Kampala — KAFRED, a community based organisation receives over 1,500 tourists per year and from that it can generate Shs30m from the guided tours around the wetland
The wetland is called Bigodi or Magombe wetland (swamp) in Bigodi Village, Bigodi Parish, Kahunge Sub County in Kamwenge District. It is dominated by primates and important tree species and is one of the hottest spots for bird watching with over 130 bird species.
The rich biodiversity also includes other species like butterflies and insects, three fish species and 10 amphibians. Other species are sitatungas, bush pigs, bushbucks and mongooses.
The wetland is a stretch of 8 km long and about 500 metres wide. It used to be a corridor for animals from the southern to the northern parts of the Kibaale Forest National park (KNP).
It is attached to the KNP Park on either end. A hippo trail created in the 60s,which runs through the wetland makes it more unique than the other wetlands in Kamwenge District.
And it was because of the rich biodiversity that a group of six men resolved to use it as a tourist's attraction centre to bring benefits to the communities around it and encourage its conservation.
On the day I travelled to the wetland, I arrived at Mr John Tinka's home at around 1.30 p.m.
Tinka works with the Kibaale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED), a Community Based Organisation (CBO), which supports people using wetlands, specifically, Bigodi Wetland.
Though by Ugandan standards, Bigodi Village is about 95 percent rural, the home of Tinka reduces it to nearly 30 percent. It is a rural home where you can find a computer, a solar system and a refrigerator. Tinka employs about four tour guides but he offered to conduct me around the wetland himself.
I learnt from my guest that the wetland is used to support over 50,000 livelihoods in Kahunge Sub County, Kamwenge District.
From Fort Portal town you drive 38 km on a loose surface murrum road. And after crossing the beautiful Kibaale Forest National Park (KNP) you will find yourself in the historical wetland.
To accomplish his dream of conserving the environment and improving on the quality of life of poor Ugandans, Tinka together with five others, Silver Asaba, William Kasenene, Japan Yofesi, Benon Tumwesige and the late Tom Namanya started KAFRED as a CBO.
Tinka is semi-literate with a few certificates in Community Development and Tourism Management and Conservation, but his creativity has helped him to traverse the world.
"I'm a very happy man because I have made my dream of helping the disadvantaged a reality," he says.
Tinka says that he likes exploring the natural cultures of the world and hates politics because politics divides people.
KAFRED was founded in 1992, with the goal of conserving areas of rich biodiversity outside nationally protected areas, with particular emphasis on wetlands, so as to benefit communities through the development of eco-business such as tourism.
An American Peace Corps Volunteer helped the six members to steer the formation of the CBO, with 37 affiliated group members of Bigodi Women's Group, Bigodi Peanut Group, and Enyange Dance and Drama Group.
Tinka says that KAFRED's broad objectives are to conserve natural and cultural resources, promote conservation education and to develop eco-friendly businesses to fight poverty.
He further says that revenues from tourism and other income generating activities are ploughed back into the CBO's activities like maintenance of the tourism infrastructure and supporting community projects such as education, health and sanitation and roads.
KAFRED has since founded Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA), now recognised internationally by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).
KAFRED was in February 2004 recognised for its outstanding efforts in reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
This was at the seventh conference of the parties at the Convention on Biodiversity, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Its members signed a $30,000 agreement with the UNDP's Small Grants Programme.
The money is meant to implement a two year Conversation and Community Development Project. It is given to communities around the wetland as a revolving fund. It will be used to prepare a documentary on KAFRED activities.
The book according to Tinka will give details about environment conservation. It is also intended to help Ugandans understand the importance of wetlands and how to conserve them.
The communities are given small grants to start eco-businesses like beekeeping, fish farming, goat rearing, piggery and poultry so as to reduce their pressures on the wetland.
The CBO has since built one nursery and secondary school with four classes, helped women improve their household incomes, educate the children of Kahunge and promote people's talents in using nature to survive without flocking to town centres.
Tinka says that from over the 1,500 tourists KAFRED receives per year, it can generate Shs30m from the guided tours around the wetland.
The money is generated from tourism activities like homestead tourism, traditional meals and village walks where white tourists share culture with Africans.
Bigodi wetland has helped KAFRED members create employment opportunities and markets for local foods and handcrafts.
Ms Sarah Magombe is the sub county councillor for Bigodi Parish at the sub county. She says that KAFRED has taught people in her area to conserve environment, create markets, and fight poverty through employment creation.
"KAFRED through Mr Tinka has done wonderful things we least expected.
"If we had so many creative people like those of KAFRED, Ugandans would by now be very rich," she says.
As a local leader she says that she will continue working with the CBO to mobilise people to fight poverty. She appeals to the people of Kamwenge to put environment conservation at the top of their agendas since it has greatly supported their lives.
Magombe has no doubt that Bigodi Trading Centre, which is the third developed centre in Kamwenge District, has developed with the help of KAFRED.
KAFRED members have worked with other development partners like Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA), North Carolina Zoological Society, Uganda Wild life Authority (UWA), Rwenzori Development Foundation (RDF) and the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry. Other partners include the American Embassy, Tulsa 200, Inclusion Press International (Canada), WTO and Kamwenge District Local Government.
Tinka summarised KAFRED activities as, building conservation awareness within the community, promotion of eco-tourism in and around Magombe swamp (Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary) and Kamwenge District in general, promotion of eco-friendly businesses like organic farming and handcrafts, construction and management of a secondary school, capacity building of its members so as to ascertain management sustainability and community mobilisation through meetings, seminars and workshops.
Others are training of guides, handcraft producers and conservation agents, sensitising communities in garbage collection, recycling and disposal particularly of polythene bags, sensitising the community in environmentally-appropriate technologies, networking and resource mobilisation, documentation of the activities and monitoring and evaluation.