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In Uganda, change is afoot for rights to forests

New research looks at community roles in tenure reform
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At a forest plantation in Mpigi, Uganda, local resident Gertrude Nabanoba collects firewood to use at home. CIFOR Photo/John Baptist Wandera

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Uganda - Fifteen years ago Uganda launched reforms to its land tenure system. The country’s forests, once lush and expansive, had come under threat due to agricultural expansion and the increasing demand for forest products. The reforms were an attempt to address this.

But until now it has been unclear how implementation of these changes has progressed, if there have been roadblocks, and how local communities and their rights to land have been impacted.

At a workshop on the topic that also served to launch five new publications stemming from four years of research in Uganda, Professor Abwoli Banana of Makerere University in Kampala said, “How has implementation played out? What have been the challenges? What has been happening? That is why we’re here.”

“All of us have a role to play in the implementation of these reforms,” he added.

Esther Mwangi, who led the research team from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), spoke of the results. “What is important to me in today’s meeting is getting your feedback on and your validation of these findings, how this can be of use to you in your work, and what is missing or emerging that this research and action did not capture.”

She added, “It takes a village to raise a child and I hope you can do the same with this research.”

VILLAGE PEOPLE

The studies from CIFOR together with partners from Makerere University and the Association of Uganda Professional Women in Agriculture and the Environment (AUPWAE) look at forest tenure reform in four districts, each with different kinds of forest management and tenure systems.

Scientists examined how reform emerged and documented communities’ experiences in Kakumiro, Kibaale, Lamwo and Masindi through hundreds of interviews. The research identifies impacts on the rights of women, poor men and ethnic minorities, including their access to forests and trees.

Mwangi said of the team’s interest in understanding forest-dependent communities, “We asked about the main livelihood activities and about tenure security and insecurity. We wanted to know what tenure security is to them.”

The researchers found that there was a general lack of awareness of rights and inadequate financial and human resources to protect local tenure. This people’s perspective from the experiences of those who use land is meant to inform government policy for the better.

National Forestry Resources Research Institute Director, Hillary Agaba, said, “Previously we had a lot of plantation forestry, mainly done by government and big companies, but with social forestry or community forestry we have communities having their community forests managed together on their communal land in some places for the benefit of providing the products and services they need. But these social forests and practitioners need the support from the technocrats.”

   Ann Mary Nankabirwa, a member of the Parliament of Uganda’s Natural Resources Committee, speaks during a land tenure reform workshop. CIFOR Photo/Patrick Shepherd

ALL IN

Using a new method and really unique way to analyze data, the project employed a foresighting technique called Participatory Prospective Analysis (PPA), which brought together forest users and managers and put them on equal footing. They jointly identified local tenure security impacts, built scenarios of how they expect tenure security to evolve in the coming decades and developed action plans aimed at mitigating unwanted effects, among other aspects.

Concepta Mukasa of AUPWAE said, “We involved the key government agencies, the non-state actors, customary leaders, religious leaders, communities, the education sector.It has been very participatory. It was actually the first time that it was applied in the communities when all stakeholders – all of them – were brought together … the results are really representative of what the communities really feel about their forest tenure security.”

The joint PPA work encouraged collective reflection and consensus building, as well as calls for action.

Professor Mukadasi Buyinza of Makerere University spoke of the initiation of reforms and the early focus on forest ecology: “We needed to give attention to the communities, their livelihoods, their entitlements, their access. So we brought in a new wave – issues of participatory forest management, issues of social forestry, issues of collaborative forest management, issues of community best management reforms. All of these were warranted and were in tune with the times.”

IN TUNE

The workshop’s discussions focused on moving forward and actionable items, with many in agreement that one of the main issues, after having good policy in place, was effective government implementation, while recognizing the complexities of the actors and institutions involved.

Rachel Musoke of the Uganda Forestry Association said, “If government can take up what the NGOs are doing and at a much higher level and maybe join hands much more with NGOs, we could reach a much bigger audience. But the issue of implementation could be due to lack of resources.”

One of the research findings discussed in Kampala was the complicated registration system for land, something that should be simplified and prioritized by the Ministry of Water and Environment. Bob Kazungu from the Ministry discussed the current land registration guidelines, and the impression from the meeting that many weren’t aware of them.

“We need [the guidelines] to be disseminated widely,” he said. “When [people] are registered then their tenure security is secured or enhanced, and when that happens then you should be able to manage forests well. There are many benefits to registration. When you are registered you are known and the chain of custody from your forests is clear, therefore you are an authentic forest owner.”

The research results published in conjunction with the event are, of course, meant to inform and impact, and work to resolve any disconnect between policy and practice or government and forest user – which means getting those results into the right hands.

During the opening of the event, Lucy Iyango, a representative of the Minister of State for the Environment, said, “My hope for this colloquium is that you develop three key actions or interventions so we can take this research up at the strategic policy level, so it does not remain in this room.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Esther Mwangi at E.Mwangi@cgiar.org.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This research was supported by the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
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