Assessment of park resource use by local communities as an incentive strategy for natural resources conservation in protected area : the case of Rwenzori Mountains National park adjacent communities
Assessment of park resource use by local communities as an incentive strategy for natural resources conservation in protected areas was carried out in communities adjacent to Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP). Since 2008, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) signed 14 Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with local communities in 15 parishes around RMNP to access dry bamboo, firewood, medicinal plants and mushrooms. There was increased pressure from local communities for resources in the park which had strained the relationship between the park management and the communities. There were also increased illegal activities such as poaching and pit sawing because of negative attitudes towards the park. As a response, 14 MOUs for resource use were signed with communities in 15 parishes adjacent to the park in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. The purpose of resource access was to allow communities access some resources from the park, so as to reduce conflict with communities and increase their participation in park management. This was to enhance conservation of natural resources in the park. The overall objective of the study was to assess park resource use a strategy for natural resources conservation in protected areas. The specific objectives were to assess the resources accessed from RMNP by local communities, the effects of resource use on natural resources conservation, the effectiveness and sustainability of resource use as an incentive strategy for natural resources conservation in protected areas. The research was undertaken between February and May 2012 in communities that were allowed by UWA to access park resources and among staff of UWA working in RMNP. It involved qualitative and quantitative approach using questionnaires, focus group discussions, key interviewees and individual interviewees. Data was collected from 100 community members, 9 park rangers working in RMNP, 6 key interviewees using interview schedules, questionnaires and key interviewees/focus group discussion guide respectively. The study found that resource access has improved relationship between the communities and the park management. There was increased reporting of incidence of illegal activities cited in the park which they had been condoning before resource use. When resource access was formally begun, selective harvesting of only dry bamboos and wood, use of only gazatted paths and cultural sites were promoted. Timeframe for harvesting resources were also agreed by communities to ensure optimal control for sustainability. However the study found instances where resource access hinders conservation of natural resources in the park. There is littering in the park by resource users with polythene and human wastes such as feces and urine. Similarly domestic animals transported through the park also litter with their wastes. These increases risk of infecting wild animals especially apes with human diseases. However, Resource Access Strategy is effective because it has managed to change communities’ negative attitudes towards the park. It is recommended that, UWA should regulate charges levied by Resource Use Committees for accessing some resources to increase affordability. Resource Use Committees should have duty rota to ensure full participation of all members of the committees. The Government of Uganda should also formulate policies to guide and regulate resource use in protected areas.