12 May 2017

Uganda: Fast Track Guidelines for Benefit Sharing in Forest Management

opinion

Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) is a form of participatory forest management where both communities and forest management agencies are involved in sustainable management of forests. CFM is, therefore, an arrangement in which a local community and a government authority share roles, responsibilities and benefits for the purpose of managing a local or central forest reserve or part of it. In Uganda, this approach is mainly implemented in Central Forest Reserves (CFR) which are managed by National Forestry Authority (NFA). Under this arrangement, communities derive benefits for their responsibilities in co-managing the CFRs. These responsibilities include, forest patrols and monitoring of illegal activities amid others.

Benefit sharing in forest management is the distribution of both monetary and non‑monetary benefits generated from forest management. The idea of benefit sharing in natural resources was first formalised in international law in 1992 through the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its origin in the forestry sector stems from the realisation that community involvement in forest management will only yield results once communities benefit from their involvement. Benefit sharing is intended to promote sustainable forest management by providing neighbouring communities with incentives to ensure their participation in the management of forest resources and enhance the livelihoods of these communities through provision of benefits. The challenge with the forestry sector in Uganda is the absence of benefit sharing mechanisms that promote improved forest management and at the same time provide tangible benefits to the actual stakeholders who are largely the local communities neighbouring the forests.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature report on benefit sharing in Uganda's forestry sector, poor people who are the majority that live closest to the forests derive benefits such as firewood, herbal medicines and crafts materials. On the other hand tangible products, such as land for tree planting and timber that attract revenue, are enjoyed by people who are better off and stay far away from the forests. This is unfair since the communities living near the forests face threats from the forests such as wildlife that threaten their lives and destroy their property including crops and animals.

The current CFM management approach where there is unfair and inequitable benefit sharing of forest products has led to illegalities in the forestry sector whereby communities harvest forest products illegally. A recent study by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment on the status of benefit sharing in the forest sector in East Africa concluded that; 'The benefit sharing processes in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are at a high risk of ineffectiveness, inequity and inefficiency because of lack of clear guidelines, inadequate decision making space by the communities, and the negative perception from communities that nothing much is expected from the initiatives'. The study further revealed that the sharing of benefits from forests does not yet have a significant impact on both the livelihoods of people and the forests and more adjustments need to be made to ensure impact.

Although Uganda is yet to develop a formal benefit sharing policy to guide the forestry sector as a whole, the NFA with support from some partners is in the process of developing guidelines for benefit sharing in Uganda's central forest reserves. Once in place, the guidelines will clearly define the benefits, beneficiaries, benefit distribution model and ensure the equitable distribution of benefits.

The benefit sharing guidelines will therefore expand and build on the on-going collaborative forest management arrangements by NFA. The on-going process to develop guidelines for benefit sharing in the central forest reserves should consequently be fast tracked with the hope that they will adequately address the problem of increased forest illegalities that result from unfair distribution of benefits.

Ms Amumpiire works with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE).

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