For better or worse, politics play a big role in Uganda’s forest tenure reform efforts. The topic was explored during a workshop, titled ‘Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: What lessons for policy and practice?’, which took place late last year in Kampala, and introduced five new publications stemming from four years of research in Uganda.

Esther Mwangi, a team leader at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said the workshop was held to present results to a diverse range of actors from the fields of forest conservation management and community resources in hopes of fostering debate on reform in Uganda.

“I hoped that there would be debate about what has worked well and improvements needed, as well as a set of key recommendations for policymakers and practitioners,” she added.


During the workshop, researchers touched on the topic of political interference in the land tenure reform process.

Researcher Steve Nsita, who was at the workshop to talk about his study, Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities, said many locals thought that instead of helping, politicians more often acted as an impediment to the land tenure process, especially around election time.

“The politicians were involved in conflict resolution, but most people thought they interfered more than they supported the reforms,” he said. “They tended to exert pressure on implementers to do some things that were unethical for the sake of votes. They also tended sometimes to support people who wanted to override other people’s rights.”

But it wasn’t all bad news for politics. Although Nsita was not surprised by the respondents’ opinions of the government and politicians, he did note that on the ground level, other government figures were helping to resolve conflicts.

“For example, village council chairpersons were often asked by the people and government agencies alike to intervene in forest-related conflicts,” he said.

The nexus of political interference, however, remains oblique. Barbara Nankanu, a researcher at Makerere University, advocated for more political support, which will in turn promote action, she said.

“In a way, there was political support, that’s why we found a lot of progress in getting things done in certain places,” she said, urging researchers in the conservation sector to “to find a way of dealing with political factors”.

   Esther Mwangi, CIFOR team leader for a tenure reform study, hoped the workshop would foster debate about land tenure reform from a number of different actors. CIFOR Photo/Patrick Shepherd


According to Nsita, inadequate funding further complicated matters, and made forest rights declaration a lengthy process. During a study, he found that 50 private forests had gone through the whole system of registration, but to date, not one had been declared as registered.

“The district council has approved. They are waiting for the issuance of the certificate from lands office, because it’s supposed to come from the District Lands Board, ” Nsita said. “I was in Lamwo district the other day. Those people were asking me, ‘What happened? What happened to our lands?’ We need to have them registered so that we can move forward.”

Lamwo district represents a forest tenure system in a changing, post-conflict, forest governance scenario. Local communities gained extensive rights to forests after reforms were introduced in 2001. Local clans living near community forests now have access to firewood, charcoal, non-timber forest products, hunting grounds and land for grazing and farming. Moreover, because their customary rights are legally recognized they have the opportunity to formalize and gain full ownership of both land and forest.

In the study authored by Nsita, 90 percent of implementing agents at both the national and sub-national level said they believed that clear tenure rights would help improve forest management, which is why locals are so concerned about legalization.

“The registration process looks short on paper, but there are other intermediate actions, like opening boundaries, preparing the forest management plan, site visits by the government officials and so on, which take time, need technical expertise, and require funding, which the people do not always have,” Nsita said.

During the workshop, the researchers concluded that best way to recognize land tenure rights is via increased funding, and better coordination between government, subgovernment and local clans in terms of planning and implementation of policies.

Director of Uganda’s National Forestry Resources Research Institute, Hillary Agaba, said at the workshop that he agreed with the study’s findings, adding that a clear policy was needed to streamline the tenure process and to deal with idle land through a sharing scheme.

“There is need for a policy to look for land-sharing opportunities, to benefit all beneficiaries,” he said.

Mwangi from CIFOR then circled back to the reason why the studies were conducted and the workshop was convened in the first place: tenure security and its importance to the livelihoods of communities as well as the sustainable use and management of forests and land.

“It simply means being able to have access to the forest and  its resources, and to be guaranteed the ability to continue getting those benefit streams from the forest,” Mwangi said.

Watch more videos from the workshop here.

For more information on this topic, please contact Esther Mwangi at
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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