EMBRACE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE TO ENHANCE CONSERVATION

The Termite Ant Queen in the Royal accompanied by her sire and a group of workers. ©Ismail Hassan

Conservation organizations, societies and corporations often undermine the use of local knowledge in an attempt to conserve the environment, with concept of “knowing all”; however this is wrong! Recently when I read a disclaimer article by Thompson Reuters Foundation citing amazing facts that “Tribal People are the best conservationists.” I realized many conservation organizations have been performing well when it came to sensitization on what measures or approaches they think is the best. 

For example; when i sought of majoring into sustainable agriculture, I thought I knew all at the time I set my feet on the land. However, when I accepted the fact that I knew nothing at all and was open to suggestions from our local farmers (employees at the farm); new ideas started maneuvering. I didn’t know the varieties of plantain grown in Buganda, a local monarchical group in Uganda. Handling the plantain suckers, the ratio of manure it required, how many feets deep and wide a hole is required for proper growth. Now I pride with knowledge because I accepted to learn and acknowledged the fact I was ready and willing to learn. 

Similarly, slash and burn has been the most common practice in Africa among subsistence farmers. This practice was followed by a rotational shift from one free piece of land to another. The method has been proven to be sustainable and productive for the practitioners. The land left behind after the practice mimics closely the land that naturally occurs. The practice is also known to improve biodiversity of plants and vegetation through the process of crop rotation. 

By opening up to local conservation and incorporating the knowledge with acquired skills; I believe extinction of species would be just a myth and many others will emerge once again. How many times do we analyse cultural practices that we “assume” is degrading the environment? Why are specific species hunted? Who’s at the tertiary level in a food chain?. Many more questions can arise not inhibiting any resolution, let’s support and embrace local conservation knowledge. 

The views on this article are personally mine with a few quotations from other sites and references. 
 

LEAVE IT FOR WILDLIFE – RESPECT MOTHER NATURE (EARTH)

Putting up my mind together to write this yet another article as the year closes to its quarter is a milestone towards my conservation enthusiasm. Wildlife conservation on private land is a challenge that many people have failed to embrace, literally you won’t find any reserve of undisturbed land for wildlife around the world today or else if it happens in terms of percentage I can assume it is less than 5%. Before I contemplate further into this challenge, let me share how I am trying to invest in sustainable agriculture while conserving wildlife on our arable land.

Before I took on the responsibility to manage the arable land; I had a sit down discussion with my boss (mentor and business partner); I shared with him my interest in bird watching and wildlife generally. I further explained to him my volunteering positions with other organizations including Wildlife Africa (www.wildlifeafrica.org) where I currently hold the responsibility of having it established in Uganda.

Two eggs of a Ring- Necked Dove in a nestling captured in the farm ©Ismail Hassan

A month later, I had to schedule an appointment to have a pilot study over the land for which I did and saw a vast species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. I was astonished by the sight of the great blue-turaco, helmeted guinea fowls, black and white cascued-hornbill and other species. I also further saw a troop of vervet monkeys jumping over jackfruit trees (literally known as Ffene). To this great relief and awe, I accepted to take on the responsibility of managing the farm and equally preserve the endemic species around. Due to my continuous urge for Wildlife, my mentor and boss decided to reserve 3 acres of the land for the conservation of endemic species resident of the land as a gesture of respecting mother nature.

Currently with a list of seven workers, we have erected terraces made out of dry mulch or grasses to help minimize the runoffs from the gently inclining slope and also ensured no hunting zone or killing of any species on the land. With these, we are helping to preserve any species on the land and also showing our gratitude to mother nature. Our land currently has coffee plantations, beans, maize, cassava, plantain, passion fruits and bee hives (in plan) all are organically raised without using any chemical or pesticides; we solemnly rely on organic manure (e.g. chicken droppings and decaying leaves). In the future, we expect to be awarded a certificate by Rainforest Alliance International to enable us export our farm products across borders.

IS LUWEERO RAPIDLY LOSING ITS FOREST COVER? – THERE IS NEED TO REVERSE THE LAND USE PATTERN

At a distance between 20 Kilometres off Kampala to Nakasongola, lies Luweero Town with an elevation angle between 00°50′27.3″N and 32°29′36.63″E. This town has great tales towards the 1986 Liberation of Uganda by the National Resistance Army (NRA) presently National Resistance Movement (NRM) with the head H.E President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni  who is the currently the reigning head of state for Uganda. 

Brief Background Check:
Luweero was once a densely populated area when it comes to vegetation cover; a vast number of trees provided hideouts for the NRA rebels as they fought to take over Uganda from the previous Okello Tito Lutwa’s government. However, unlike previously as you sit on the foothills of Nambeya and Kagyembe you’ll discover various land use types in the nearby villages making up the town. Ethnically, Luganda is the most prominent language spoken within though other tribes have recently taken advantage of the fertility of the area to invest in subsistence farming with more extra products being sold out. Charcoal burning is the most prominent activity leading to the slow disappearance of trees that once stood high up the ground.

The remaining Trees around the Areas of Semuto, Singo as seen from Lukaka Hills

During the war, the NRA rebels sought refuge in the forests; however years later after the insurgency people have resorted into converting the forests that covered Luweero into other land use types through using of fire, chemical applications, primitive tools and grazing of livestocks. The techniques and technology applied doesn’t support sustainable agriculture with live examples seen with the way cultivation is done along the slopes of the hills. Ideally one would support the establishment of contours or terraces to mitigate and lower down the speed of water run-offs and soil erosion control along the slopes.

Photo by Ismail Hassan
Locally made terraces down slope of a hill around Lukaka – Luweero District

According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 (FAO, 2015a), the global forest area fell by 129 million hectares (3.1 percent) in the period 1990–2015, to just under 4 billion hectares. When you reflect on the intention of the people through their actions, you get to learn that they are literally not informed on the best agricultural practices that can enhance soil fertility and both soil macro and micro organisms. 

With deforestation, people are clearing forest covers and converting the land use for other purposes, such as agriculture, infrastructure, human settlements and mining (an example is the DOTT Service Rock Quarrying Plant). With limitations on available data, many wild species of plants and animals have been left to varnish unaccounted for yet the forests offered an ideal biome.

Newly hatched Ringed-Necked doves an example of wildlife that lives within the forest niche of Luweero District.

Smart alternatives:

With the current government program of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) managed by the army, there is need for local environmental/agricultural community advisors instated to help identify and engage the communities into sustainable agriculture and agro-forestry. Those cultivating along the slopes should be encouraged to construct terraces or contours in order to help check on erosion and water runoffs. Mulching and application of organic manures such as chicken droppings, food residues and animal wastes on crops helps maintain moisture, enriches soil with nutrients and help protect crops from pests and other micro organisms by providing substitute feeds.

Most commonly grown crops:

As you drive through Matugga town to Semuto (which are centres of Luweero), one is welcomed to the sight of plantains (Matooke), Pumpkins, Tomatoes, Onions, Green peppers, Watermelon, Eggplant, Maize, Beans, Cabbages and Small scale Coffee plantations; these crops are sold by women on stalls along the road. Animals rared include; cattles mainly for milk, pigs sold for pork on maturing, goats, chickens and Sheep. 

TIME; THE HARD REALITY WE HAVE FAILED TO MEET AS CONSERVATIONISTS 

The Pied Crow captured from Kotido District, Loyoro Parish.

Every 5th of June annually, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) designates themes to mark the World Environment Day (WED); which is celebrated across the world with large sums of budget just allocated to meet this day. Yet in reality many times, we later forget to implement all the research findings, data collected and predictions we made to save the world’s ever declining population of wild flora and fauna. After last year’s series of conferences organized by CITEs, IUCN (World Conservation Conference -Honolulu Hawaii) it’s unfortunate that the West African Black Rhino has officially been declared extinct, thanks to poaching that has managed to eliminate them all with non even remaining in captivity.

Similarly there are only three “Northern White Rhinos” left in the world today (source: helpingrhinos.org). Other species in the wild including the cheetahs whose population has declined to 23% from the previously 100,000’s that roamed freely (wildlife Africa, 2016 Report) pushing them to the brink of extinction in less than a century, the world’s giraffe population has equally dropped up by 40% in a period of 30 years earning them a “Vulnerability” status from IUCN (IUCN, AWF; 2016); 30% of the world’s corals have as well been badly damaged, the African Grey Parrots, Orangutans, the Savannah Elephants, the Sun Bear, the pangolins, tiger, hammer head shark, sperm whale and many other species haven’t been spared.

The only remaining Northern White Rhinos, source of image; (helpingrhinos.org)

Yesterday (09-02-2017) on my Twitter handle @IsmailH0704Bush I posed a question; “Is Tourism helping us to conserve our species or rather exposing them to poaching and illegal wildlife trade?”. Some international organization among my followers responded that “Tourism is better off than Trophy hunting” while one individual agreed to it by saying as I quote “No. I think it exposes animals and increases danger to them.” Another individual from a group sited the following;” the aspect of local tourism is something that conservation managers should emphasize! Tourism has for long been seen as foreigners thing but the truth is these Foreign tourists don’t loose anything when your rhinos get extinct! They simply go to the next destination with similar flora and fauna !
For long foreign money has been sweet but it’s time to open gates to the locals to enable them appreciate conservation other than telling them of benefit sharing which doesn’t physically get to them. Failure to do that wait for more extinctions!
Short of this, conservationists will continue speaking in tongues! My cousins will never understand them and hence the more they will degrade and cause extinction.”

From the above humanity is consuming and destroying everything that has life on this earth! The only hope nature has is to some how make humans extinct; destroy them before she’s destroyed (Source: Anonymous). As conservationists, time is the language we have failed to meet; we draw workplans, set days and plan events yet still fail to meet them. And what we later on do is give excuses to justify our actions and make predictions to avoid questions. How long shall we wait as each and every day wildlife is pushed to extinction? How long shall we spend money on luxurious conferences and workshops and again fail to restore degraded environments? How far shall we go continuously reclaiming wetlands, cutting down trees without replanting, polluting water sources and indiscriminately harvesting and killing wildlife? What world are we leaving for the generations to come ahead?

Before answering the questions above let’s know that biodiversity has been present for much of the history of the earth and levels have changed dramatically challenging the documentation of this reliably; humans have as well profoundly and continuously altered the levels and patterns of biodiversity. Historically, the nature and value of earth’s life support systems have largely been ignored until their disruption or lost highlighted their importance (Imran Ejotre; Applied Ecology Course Structure and notes 2013) . Considering globally, large numbers of species and populations are required to sustain the ecosystem and hence ecosystems services; if appropriate measures and actions were/are considered in time the functioning of many ecosystems could be restored, this is far from being real.

UNDERSTANDING ECOLOGY & BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (BIODIVERSITY)

An African Spurred Tortoise hiding in its shell

By definition ecology refers to the scientific study of interactions between organisms and their environment. However the trouble with ecology as Robert A. Heinlein puts it is that you never know where to start because everything affects everything else.
The interrelationships of living organisms, plants, animals and their environments is studied with a view to help discover the principles which governs such relationships a concern for ecology itself. A basic principle based on assumption and an act of faith for ecologists. The interrelationships are brought about by variability among living organisms from all sources including marine, terrestrial, inter alia and other aquatic ecosystems.

For conservationists to enhance the capacity of policy makers in designing good policies to help conserve the biodiversed species, an understanding of the ecosystems services is so critical. Ecosystems services are benefits people obtain from the ecosystems (MA, 2005) or the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems and the species that make them up sustain and fulfill human life (Daily, 1997a).

The Red Checked Cordon-Bleu

Human c ommunities derive a variety of essential goods and products from the natural environment, including fodder, sea food, game animals, fuel wood and pharmaceutical products; such goods represent an important part of the economy. The natural ecosystems has been less appreciated until recently because of its fundamental life support services that impacts greatly human civilization and without which it would cease to thrive. The roles played by the ecosystem includes; purification of air and water, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, regulation of climate, regeneration of soil fertility, production and maintenance of biodiversity from which several key ingredients of our pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial enterprises are derived.

These services are generated by a complete complex interplay of natural cycles powered solar energy and operating across a wide range of space and time scales. The process of waste disposal for example involves the life cycle of bacteria as well as other planet wide cycles of major chemical elements such as carbon and nitrogen. Such process if converted into $ are worth many trillions of dollars annually but because most of these benefits aren’t traded in economic markets, they carry no price tags that could alert society to changes in their supply or deterioration of underlying ecological systems that generate them. Because of the threats increasing to these systems, there’s a critical need for identification and monitoring of ecosystems services both at local and global scale for the incorporation of their value into decision-making processes.

