Uganda is a landlocked country located where seven of Africa’s biogeographic regions converge, making it a country with a high level of biodiversity. Despite its small size, Uganda has an extraordinary amount of diversity in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats , with surveys reporting occurrence of over 18,783 species of flora and fauna . Most of the biodiversity can be found in natural forests, but a considerable number is also found in other natural ecosystems such as mountains, savannahs, wetlands, lakes and rivers . Protected Areas (PAs) in Uganda mainly fall under two resources, namely forestry and wildlife. Out of a total surface area of 241,551sq.km (both land and water), 25,981.57sq.km (10%) is announced as wildlife conservation areas, 24% is announced as forest reserves and 13% is wetlands .
Uganda has 10 National Parks, 12 Wildlife Reserves, 10 wildlife sanctuaries, 5 community wildlife areas, 506 central forest reserves and 191 local forest reserves. It is however estimated that over 50% of Uganda’s wildlife resources still remain outside designated protected areas, mostly on privately owned land which is of most urgent concern for protection and development .
Uganda’s nature and biodiversity are rapidly declining globally, with the pace of species extinctions being accelerated levels. The rate of biodiversity loss in Uganda was calculated in 2004 to be between 10-11% per decade (MWLE, 2003) with a high number of known species recorded on the IUCN Red List . This portends grave impacts on people across many parts of the country. From an estimated 1,400 indigenous plant species in Uganda, 30 species are known to be endangered, 43 are rare and 10 are vulnerable, according to the country’s national biodiversity strategy and action plan.
Number of factors are responsible for biodiversity loss in Uganda. They include habitat loss, agricultural encroachment and expansion, climate change effects, over-harvesting of resources, diseases, pollution, introduction of alien species, demographic factors, poverty and national policies, among others.
The main threat to biodiversity conservation in Uganda is the increasing human population and the consequent demand for land. Competing land-use options (agriculture, timber harvesting, mining, oil and gas exploration) mean that biodiversity is often overlooked. Over-fishing, disease and climate change have been and will be responsible for the decline of some species or their extinction . As mentioned, among the key drivers of biodiversity loss in Uganda include loss of vegetation cover due to settlements. Uganda’s wetland biodiversity, for instance, is under threat from agricultural activities and the demand for more space for farming and industrial development. Weak or misguided policy interventions also contribute to increasing instability of Uganda’s biodiversity, including in the mountain and rangeland ecosystems.
In addition, at the country’s protected conservation areas (PA), major threats are attributed to the seemingly high population growth rate of Uganda (estimated at 3.2% per annum) which results in high demand for resources including land, woodfuel and income but also a failure by local communities to recognize the value of PAs and associated biodiversity.
Key policies and governance approach
In Uganda, elaborate legal regimes for the management of biodiversity are in place. These are grounded in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995) which objective XIII requires the State to “protect important natural resources, including land, water, wetlands, minerals, oils, fauna, and flora on behalf of the people of Uganda”. Moreover, Article 245 provides for Parliament to enact laws intended to protect the environment from abuse, pollution and degradation as well as for managing the environment for sustainable development .
The key National Policy framework for management of biodiversity in Uganda is the National Environment Policy (1994), which provides for the institutional structure as well as policy measures for biodiversity management in Uganda .
To deter degradation in practice, Uganda has put in place some policies, legal and institutional bodies to promote the conservation and sustainable use of forest resources. These include the National Forestry Policy 2001; National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003; the Forestry Sector Support Department; the National Forestry Authority; District Forestry Services; and enforcement measures through the Environmental Protection Police Unit. Others include the National Policy framework for the management of biodiversity in Uganda which provides for institution structure as well as policy measures for biodiversity management. There is also a sectoral policy for the management of biodiversity in different sectors of the country. For example, National Agriculture Policy (2009) Forestry Policy (2001), National Culture Policy (2006), Land Policy 2000, National Wetlands Policy, Fisheries Policy (2003), Uganda Wildlife Policy, Decentralization Policy (1993), National Gender Policy (1997).
Uganda’s biodiversity policies, objectives and priorities are implemented by various governmental entities with the overall coordination of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The country is currently implementing its 2015-2025 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan II (NBSAP II). Uganda is a signatory to several international Conventions, Protocols and Agreements relating to biodiversity management. These include the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992); the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (1973); Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the RAMSAR Convention); the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (1994); the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1992).
