By Anna Amumpiire
Benefit sharing is a process that aims to compensate the costs borne by various stakeholders, including the sharing of the proceeds arising from their contribution.
It should be observed that natural resource management and conservation are associated with costs and benefits that accrue to stakeholders such as communities.
Uganda’s forestry laws and policies recognise the importance of including the private sector, communities and local government in the management of forests.
It has been acknowledged that communities are better placed to manage their neighbouring environment and resources.
Unlike the past perception where they were viewed as destroyers; they are now looked at as collaborators.
Participation and benefit sharing are, therefore, popular strategies designed to offset conservation costs and motivate local people to support conservation and further alleviate poverty.
The inclusion of communities in the management of forest resources has become steadily common. Almost all countries in Africa are encouraging the involvement of communities in the management and utilisation of forests through some method of participatory forest management.
Under participatory forest management, stakeholders in the forestry sector are included in the decision making process of forest management to attain effective sustainable forest management.
Benefit sharing in Uganda is implied in Collaborative Forest Management (CFM); however, it is not explicitly provided for in the forest laws and policies, and this has hindered the equitability of CFM agreements.
The adjacent communities’ expected benefits from CFM include; involvement in boundary planting by some CFM groups, provision of firewood, poles, medicinal plants, crafts, access to vegetables, award of contracts for activities around the forest, including revenue sharing from returns.
However, some of these benefits are not realised by the communities.
Collaborative forest management is a form of participatory forest management where communities enter into an agreement or memorandum of understanding with the National Forestry Authority in the case of central forest reserves and District Forestry Services when dealing with local forest reserves.
These agreements define the local communities’ rights and responsibilities in the utilisation and participation in forest management.
Some of the communities’ roles/responsibilities performed with the relevant officials include; impounding of illegally harvested timber, arresting culprits and also patrolling of the forests.
Benefit sharing initiatives have been faced with challenges such as absence of transparency, insignificant benefits, and lack of equitable sharing among the communities.
According to the findings from a research undertaken by ACODE on the state of forest governance in Uganda, it was observed that at policy level, a policy on benefit sharing is necessary.
According to this research, fairness was perceived by the citizens to be low, with inadequate access to forest resources by local communities.
Though benefit sharing is mentioned in the forestry policy, it is not formally given necessary attention at policy level in the forest sector.
Furthermore, CFM is underfunded and requires funds for its implementation. Tangible benefits from the forest should be received by the communities and clearly reflected in the CFM agreements.
For local people to support conservation efforts and resist illegal activities there should be equitable sharing of the forestry resource benefits.
The writer works with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)