Over time the nature and value of earth’s life support systems have largely been ignored until their disruption or loss highlighted their importance. Deforestation has belatedly revealed the critical role forests serve in regulating the water cycle particularly mitigating floods, droughts, the erosive forces of wind and rain and silting of dams and irrigation canals as examples. Escalating impacts of human today on forests, wetlands, wildlife reserves and other natural ecosystems imperil the delivery of such services.

The primary threats are land use changes that cause losses in biodiversity as well as the disruption of carbon, nitrogen and other biogeochemical cycles; human-induced invasions of species releases toxic substances; possible climate change and depletion of stratospheric ozone.

 WE ARE BEHIND SCHEDULE IN SAVING SEVERAL SPECIES OF ORGANISMS BOTH FAUNA AND FLORA

An Elephant tackles a Buffalo after its rough encounter with its calf

Industrial revolution in the 18th Century has been the worst thought of innovation without stringent measures making it a nightmare to the Environment, adapting to its challenges that has exacerbated over time hasn’t been met with effective measures to curb the observable drawbacks. If I had the chance to speak in a congressional gathering such as that of the United Nations and other forums, I would speak like a concerned citizen of the world not limiting myself to my niche country or continent. Over years industrial pollution has led to accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere; whose effect as seen today is Global warming, acidic rains, eroding corals plundering several species into extinction.

The United Nations Environment Programme this year (2016) designated the World Environment day (June) encouraged us to celebrate all those species under threat and take action to help safeguard them for future generations. This is about animals or plants that are threatened within local areas as well as at the national or global level. The theme was “Go Wild for Life”, in my previous post I posed a question! Are we really going wild for life? The answer seems to be falling in deaf ears, several unfolding reports are highlighting dwindling population amongst different species of organisms while others are attaining vulnerability status from IUCN.

The cheetahs as an example evolved 5.5 million years ago (wildlife Africa, 2016 Report) have been pushed to the brink of extinction in less than a century. Over 100,000 cheetahs roamed Africa’s wilderness in the 1900’s, now only 23% of its population found; while on the other hand in some countries like Nigeria, this fastest land mammal no longer exists. In the same plight, the world’s giraffe population has dropped up to 40% in a period of 30 years earning a “Vulnerability” status from IUCN (IUCN, AWF; 2016); 30% of the world’s corals have as well been badly damaged.

It’s embarrassing to live in a generation where profits and greed exceeds, the need to conserve all species regardless of the status. While key issues are being left out, it’s time to get each and everyone involved in the process of conserving all species. There’s too  much investment in documentation (paper work) than actual saving these species, for which such a bureaucracy has to stop.

GO BIRD WATCHING WHILE AT MBALE RESORT HOTEL

Mbale Resort Hotel your number one 5⭐ Hotel in Eastern Uganda

Mbale  Resort Hotel a locally owned Five Star Hotel and a proud member of the Eastern Entrepreneurship and Tourism Network (EETN) blends in a splendid natural environment that soothes your mind to the sophisticated breathtaking views of the Wanale Ridge, a variety of gardens and a diversity of Birds that are endemic to the location roosting on the different trees, shrubs, marshes and hedges. A total of 25 Bird species can be seen, heard from their calls in this nature friendly home and the species includes; The Hadada ibis, Mourning dove, African goshawk, Common bulbul, Grey headed sparrow, Shikra, Bronze mannikins, Pied crow, Red eyed dove, Wahlbergs eagle, Marabou stork, Speckled mouse Bird, Green Headed sunbird, Blue checked cordon bleu, Ruppels Long Tailed Starling, Laughing Dove, Barn swallow, African palm swift, white-browed robin chat, Little weaver, African Thrush, Speckled pigeon, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Fishers love Bird and the Plain-backed pipit.

The African Thrush sited at Mbale Resort Hotel
The Speckled Mouse Bird seen patching on the Royal palm tree at Mbale Resort Hotel
The Blue-checked Cordon Bleu a must see at Mbale Resort Hotel

These diversed species of birds can be found patching on trees, feeding on grounds or flying high above the hotel premises due  to the various tree types and vegetation cover that blends with the Hotel. So why not  take your time and go Birding while at Mbale  Resort Hotel?