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From Poachers to Investors and Conservationist!

Zinori Bikorwomuhangi, 38, a native of the area says that he begun encroaching on Karinzu forest reserve as young as 13 years to earn a living.

In 2008, 45 perpetual Karinzu forest reserve encroachers formed a group to bail themselves out whenever they are arrested by the National Forestry Authority-NFA for destroying the natural forest adjacent to them to earn a living.

Zinori Bikorwomuhangi, 38, a native of the area says that he begun encroaching on Karinzu forest reserve as young as 13 years to earn a living.

Bikorwomuhangi says that it was a matter of life and death given the conflicts that existed between NFA and the local residents who thought that they were entitled to do anything in the forest because it was given to them by God.

“We thought there was no crime committed by harvesting timber in Karinzu forest because it was a God given resource at our disposal to utilize,” says Bikorwomuhangi.

Because NFA was arresting residents left, right and center they decided to form a group of 45 people who would mobilize funds to ensure that the culprits are rescued whenever they would be arrested.

Bikorwomuhangi says that they kept forcefully gaining access into the forest and also decided to do illegal timber lumbering at night to evade the law enforcement arm of NFA.

“I had bought solar systems and pressure lanterns to enable me do illegal timber cutting in the forest but all these were very risky ventures,” says Bikorwomuhangi.

Innocent Byamukama, the coordinator of the group says they lost lives and other lost their body parts as they engaged NFA due to encroachment activities.

But a group that had been formed to bail out encroachers saw light when World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) visited them in 2012 and convinced them to register with government and form a Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) group so that they could cooperate with NFA and benefit from the forest which had turned to be a curse to them.

After the intervention of WWF, the 45 members from the two parishes of Ndangara and Nyakiyanja decided to register a CFM group in 2013 that has transformed their lives greatly.

Bikorwomuhangi says that by 2013 they had stealthily planted eucalyptus trees on over 112 hectares but NFA was uprooting them as they also continued to plant.
The turning point was on the August 6th 2013 when NFA officially went into a collaboration with the residents and their group has since grown to 415 member down from 45.

The new group was termed as Ndangara and Nyakiyanja Tutungukye Parishes Group (NNTG) with a sole objective of ‘empowering communities for conservation and development’.
Activities of the group                                                                             
 
Tree planting
600 of the 615 hectares of land that were allocated to the group by NFA have been planted with both Eucalyptus and indigenous trees since the collaboration started in 2013. The plan is to plant the remaining 15 hectares before the year ends.

Among the community at least 100 hectares have been also planted with majorly indigenous trees by June 2018.
According to Byamukama over 458,600 tree seedlings had been planted by the end of June 2018. In addition, 100,000 tree seedlings have been planted since June 2018.

70% of all the funds gotten from WWF have been invested in tree planting.
The community has managed to protect the natural forest of Karinzu which they were encroaching on for a livelihood by conducting patrols in the forest.

The management of the forest has shifted from NFA to the community after realizing the importance the natural forest has to their wellbeing.

“We arrest encroachers and hand them over to NFA and police and now there is no even a single illegal activity taking place in the forest,” says Byamukama.

The group has established several committees that are responsible with the operations of the group and these include the disciplinary, committee which is charged with instilling discipline among members who might decide to encroach on the forest or go against the group rules and norms.

380 group members are benefiting from carbon trade and sh270m has been earned from this venture alone.
 
Bee keeping
The group has 483 bee hives colonized already both in the forest and in the community. They extract 2000kgs of honey per season and they have 3 seasons in a year translating into 6000kgs of honey every year.

The bee hives are given to the group members who take care of them and upon harvest the member takes 50% of the proceeds and the other returns to the group. There is a women’s group which manages the bee hives together.
 
The group also processes the bee combs into wax using the extractor so that they maximize on output and earnings from honey.
We sell honey after processing and labeling it.
 
Coffee growing
The farmers are organised into groups and supply coffee seedlings to them.
The group members also grow coffee to supplement on their incomes and so far they have purchased 10 wet coffee pulping machines to process coffee for of value addition.

The group produces 15-20 tonnes of coffee every year. The people are getting much money
The group has a target of covering Kicwamba by April 209.

Livelihood improvement
In 2012 before the start of the intervention, 70% of the community in these two parishes had grass-thatched houses but after 5 years there is single grass-thatched house in the community because of the economic empowerment and livelihood programs. The community has even constructed chicken houses which are iron roofed.

Savings and credit services
The group begun with only sh4m in 2014 but the savings have since grown to sh162m with sh120m loan portfolio.
Members save on a monthly basis and a member is entitled to 3 times the savings as a loan and the savings act as collateral.

Defaulting is not easy in the group because the member has to continue saving on top of the loan repayment. In case of failure the savings are converted to repay the loan.
Insert chart showing the operations of the group
 
The group also networks with both local and national groups and networks such as Uganda Network of Collaborative Forest Associations (UNETCOFA) to ensure they are exposed on how to sustain their activities and create synergies.
 
Renewable energy
Constructed 380 energy saving stoves to save fuel wood and also reduce on the health hazards in the community.

The group members have also acquired solar for lighting and charging of their phones to reduce on costs of buying paraffin and constant charges of the private phone chargers.

Achievements/benefits
The NNTG has brought in harmony between NFA and the local communities which has led to increased livelihoods ad peace in the community.

Exposure to the members
Livelihood improvement of the households in the two parishes and even beyond. In 2012 and before, roads in their area were impassable but with the introduction of the project the local government started rehabilitating the roads in the area.

Most children were not going to school because they were getting involved in illegal timber cutting but since the start of the project all the children have enrolled into school and even the parents have the capacity to pay school fees for them even in faraway better schools using the proceeds from the various enterprises.

In 2012 only one child had completed senior 4 and 4 were Primary 7 graduates but the trend has since changed.
The group has sold firewood to a tea company worth.
The group has sold firewood to Kyamuhunga Tea Factory worth sh100 which was shared among the group members.

Food security
The members use the land allocated to them by NFA to grow food crops through mixed cropping and previously these people had a serious scarcity of land.

There has been tremendous improvement in lad use management due to the knowledge gained from the group and the exposure they have acquired.

The area which started experiencing some change in weather due to the cutting down of trees but since  they entered into a collaboration the condition has since improved with rains all year round.
Fog can even been seen up the hills that have been planted with trees which is a clear indication of returning to normal weather.

Innocent Byamukama the group coordinator is on 0780285808 Zinori Bikorwomuhangi the chairman of the group is on 0784663281 for details.

 
Zinori harvesting timber from an artificial forest adjacent to the natural Kalinzu Forest