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Tourism, livelihoods and biodiversity conservation : an assessment of tourism related policy interventions at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), Uganda

  • Ahebwa, W.M.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2012
Wageningen University and Researchcenter Publications
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Over the last two decades, the developing world has focused on attempting to reconcile conservation and development with nature-based tourism as one of the main mechanisms. To address the twin challenge of achieving conservation and development at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, in 1993 tourism was introduced. According to the logic of Integrated Conservation and Development (ICD) approaches for tourism to earn the support of communities for conservation, there must be meaningful benefits which accrue to a large number of people. However, from the onset, tourism around Bwindi was largely dominated by private sector businesses. In an attempt to ensure greater community access to tourism benefits, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and support institutions have applied three main tourism related policy interventions in villages around the park to enable communities earning direct benefits from tourism. These policy interventions are the subject of this thesis and they include: the Buhoma-Mukono community tourism enterprise, the Tourism - Revenue Sharing Program and the Clouds Mountain Lodge - a Private-Community Partnership. This thesis critically looks at the functioning of each of the three policy interventions. It explicates the introduction and implementation processes and evaluates the extent to which the three policy interventions address livelihood and conservation concerns at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. By expounding the processes and context within which the policy interventions are implemented, this thesis makes a contribution to the on-going debates on policy strategies that can be employed to redeem the threatened biodiversity in the developing world. More so, on the extent to which market-based mechanisms that seek to use tourism in biodiversity conservation efforts in Africa can work. It adds a voice on the ongoing discussions regarding the relevance of Community-Based Tourism Enterprises, Tourism-Revenue-Sharing and Private-Community Partnership arrangements that have been advocated by international and national conservation organizations over the last few years as possible conservation and development links. A four dimensional analysis using the elements of the policy arrangement approach was used as a lens to explain the introduction and the functioning of each of the three policy interventions at Bwindi as well as to elaborate their respective governance capacities. The elements of the policy arrangements approach on which the analysis was based include; a) actors/coalitions, b) rules, c) resources/power as well as, d) discourses. As chapter 2 elaborates, the four elements of the policy arrangements approach were used as sensitizing concepts implying that, they were used as interpretive devices and guidelines for analysis rather than imperatives. On the other hand, to evaluate the outcomes of the policy interventions, livelihoods and conservation were also taken as sensitizing concepts (evaluative devices). This entailed making use of the elements of the sustainable livelihood framework (capital assets, livelihood outcomes, livelihood strategies and the context) to understand the livelihood implications and the conservation threat reduction indicators to explain the conservation outcomes. Within the context of Bwindi, an assessment of the status of the conservation threats entailed a look at the nature of community attitudes, park-community relationships, the trend of illegal activities and their distribution as well as the population of the key animals- the mountain gorillas for case of Bwindi. Generally, the thesis demonstrates that the Buhoma-Mukono arrangement has a high governance capacity compared to the Tourism Revenue Sharing and Private-Community Partnership arrangements. This implies that the policy processes and the alignment of the substantial and organisational aspects of the Buhoma-Mukono arrangement effectively contribute to the realisation of the desired policy outcomes. The arrangement (Buhoma-Mukono) is widely accepted as a solution to the conservation and development concerns in the area as it commands a lot of support from the majority of actors and dissenting voices are extremely minimal. This explains its strategic congruence. The thesis shows that the Buhoma-Mukono arrangement is internally structurally congruent. This is illustrated by the fact that the regulative instruments are well known, understood and accepted by actors and the relationships between actors are built on mutual participation and trust. The arrangement is also externally congruent as it links and integrates well with the 1990s’ international discourses and policies on CBTEs, but also with other community based tourism enterprises through an umbrella entity called the Uganda Community Tourism Association. Therefore, a combination of its high governance capacity and other practical reasons like its location (near the park headquarter) and local sourcing and capacity building, make the Buhoma-Mukono CBTE model an exception compared to many other CBTE arrangements that have generally failed elsewhere. As for the Tourism Revenue Sharing Program, it is argued in this thesis that the dimensions of the policy arrangement are structurally incongruent, the regulative instruments that have been established to guide its implementation are poorly known, understood and accepted and the relationships between actors are disturbed and not built on mutual trust. Two discourse coalitions