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Role of cultural leaders in conservation of L. Albert

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Added 24th February 2017 10:32 AM

The world over now is recognising the role played by the traditional cultural practices of indigenous and local communities in nature conservation.

Role of cultural leaders in conservation of L. Albert

The world over now is recognising the role played by the traditional cultural practices of indigenous and local communities in nature conservation.

By Dennis Tabaro

National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)in partnership with The Gaia Foundation(UK), works with and supports communities in  the Bunyoro region, specifically in the Districts of Buliisa and Hoima, to strengthen community cultural governance systems for conservation of lake Albert and its ecosystems and indigenous food production .

This work is supported by the European Union Delegation in Uganda.

On February 14, 2017 the New Vision published an article; Experts engage cultural custodians to restore L. Albert, page 36. The article clearly elaborates the role of communities in conservation of the regions ‘ecosystems, especially L. Albert.

The well captured article talks about the custodians of sacred natural sites as cultural leaders playing this role by restricting communities from tampering with the ecosystems anyhow as these ecosystems, are  ‘Sacred sites'. We are in agreement to this article and would add that; The Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, acknowledged the need to protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements (Article 10).

A number of international gatherings have since been held in relation to this issue, such as the 1998 UNESCO symposium on "Sacred sites, Cultural Diversity and Biological Diversity". They reflect a growing realisation of the importance of sacred sites as a component of protected area networks.

On September 6, 2016 the International Union  for Conservation of Nature( IUCN) members assembly officially adopted Motion 29, recognising and respecting territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities (ICCAs) overlapped by protected areas.

I concurs with the observation by the New Vision that;"Although scientists quote human activities and the effects of climate change as being responsible for the lakes' recession,natives living near the water body (L.Albert) think it is the angry gods that are responsible for the situation. They saythe lake has been desecrated and people no longer perform rituals that used to make things right.

NAPE in partnership with Gaia and supported with the European Union is currently supporting the few remaining traditional custodians to protect the lake and its ecosystem.

We are doing this because we believe that the lake ecosystems (which form the sacred sites protected by custodians) are critical for the existence of the lake.

However, I was misquoted in that article to have said that "there is no scientific evidence that the gods are responsible for the degradation of the lake".

According to the custodians who have led communities in the lakes' conservation using their traditional cultural practices, there are different forms of science including social, cultural, physical and metaphysical.

Indeed, traditional cultural evidence (science) derived from systematic natural occurrences' and community practices indicate that failure to observe certain practices,  ceremonies and traditional practices by a given community,calamitiesincluding, famine,storms, drying up of water sources, and at times, human death ,would occur.Alternatively, committing undesired actions would lead to the same.

In Uganda, there are many culturally protected ecosystems like; Kihagya cultural forest in Kakindo village, Hoima, Mangira Forest in Mukono, Iyirimbi Forest reserve in Bugiri and others which NAPE has visited.

These forests are believed to have existed for more than 300 years and have not been destroyed. The communities around these forests have not cut them because of their intrinsic values which include, health, spiritual,ecological and cultural.

The forests are under custodianship of specific clan leaders who are regularly consulted before anything is done in the forest.

There are specific dos and don'ts around these ecosystems that communities are supposed to observe including not cutting any tree for anything.

It is because of such traditional laws and conservation approaches that these forests have survived the rampant forest degradation leading to the now uncontrollable climate change.

Custodians responsible for lakes, rivers, wetlands and natural forests have enough testimonies supported by evidence, regarding communities' failure to adhere to the earth lawsand the consequent extinction of these ecosystems.

This is to emphasise that communities have their age-old traditional governance systems that have been responsible for the sustainability of some of these ecosystems.

Our water bodies, forests, wetlands and other forms of natural endowments should be conserved by using multiple approaches including traditional approaches by thefew remainingcommunities still fearing to destroy some ecosystems because of their belief systems.

We cannot just dismiss the beliefs of such communities and allow destruction of nature, which is now done with impunity, because some sections of our society have got different beliefs from those held by the said communities.

The world over now is recognising the role played by the traditional cultural practices of indigenous and local communities in nature conservation.

World conservation bodies like IUCN, United Nationshave come up unequivocally to make declarations and resolutions supporting this agenda that are globally adopted as one of the means to address climate change impacts.

NAPE is a member of IUCN and participates in the ongoingUNDialogues on Harmony with Nature intended to strengthen indigenous knowledge systems and practices to mitigate climate change.

The writer is the senior programme officer in charge of monitoring and evaluation training at the National Association Of Professional Environmentalists

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