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Sustainable farms near IBAs

'Win-win' for Uganda’s birds and farmers

Echuya Central Forest Reserve in southwest Uganda, an Important Bird Area (IBA), is to benefit from improved agricultural practices by local farmers who have been trained in sustainable organic agriculture techniques by an initiative coordinated by two BirdLife Partners. NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) created the Echuya Forest Conservation Project to counteract significant deforestation that had occurred throughout the montane forest over previous years, primarily a result of firewood, timber and bamboo collection.

“For Echuya IBA to be conserved, we have moved the focus from the forests to the farm; improving the economic yield of farming practices in nearby communities as a means to reduce the environmental pressures bearing down on Echuya,” said Ambrose Mugisha, Deputy-Director of NatureUganda.

“At the heart of the initiative was the need to reduce demand on these forest resources – hence, by introducing fuel-efficient wood-burning stoves and planting alternative sources of wood, less burden is on Echuya for providing resources.” said Dr Chris Magin, an Africa International Officer at RSPB, involved with the project since its inception. “So far people have planted 100,000 tree seedlings and 3,000 bamboo clumps on their own farms.”Starting in 2006, the project also began training farmers in improved agricultural methods using the Kulika Programme - funded by the UK-based Kulika Trust, and using trainers provided by the Kulika Charitable Trust Uganda. In the initiative, farmers spent one week in a residential training centre each month for six months.

“An unusual feature of the training is that between each residential session they are visited on their own farms by the Kulika trainers to encourage them to put into practice what they have learnt,” said Dr Magin. “They are taught about nutrition, sanitation, and construction and the use of appropriate techniques that would encourage Sustainable Organic Agriculture [SOA].”

The Kulika-trained farmers are expected to pass on their new skills to neighbours, and a recent review has confirmed that SOA practices had been picked up on a number of farms. Among the SOA practices taken up: compost-making and use in vegetable growing, production and use of liquid manure or “plant tea”, home-made organic pesticides (orange peel is one example), trench composting, kitchen gardens and the construction of pit latrines.

,i>“All of these approaches were designed with one thing in mind: to make resource-use sustainable,” said Dr Magin.

“We hope it’s a win-win situation for people, for birds and for Uganda’s biodiversity,” Mugisha added.

Echuya Central Forest Reserve is listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) on the basis of its diverse array of species - over 100 species recorded, some of them threatened like Grauer's swamp-warbler Bradypterus graueri.

4th July 2014