Successes and remaining challenges
In Uganda, about 3,500 ha of degraded natural forests have been restored, as well as about 5,400 ha of the 60,000 allocated to commercial tree plantations have been established, and 950 km of external boundaries resurveyed and marked. However, restoration has not kept pace with the annual loss of forest cover and loss of individual trees. These efforts were combined with the aim to reach 6.5 million households with efficient charcoal and wood stoves by 2017, to reduce the amount of wood and charcoal used for cooking.
Despite Uganda’s attempt to initiate local mechanisms for conservation and sustainability of its biodiversity, several challenges abound and continue to hamper implementation. These include limited public awareness and participation at national and sub-national levels. Another key impediment is the lack of coordination among the focal points which results in frequent duplication of effort.
Initiatives and Development Plans
Generally, Uganda’s biodiversity plan has integrated the Government’s priority development agenda as set out in National Vision 2040. This is in addition to building greater alignments between the SDGs and the Africa’s Agenda 2063, as well as natural resource management targets and priorities of the East African Community’s Member States.
Uganda has also increased its compliance with international laws, for instance through its membership to the Cartagena Protocol which has also been able to give the mandate for Uganda to conserve and preserve its biodiversity.
Moreover, Uganda, through its NBSAP 2 strategic objectives, intends to increase the awareness to all its stakeholders of the purpose and importance of conserving the country’s biodiversity as well as strengthen stakeholder co-ordination, build capacity for information management, research and monitoring. Another important initiative is the Biodiversity Finance Plan (2019) for resource mobilization, which has been developed and implemented in the country .
Worth to mention are the grants of a total value of 368,939 EUR which have been awarded to five organisations in Uganda in 2021, to address biodiversity conservation needs. The European Union (EU) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) have made funds available through the IUCN Save Our Species African Wildlife Initiative and the BIOPAMA Action Component, both managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Three of the five grantees are implementing a range of activities to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19, including diversifying livelihoods to absorb the loss of tourism income, implementing health protocols and monitoring to protect gorillas, as well as clearing invasive species to secure rhino habitat. The other two are longer-term projects, not directly linked to COVID-19 impacts: the Ecological Trends Alliance (ETA) aims to fight against lion persecution in Queen Elizabeth National Park, while the Snares to Wares Initiative transforms wire snares taken from Murchison Falls National Park into sculptures that not only generate alternative revenue opportunities for local communities, but also shine a spotlight on illegal poaching practices .
Goals and Ambitions
The key standout issue in the country’s goals and ambition is a targeted move to integrate measures for curbing biodiversity loss into poverty actions. These include interventions that intend to upscale the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. The NBSAP II has also national biodiversity targets that provide a framework for measuring progress, which will be implemented by ‘target champions’, comprised of various government agencies. The country also seeks to heighten the level of integrating biodiversity issues into cross-border and peace-building initiatives in ecosystems which are shared by Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and DR Congo, these include Mt Elgon, Mt Rwenzori, Virungas and Bwindi among others .
The strategic objectives of NBSAP II are :
- To strengthen stakeholder co-ordination and frameworks for biodiversity management,
- To facilitate and build capacity for research, monitoring, information management and exchange on biodiversity,
- To reduce and manage negative impacts while enhancing positive impacts on biodiversity,
- To promote the sustainable use and equitable sharing of costs and benefits of biodiversity
- To enhance awareness and education on biodiversity issues among the various stakeholders
- To harness modern biotechnology for socio-economic development with adequate safety measures for human health and the environment
- To promote innovative sustainable funding mechanisms
In line with Uganda’s COVID-19 socio-economic recovery strategy,
- Biodiversity conservation interventions should consider integrated measures that not only consider ecosystems but also the livelihoods of communities around the key conservation areas.
- The country should boost the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices that are compatible with conservation, and
- should boost sustainable funding to support the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) strategic plan at the national level, which would support with the enhancement of the sustainability of biodiversity in Uganda.
- Uganda is well placed to put in place robust mechanisms for sustainable use and equitable sharing of the benefits of biological resources.
- Uganda should work on improving the enhancing public awareness and participation at national and sub-national levels in biodiversity conservation matters
- The country should also implement coordination mechanisms among the focal points for biodiversity actions, to avoid duplication of effort and maximize actions and human resources.
The Republic of Uganda, Ministry of Water and Environment (2015). UGANDA’S INTENDED NATIONALLY DETERMINED CONTRIBUTION (INDC).