By Sandra Atusinguza
In a recent study report on Economic Valuation of Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) and Budongo Central Forest Reserve (BCFR) by NEMA, oil and gas activities shall have adverse impacts on the ecosystems along the Albertine graben which hosts sensitive biodiversity and Ramser sites which is estimated at 114 trillion Ugandan Shillings (US$ 60 billion)
In the same NEMA 2017 Economic Valuation report of MFBFC, it is estimated that per annum the value of timber stock is 146 billion, non-timber products (mainly wood) 4.81 billion, non-wood forest products 5.425 billion, medicinal and pharmaceutical value 2.21 billion, soil erosion control 132 billion, carbon sequestration and storage value 3.75 billion, option, bequest and existence value 30-4 trillion, relocation and rehabilitation value 114.438 trillion, watershed protection and catchment services 26.5 billion, research and education 47 million, costs to the community 2.5 billion, opportunity costs for MFCA (livestock husbandry) 4.8 billion, opportunity costs for BCFR (sugarcane option) 20.4 billion, the income of the MFCA 2.2 billion (2008), oil reserve value not yet established and tourism value 110.4 billion in 2008 although the cultural/spiritual values were not considered.
These protected areas provide ecosystem services to the communities around and the general public such as the apiculture, habitat for insects that are involved in pollination, honey making, biodiversity and Medicinal values
It is important to note that oil and gas explorations have been going on in these area considered of intense tourism zone with concern that a management plan that may recognize the role the two resources would play need to be put in place. The compatibility of exploitation of the two resources i.e. the aesthetic value and oil is yet to be determined with concern that although oil may have high returns at short term, the tourism industry may be beneficial at long-term.
Despite all these deeds, the protected area also impact negatively to the public, they are habitat to wild animals that sneak to local community gardens and eat and destroy crops, harm livestock and in some extreme situation injury or even kill people, communities crash with guards that punished locals through fines and beating and excess rainfall that destroys crops.
Frequent crop raiding by wild animals like wild pigs, baboons, chimpanzees and squirrels led to higher losses on monetary terms, economic activities orientation and time on guarding crops. Increasing rates of school dropouts as some children are forced to guard their parents ‘gardens against wild animals.
These protected areas, however, are faced with threats as a result of population growth and migration due to demand for agricultural land and firewood energy for domestic use ranging from encroachment, human-wildlife conflicts, illegal grazing and poaching.
As human settlement and extractive economic utilization of the ecosystems rise due to increased population pressure and poverty, the government should degazzette portions of protected areas for human settlement. Most of the boundaries of the encroached reserves have not been reopened and are not clearly demarcated, which forms part of the reason for the current challenge of protecting these areas.
The concept of ecosystem valuation can aid government, policy and decision-makers, oil and gas companies, natural resource managers as well as planners include the economic value of protected areas into the national account and development planning processes,
Ecosystem services such as national parks and forests among others are a future to national development only if there is the restoration of degraded ecosystems, and good quality of management of environmental resources, lastly sustainable conservation management of the ecosystems through land management and administration will ensure economic growth and development.
Sandra Atusinguza works as AFIEGO field coordinator
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