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Communities and conservation in Mabira Forest.

Hussein Kato with Handshake volunteers on the bridge over Griffin Falls.

Hussein Kato with Handshake volunteers on the bridge over Griffin Falls.

Mabira Forest is a 306 square kilometre area of rainforest in Buikwe District, Uganda, and was the first location visited on the Uganda 2012 Great Primate Handshake. We were able to camp in the forest thanks to the Griffin Falls Camp Site, a community-run site that falls under the umbrella of MAFICO, the Mabira Forest Integrated Community Organisation. MAFICO has been in operation since 2003, and mobilises members of the community in Buikwe and Mukono Districts to conserve the forest around which they live. Started as an environmental NGO, MAFICO entered into a memorandum of understanding with the National Forest Authority to allow the use of part of the forest for community tourism, with the objectives of poverty eradication and long-term forest conservation. With 72 community based organisations working on different projects to generate income for forest conservation and for people’s livelihoods, activities range from craft making, leading nature walks through the forest, constructing energy-saving stoves so that less firewood is needed, and of course the initiation and running of the Griffin Falls Camp Site.

The Griffin Falls Camp Site opened in 2009, when MAFICO employed three guides, a receptionist, a caretaker and two watchmen to keep the site running smoothly and show visitors the wildlife, including grey-cheeked mangabeys and red-tailed monkeys, that constitutes just one of the many reasons for protecting the forest habitat. One of the guides at the site is Hussein Kato, who explained to us the history and workings of MAFICO, and, along with receptionist Betty Nakazzi, led us on a walk through the forest to Griffin Falls itself, stopping to point out rare indigenous tree species and monkeys in the canopy.

On arrival at the Falls, as butterflies flitted around us and birds flocked overhead, Hussein explained to us that actually, this environment is not as pristine as first appearances indicate. The local Sugar Corporation of Uganda factory in Lugazi dumps its waste in the river that leads to Griffin Falls, heavily polluting the water and filling the air with the smell of fermentation. Despite the negative findings of a water quality survey conducted at MAFICO’s request by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), repeated requests from MAFICO members to prevent the factory continuing to dump its waste in the river have come to nothing, and Hussein and many other community members are still petitioning NEMA to take action.

As we returned to the camp site, we saw a troop of grey-cheeked mangabeys cross the path through the trees above our heads, and were able to stand quietly and observe them as they settled themselves in the branches to one side of us. This, combined with the knowledge that Mabira Forest is so vital for the communities around it, and that they, in turn, are so passionate about protecting it, left us all hoping fervently that the threats to the environment from the waste being poured into the river will soon be alleviated.

If you want to experience camping in Mabira Forest, visit: www.mabiraforestcamp.com

If you would like to get involved with tourism and conservation in Mabira Forest, visit: www.forestvolunteersuganda.org

UPDATE, 26th February 2013 – Mabira Forest video now released: