Uganda: Forests, communities and women
The current development patterns and inequities in the country present a number of forest management challenges.
Industrialization today is synonymous with cutting down of natural forests like what has been done to Namanve forest where a Coca-Cola plant was constructed, Kalangala island in lake Victoria which was cleared in favour of oil palm oil plantations and the proposed plans of cutting down Mabira tropical rainforest in favour of sugarcane growing. Forests are also faced with the problem of pollution, particularly from industries such as Nile breweries, Mukwano group of industries and substandard incinerators land fills.
It is on those forests that many communities depend on, including most communities that live along major forests in the country like Mabira, Bwindi impenetrable forest and Kibale forest reserve among others. There are other smaller forests in the country which are also important to the communities ecologically, culturally and spiritually.
As “development” takes root, many of these forest-dependent communities are faced with a number of problems including continuously being displaced and increasingly forced to migrate into ecologically fragile and low productive areas, where forests and trees play a key role. The degraded physical environments, providing increasingly limited resources for an increasing population, result in the deterioration of the productive capacity of the ecosystems, the very base for production of renewable natural resources. The communities living in the vicinity of such forests and dependent on the forest are in most cases forcefully evicted for the benefit of a few individual investors. The forest-dependent communities are vulnerable and these investments, that threaten communities’ identities and interests.
Political instability is also a major cause of displacement of populations. Where people have been displaced either by war or other natural calamities, the only place they can run to is the forest because it is the only place that is perceived as vacant. Refugee camps have enormous impact on forests and their use. For example, the Kyangwali refugee camp in Hoima district was formerly occupied by forest vegetation but was later cut down, as in the case of the Internally Displaced camps in Gulu district in northern Uganda.
Another problem encountered by forest communities has to do with protected areas. Traditionally, communities have been excluded from participation in the decision making in the management of protected forest areas. They have been denied harvesting rights and use of the forest resources. Even the cooperate fund is not ploughed back directly into communities within the periphery of the forest resource whose user rights are denied or compromised.
Apart from being denied user rights, forest dependent communities are often denied their rights to practice indigenous knowledge in the management of forests. This has often resulted in degradation of the resource, since the communities loose the sense of ownership and therefore loose the will to participate in forest management.
The position of women, defined by gender relations in patriarchal societies in all regions of the world and in Uganda in particular, is similarly disadvantaged. For instance, in Uganda women do not own land where trees grow, and they do not own trees and they are not key stakeholders in most communities and therefore do not determine how a forest may be used. They are the excluded within the excluded.
Cultural values and norms in Uganda vary from community to community, but institutional structures perpetuating women’s gender based subordination and exclusion from ownership and control over resources are in place in almost all communities. Though women are those who depend most on these resources, they continue to be marginalized.
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