This report is one of the outputs of theproject “Man and forests – an evaluation of management strategies for reduced deforestation” which aimed at evaluating the different management strategies undertaken to obtain reduced deforestation in tropical forests and hence maintain the various ecosystem services delivered. One component of this project focused on characterizing the management regimes established in the REDD+ pilot area and how well the REDD+ regime is adapted to the local institutional and ecological conditions. The site under investigation is a communally owned forest known as Ongo community forest, where the Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST), is piloting REDD+ activities. The investigations entailed discussions with the implementing agent the ECOTRUST, local council leaders, forest management committee members, Masindi district technical staff and the local community members.
The key findings indicated that Ongo is a low-stocked Tropical High Forest under the governance of community members, from the four villages surrounding the forest. The forest has continued to face deforestation and degradation with the main drivers including agricultural encroachment and harvesting of poles. With regard to governance and governance structures, there were several organizations and institutions established prior the REDD+ regime including the District and several NGOs. The REDD+ project activities were initiated in 2010 and some of the key achievements to date include the formal registration of Ongo Communal Land Association, initiating the process of acquiring a land title, forest boundary survey and mapping, more community sensitization and awareness about carbon trading and the need for forest conservation; review of the constitution and the forest management plan to fit the current conditions, and community training about benefit sharing.
Some of the challenges encountered included the bureaucratic process of acquiring the land ownership document; allegations of land grabbing by some of the community members, which disrupted several awareness and sensitization sessions; resistance during the boundary survey process and demands for compensation by those individuals who had cultivated along the forest boundary; and the continued illegal activities especially harvesting of poles and cultivating along the forest frontier. With regard to adaptability to the ecological conditions, the forest characteristics including topography, species composition, soil characteristics and accessibility make it very vulnerable to access and resource use pressures which are likely to continue posing challenges from the governance perspective. Further, the location of the forest makes it very open and accessible by any community member from the four villages.
With regard to adaptability to the institutional conditions, ECOTRUST built on the existing initiatives and institutions, and therefore endeavoured to address the existing constraints especially with regard to conflicts between the CLA leadership and the community members. Most of the activities designed for implementation were acceptable to the community, given that a participatory approach was utilized all the time, with only a few instances were resistance was met (boundary survey), but later resolved. In conclusion, it is noted that not until when the forest is gazetted and declared as a community forest, thus empowering the community, the forest will continue to face governance and management challenges. However, the different actors have exhibited complementary efforts and in due consideration of the REDD+ processes in the country, there is great potential for achievement of the REDD+ pilot activities.