Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about what kind of footprints tourism leave behind. Mindful travel is all about understanding your place in the greater environment.
It’s about sharing the world we live in, making connections between yourself and the world halfway across the globe. If done mindfully, and with the right local connections, travel can have a lasting, mutual effect both on you and the land you step into.
WIT Agent in Uganda
This April, WIT Agent Nancy is embarking on an incredible trip to Uganda with Africa Wild Explorations. Uganda is THE destination for mountain gorillas–and her first major stop, Kibale Forest National Park, is one of the best safari destinations in Africa for chimpanzee tracking.
After the fantastic Kibale Forest National Park, WIT Agent Nancy will be heading out to Bigodi village. Resting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountain Range in western Uganda, Bigodi borders Kibale National Park. After lunch with one of the community leaders — a founding member of Bigodi Community Tourism — then it’s time for a nature walk in the swamp.
In 1992, Bigodi Community Tourism established the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED). As an official Community Based Organization of Uganda, its main mission is to facilitate projects to stimulate health, education and economic growth while protecting the local environment, the rainforest, and the wetlands. The group’s emblem is the great blue turaco, a majestic bird found in the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary.
Tourism in the area creates revenues that KAFRED then used to stimulate community development projects and initiatives, such as:
Community development projects have been funded with income from tourism. The best examples are the secondary school, the wetlands boardwalk, safe water and the wetlands visitor center with bylaws. This has helped to increase awareness and appreciation within the community of the importance of conservation.
The Bigodi Women’s Group, also a member of UCOTA, is involved in the making and selling of handicrafts. Most of the materials and dyes used are natural and this was an environmental issue. KAFRED has through UCOTA organized training workshops in sustainable harvesting methods.
Music, dance and drama by local groups such as Enyange Dramactors and Study Tours are used to increase the understanding and interpretation of natural and cultural values in the community, particularly in schools.
Enyange Dramactors received training from Kibale and Semliki Conservation and Development Program in the 1990s. On the other hand, interpretation signs, write-ups, guided walks, and presentations are used for conservation awareness building for both domestic and foreign visitors.
Walks around and across the swamp are guided, visitors are encouraged to keep on the trail and all the garbage is carried back to the visitor’s center and properly binned. KAFRED does not provide catering services and this limits the levels of pollution.
How has Tourism changed Bigodi?
- Employment of teachers, guides, cooks, security guards, and cleaners
- Teachers and guides receive special training
- The Women’s Groups are provided with space to sell handicrafts and peanut butter at the Wetlands visitor center.
- There is a market for local foodstuffs that can be consumed by visitors and tourists, for example, bananas, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and chicken.
- Local people have adapted to eating the above-mentioned foodstuffs, leading to improved nutrition.
- The number of permanent houses has grown from 2 in 1992 to 7 in 1995 to more than 30 today.
- In the late 1990s, KAFRED hosted an average of 1000 visitors annually for an income of about 6 million Uganda Shillings (6m UGS). By 2008 the visitor count had risen to 3,500 with annual revenues of nearly 100m UGS. During the last financial year, we received over 4,000 visitors and an income of about 150m UGS.
- About 75% of the net profits is spent on community projects. KAFRED began construction and management of Bigodi Secondary School starting in 1993. The school now has some 350 children. Because of tourism revenue, parents pay about 50% less for fees compared to other private or community schools.
- About 95% of wetlands visitors are non-Ugandans. This has led to other business opportunities such as hotels and lodges, which are in turn run by local people and which employ local staff.
- KAFRED has funded a community safe water project. Community water kiosks have been set up to serve at least 300 people. This has reduced the cost of water prices from UGS 800 to UGS 200 per 20-liter can.
- Building a house for midwives so that they can stay at the local health unit and support mothers whenever they need maternity services. In the recent past, women had to hold it until office hours or the family would have to hire a private car to Fort Portal town, 40 km away on a bumpy road!
Later that Afternoon, Nancy will enjoy a signature swamp walk in the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. The local guide will introduce her to more than 100 species of birds and primates! The region is thick in biodiversity, home to chimpanzees, mongooses, bush pigs, and loads of monkeys!