monitoring of the fund so that they are put to good use. “With adequate monitoring, it is our hope that the funds will be put to good use and be spent in accordance with the approved projects so that the benefit the intended people” he said.
He added that UWA will continue to improve tourism facilities in all conservation areas in order to offer visitors the best experience.
The RDC of Rubanda, Peter Rwakifari observed that wildlife provides sustainable income to communities saying that they will continue to ensure its conservation. The District Chairperson Kanungu Canon Josephine Kasya spoke on behalf of district Chairpersons and pledged to ensure timely accountability of funds disbursed to districts.
The Chief Administrative Officer Kisoro, Kasule Sulaiman said that the technical leaders will ensure that projects are implemented as planned. “We will ensure proper implementation of all projects so that our communities improve on their livelihoods,” he said.