exist that are dissimilar in perspective; an ‘official’ one voiced by Uganda Wildlife Authority and International Gorilla Conservation Programme, reflecting storylines of international and national conservation focussing on linking conservation and development, and a competing discourse advocated by local communities which challenges the way TRS is implemented. The distributional effects of TRS were and still are subject to discussions at Bwindi, as well as the new rules for disbursing funds and project selection, which are still debated and considered as too ‘technical’ for many. Although the critique to the low funding from TRS has been addressed by the introduction of the gorilla levy, this has been criticised for only being . In addition, TRS is still a state-oriented arrangement where UWA controls crucial resources. Whereas CPI and local governments are involved at all levels of TRS implementation, their powers are limited to resource distribution within the framework of UWA’s conditional guidelines. The communities on the other hand are the most disadvantaged with neither financial nor knowledge resources. Despite being the central victims of conservation costs, their powers are minimal. The findings in this thesis also illustrate a low governance capacity associated with the Private-Community Partnership (Clouds Lodge) arrangement. There is no broad acceptance of rules that guide its operationalisation and there are competing discourses which differ inperspectives narrating the Clouds Lodge arrangement in either largely positive or negative terms. In addition, the relationships between actors are troubled and not built on mutual trust. The incongruence in the dimensions of the policy arrangements largely explains the underlying conflicts associated with this arrangement. Results also illustrate that there are circumstances under which relatively less powerful local actors are able to resist neoliberal interventions such as the Private Community Partnership arrangement by invoking the ‘weapons of the weak’. The local villagers succeeded in severely hampering, if not entirely derailing, the Cloud Lodge agreement. This was possible through the alignment of their local opposition with the perspective of the tourism industry and district politicians, all of whom joined a single coalition. Despite some critical issues related to governance, regulatory frameworks and power imbalances, the thesis shows that the contribution of the tourism related policy interventions on livelihood aspects is undisputed by all the actors including those at a community level. There is a clear indication that the alignment of both thesubstantial and organizational characteristics of the three policy interventions and their respective governance capacities has had an influence on livelihood outcomes. Subsequently, the Buhoma-Mukono arrangement which exhibited a high governance capacity, performed relatively better than the TRS and Clouds Lodge arrangements in terms of livelihood outcomes. This illustrates that the state of policy processes can determine the nature of the policy outcomes and should be given due attention in conservation and development policy impact evaluations. Although the implication of the three policy interventions on capital assets and the vulnerability context was substantial, outcomes on livelihood strategies were relatively minimal. This can be explained by the big population in the three parishes (over 20,000 people) against the opportunities that tourism can potentially offer. Hence, there is need for integration of tourism related projects with the wider development programmes implemented by other actors such as government and development organizations to maximally expand the livelihood options in developing countries like Uganda. Looking closely at the turn of conservation events at Bwindi since tourism and the related policy interventions were introduced, it is clear that tourism has made a significant contribution in addressing conservation threats. However, this thesis also argues that the tourism related policy interventions have worked with other interventions such as law enforcement, collaborative resource management, problem animal control, and other funding schemes for livelihood projects around the park as well as conservation awareness campaigns. The livelihood and conservation outcomes discussed in this thesis suggest that while communities at Bwindi have benefitted, Uganda Wildlife Authority emerged as the biggest winner as it managed to generate huge revenues from gorilla tourism with less problems locally and enabling the funding of other conservation activities. It is clearly evident that the Uganda Wildlife Authority has also managed to sustain biodiversity conservation at Bwindi especially, since the population of mountain gorillas has been on the increase and illegal activities continually show a downward trend. In sum, this thesis illustrates that tourism is a promising market –oriented mechanism in the conservation and development nexus. Evidence is provided of a significant number of tourism related projects that have been initiated and have taken community livelihoods to a better level, more so when tourism as an instrument is integrated with other conservation and development interventions. Integrating tourism with other interventions partly addresses the problems offinancial resource deficiencies and huge numbers of targeted populations. Although still faced with a number of some challenges, the Bwindi case emphatically demonstrated that this linkage strengthens and maximises conservation and development outcomes. The Bwindi case further illustrates that policy making is an on-going process of construction and reconstruction. It highlights ceaseless developments within the three policy arrangements which are most likely to continue even in future.

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