Bwindi impenetrable national park, known for its rich biodiversity and endangered mountain gorillas, is also home to resilient communities (the Batwa, the bakiga and others) that have coexisted with the forest for generations .While the park is celebrated for its large population of iconic mountain gorillas, a delicate transformation is underway, marked by occasional conflicts that test the fragile balance between wildlife conservation and human livelihoods.
This becomes the basis for Environment Governance Institute (EGI) to partner with likeminded stakeholders including Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) with the support of IUCN Save Our Species to embark on a mission to empower women to sustainably diversity their livelihoods through the fascinating world of mushroom cultivation to reduce dependence on forest habitat for livelihoods as well as mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.
These trainings, took place in Buhoma, Rubona, Iraar, Nkwenda and Kayonza sub-county in Kanungu district and brought together over 25 representatives including 22 women and 3 males champions that were interested in mushroom growing around the areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
As the women learn to cultivate mushrooms, they also absorb the importance of biodiversity and the delicate balance that sustains the ecosystem around them.
The trainings were informed by the rapid rise of human-wildlife conflicts unfolding from a complex drama as humans and gorillas vie for space in this shared realm of biodiversity , destruction of wild habitats for human activities, and Gorillas sustaining injuries from traps laid by poachers. The clash is not merely a territorial dispute; it is a struggle for survival on both sides. For the communities surrounding Bwindi, the forest is a source of livelihood, providing resources for agriculture and sustenance
As the women nurture their mushroom patches, they share stories for example Zeridah Kyarisiima says that the delicate equilibrium is disrupted when gorillas venture beyond the park boundaries, sometimes raiding crops and coming into direct contact with local communities. The repercussions are immediate and severe, with crops destroyed and, occasionally, instances of injury or loss of life on both sides. “Animals from the park come into communities destroying and eating crops, fruits like jackfruits and mangoes in nearby gardens’’ Something she says has also prompted the community to look for alternative sustainable livelihoods like mushroom growing in safe mushroom house which keeps it safe from attacks by wildlife from the park.
In a bid to address this conservation crisis, EGI trained a team of community women in mushroom cultivation, guided the participants through every step, from preparing substrate to harvesting the first flush of mushrooms.
The impact of the training extends beyond individual empowerment. With mushrooms emerging as a lucrative and sustainable source of income replacing tea growing which is also a common activity
“Mushroom cultivation provides threefold benefits to the community: it serves as a source of food for household needs, generates income through readily available local markets, and is recognized as a local remedy for allergies within the community’’
The women are gradually breaking free from the constraints of traditional gender roles. As they market their produce to local communities and nearby tourist hotels ,participate in the local economy, they are not only transforming their own lives but also promoting sustainable conservation of mountain gorillas
As the mushroom project flourishes, it becomes a beacon of hope for the endangered mountain gorillas and their habitat. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the government stand as key players in determining the trajectory of this unfolding narrative. It is a call to action, a plea to prioritize the conservation of mountain gorillas and protect them from encroachment on human land.
Written by Joy Nabulo -Communication officer
This publication was produced with the financial support of IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Environment Governance Institute and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN