Community bylaws improve landscape management
Experience from Uganda shows that when villages and districts create regulations to manage forests and restoration, benefits flow.
Through collective awareness of land-management challenges at the grassroots level, governments and others are effectively coerced to make policy responses for the protection of land and natural resources in a landscape, benefiting humans and the environment. Furthermore, approaching these issues through a Landcare mindset is critical for sustainability.
Prior to the formation of the Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter, community members in Kapchorwa District along the northern slopes of Mt Elgon in Uganda had been struggling with a myriad of complex and linked landscape-management issues including indiscriminate removal of vegetation cover; declining soil fertility as a result of eroding soils, exacerbated by steep slopes; conflict in the protected areas of Mt Elgon National Park, including the displacement of the indigenous Benet people; forest encroachment into the protected areas for firewood collection, grazing and hunting; land abandonment in lowland areas of the district owing to cattle rustling, displacing the population to the highlands; gender inequality, with women providing 90% of the agricultural labour but with no decision-making power; and poor governance around natural resource management resulting in policy contradictions and compliance with limited local enforcement and budget.
Mr Chemangei Awadh, chair of the Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter in Uganda, who is also an executive member of the Uganda Landcare Network and a member of the African Landcare Network, explained to delegates at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, 9 September 2015, how this ‘coercion’ worked on the ground.
‘We were negotiating with 44 farming groups and two district governments to address the land-use issues’ he said. ‘It was a very long and time-consuming process that led us to try and create a memorandum of understanding or MOU but it failed because of the influence of one leader who hadn’t been involved throughout the process; they only attended the final meeting and persuaded others against it. So we had to think again.’
Mr Awadh and his team helped establish community bylaws at village level, such as the Benet Community Landcare bylaws 2009, which address free grazing; loss of tree cover; conflicts with protected forests; excessive runoff; poor farming practices; idle and disorderly youth; and family conflicts over access, use and ownership of forests.
They also worked with the district governments to create stronger legal instruments to protect the land, particularly, ordinances and to build community capacity for understanding the benefits of their resources and the need for sustainable management. The major steps were a literature review; consultations with community leaders; community mobilisation; consultations at village, parish and sub-county levels, with feedback; and consultations with district officials.
‘The ordinance in Bukwo District was promulgated in 2013’, he explained. ‘A draft, written in 2014, is with Kaporchwa District. The achievements of the regulation are that the communities now have a high-level guide for the use of forests and land; higher-level government has fulfilled its requirement that lower-level local governments must develop such regulations; and leaders have been sensitised and their capacity built’.
The last point is particularly important, he explained, since such people lead community mobilisation during challenging times when communities are often tempted to fall back onto forest resources in an unsustainable fashion. Now this is less likely to happen.
The health of forests on community land has already improved since the ordinance took effect.
‘The communities now take ownership of conservation, especially where they have MOUs with protected-area managers to site beehives and use other non-timber forest products’, he said. ‘The ordinance has helped improve relationships with protected-area managers and surrounding communities’.
Benefits to the communities include the right to collect bamboo, manage trees and instigate community agroforestry, and better water quality for domestic use thanks to reforestation along riverbanks that has reduced stream siltation. There has also been a dramatic reduction in conflicts over boundaries and water rights.
‘The lessons we learned from the process are that it is critical to have all leaders from all levels involved right from the beginning and to ensure they follow the whole process,’ he noted. ‘It’s also important to be aware of those leaders who have vested interests; these must be taken into account and considered as part of the whole picture.
‘The process takes a long time and involves high costs because of the need for frequent visits to communities for meetings and council sessions.
‘We’ve also noticed that even though we have the ordinance and other policies that they are weakly enforced, especially the land-restoration policies. This must somehow be addressed’.
Read more about Landcare
Catacutan D, Muller C, Johnson M, Garrity D. 2015. Landcare: a landscape approach at scale. In: Minang PA, van Noordwijk M, Freeman OE, Mbow C, de Leeuw J, Catacutan D, eds. Climate-smart landscapes: multifunctionality in practice. Nairobi: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). p. 151–161.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry