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Lake Victoria Basin Commission / Protected Area Agencies and Beneficiary Communities Hail Mount Elgon Conservation Programme

By East African Community (EAC)

ARUSHA, Tanzania, February 9, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The Protected Area Agencies implementing and grassroots communities benefiting from the Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme have hailed its interventions for supporting conservation and improving livelihoods in its targeted areas in the ecosystem.

The observations were made during a six-day field visit by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission's Executive Secretary, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, to the Programme's interventions in the Mount Elgon region on both the Kenyan and Ugandan sides of the ecosystem. The visit took place between 2nd and 7th February 2012.

The Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme (MERECP), whose current phase comes to an end in May 2012, is a US$4.8 million initiative of the East African Community Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) that was designed to link environmental management to livelihood security and poverty alleviation with funding from the Government of the Royal Kingdom of Norway and Sweden.

In Kenya, the Programme is implemented by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Mount Elgon County Council and the districts of Kwanza, Mount Elgon and Trans Nzoia West which border the National Parks and Forest Reserve. In Uganda, the Programme is implemented by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the districts of Bududa, Bukwo, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa, Kween, Manafwa, Mbale and Sironko that border the National Park and Forest Reserve.

The Conservation Area Manager for Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in the Mount Elgon Area, Mr. Adonia Bintoora, told Dr. Kanangire that the Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme (MERECP) had supported the resolution of conflict between UWA and the communities neighbouring the National Park.

At a meeting held in Mbale on 2nd February, Mr. Bintoora indicated that MERECP had provided support for coordinated patrols between Kenya and Uganda to control poaching and, charcoal burning and illegal logging.

The Kenya Wildlife Service's Senior Park Warden for Mount Elgon National Park, Mr. Daniel K. Gitau, hailed MERECP for supporting conservation through forest rehabilitation and livelihood improvement activities for communities neighbouring the Mount Elgon National Park. He emphasised that the Programme had contributed to improved relations between KWS and the targeted communities.

In both Kenya and Uganda, Dr. Kanangire visited some of the areas under forest rehabilitation and restoration in the National Park areas. He encouraged the leadership of the Protected Area Agencies to maintain the momentum and build on the achievements gained during the first phase of MERECP in regards to forest rehabilitation and improved relations with the communities adjacent to the National Parks.

The visited beneficiary communities thanked the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) for linking environmental management to livelihood security and poverty alleviation.

In Uganda, the General Secretary of Bunyafa Forestry Conservation Association (BUFRECA), Mr. Moses Manana, told Dr. Kanangire that the Bunyafa Forest Conservation Project had improved the household incomes of its members and domestic relations in the community.

“With the support of the MERECP Community Revolving Fund, household incomes have improved. In turn, members are taking their children to better schools; new income generating activities have emerged; and the domestic relations and general atmosphere in our homes have improved,” Mr. Manana said during a meeting held at the BUFRECA premises in Sironko district.

He also indicated that members of his association had received 20,000 seedlings from the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and planted them in their private land as means to bolster livelihood and conservation improvements.

On the Kenyan side, the Chairman of Tuibei Community Based Organisation (CBO), Mr. Songok Yonah Cheptot, hailed MERECP for support to the CBO. The group enterprises include tree nurseries, farmer woodlot establishments, Irish potatoes cultivation and an improved storage facility for the group's harvests.

Similar success stories were relayed by the leaders of Community Based Organisations implementing MERECP-funded projects, including: Budhwale Honey Environment Project; Bushiuyo Dairy Farming Project; Tayaka CBO; Kapchebut Farmers Group in Uganda and the Mount Elgon Tour Guides and Porters Association in Kenya.

Dr. Kanangire also held meetings with the district leadership in the Districts of Kapchorwa in Uganda as well as Kwanza and Mount Elgon in Kenya. The district leaders expressed support for the Programme and urged LVBC to expedite financial disbursements. They also called for more capacity building activities to support book keeping for better financial accountability by the beneficiary Community Based Organisations.

The purpose of the visit was to allow face-to-face interaction with the implementers and beneficiaries of the first phase of MERECP in order for the Executive Secretary to have a hands-on understanding of the successes and challenges of the Programme.

LVBC officials who accompanied Dr. Kanangire during the visit included the MERECP Regional Programme Coordinator, Mr. George Sikoyo, the Forest Management Specialist, Mr. Mathias Chemonges and the Communications and Development Awareness Officer, Mr. Charles-Martin Jjuuko. Representatives of the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as well as the relevant district officials also supported the mission.

During the visit, Dr. Kanangire thanked the protected area agencies – UWA, NFA, KWS and KFS – for their contribution to the implementation of MERECP and promised to ensure that the disbursement of funds to them is improved.

He promised that under the second phase of MERECP, LVBC would endeavour to expand the programme to more communities in the Mount Elgon region, support capacity building efforts in areas of knowledge-sharing and financial accountability, as well as cater for the prevention of landslides in vulnerable areas. He also promised to support exchange visits between groups and urged members of the beneficiary communities to support the training of similar community groups.

The first phase of the MERECP programme is scheduled to end in May 2012. A second phase of the Programme is expected to commence in June 2012.