Ugandan NGO Wins UN Award

Uplift the Rural Poor (URP), a Ugandan community initiative, has won the 2014 UNDP Equator Initiative prize.

URP was among 35 initiatives, selected from 1,234 nominations from 121 countries, recognised for their work in aancing local indigenous efforts that reduce poverty through conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The judges hailed URP for its demonstration of community-based, grassroots action to address environment, poverty and climate change challenges.

Beatrice Kabihogo, the founder of URP, will be among the 26 winners at September’s awards ceremony in New York, during the UN Climate summit. The award is given every two years. URP was founded in 2001 to improve the livelihoods of communities living adjacent to three protected areas of Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks and Echuya forest reserve in Kisoro district, south-western Uganda.

Echuya, a mountain forest reserve in Kisoro district, is rich in biodiversity and the ecosystem. It hosts the globally-threatened bird species of Grauer’s swamp warbler and hardwood tree species. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park, also in Kisoro, was upgraded from a forest reserve to a national park in 1992 due to its high biodiversity values, including an important population of mountain gorillas.

It was declared a Natural World Heritage Site in December 1994. Mgahinga national park is part of a larger ecosystem in the great Virunga landscape, highly valued for its biodiversity as a home to mountain gorillas. The founding members of URP were driven to act because of the levels of poverty, illiteracy and challenges faced by the communities in this area.

URP works to reduce pressure on forest resources, an important gorilla habitat, while also creating alternative livelihood strategies. The organization focuses on tree planting, potato farming, and safe water access. They have built rainwater harvesting tanks in 17 water-stressed communities and started village savings and loans programmes to support small-scale businesses.

URP is the second winner picked from Uganda after the Kamwenge-based Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED), which won in 2008 and 2010. Abdul Tejan-Cole, the executive director of Open Society Initiative for West Africa, says such initiatives which protect the land and environment are important to a continent in which two thirds of its population derives their livelihoods from agriculture, animal husbandry, fresh water fisheries, forestry and artisan mining.

But these livelihoods are increasingly threatened by an increasing dry and hot climate which makes sub Saharan Africa prone to drought, land degradation and desertification. In Africa alone, agricultural yields will decrease by 50 per cent by 2050 yet the population that needs food will have doubled.

Source : The Observer

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