Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust was set up in 1994 under the Uganda Trust Act, with mandate to provide long term funding for the conservation of the biodiversity and ecosystem of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in South Western Uganda. MBIFCT is a registered non-governmental organisation governed by a Trust Management Board and other committees as stipulated in the MBIFCT Deed.
MBIFCT does not manage the two protected areas – Uganda Wildlife Authority manages them. MBIFCT works in partnerships with UWA to help promote broad conservation objectives in the region.
The importance of the protected areas lies mainly in its biodiversity, which includes:
- Over 120 mammal species including seven diurnal primates, chief of which is the mountain gorilla.
- Over 360 bird species
- Over 200 species of butterflies (84% of Uganda’s total butterfly fauna)
- Over 324 tree species (ten of which are endemic to Uganda).
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park also protects 6% of Uganda’s water catchment area and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1994.
The Trust Fund was set up as an endowment fund in 1994. Key players at the start of the fund were the Government of Uganda, the World Bank and the Trust Management Board.
Strategic partnerships were cultivated and the following were key:
- The Government of Uganda through its key ministries, i.e. ministries responsible for Justice, Wildlife and Tourism and Finance. These ministries ensured that the fund would be legal and that money received would be used as intended.
- At the community level, partnerships were created by setting up a Local Community Steering Committee made up of democratically elected community representatives of the former forest dwellers (Batwa), local government representatives, and NGOs active in conservation work in and around the two protected areas.
- Major partnerships were developed with donors to leverage MBIFCTs capital. In 1995, MBIFCT received a grant from USAID that covered its operational costs and supplied grant funds for its program over a two-year period. The funds provided by USAID covered all costs and allowed MBIFCT to reinvest all interest earned on its invested capital. MBIFCT, therefore, was not required to expend any of its original GEF grant or the income earned from investments. At the end of the USAID funding period, the Netherlands Government followed a similar model and provided MBIFCT with funding for a further five years.
At the start, there was hardly any capacity to manage the Fund as this was a first of its kind in the continent. To overcome this shortcoming, the World Bank supervised the Trust activities, including Fund management, for a period of five years.
Among the Board members, the representative of the Ministry of Finance and the private sector representative provided some technical know-how on fund management, especially with regard to asset management. On-the-job training and hired expertise were employed in building the capacity to manage the fund and overall MBIFCT activities
As mentioned above, MBIFCT does not minister or manage the two protected areas but has been allowed to operate within the protected areas and is allowed to carry out its responsibilities within the communities surrounding the two protected areas. According to the Trust Deed, MBIFCT must spend its net annual budget in the following proportions:
- Community development activities (60% of income): projects proposed and established by the local community groups, projects that demonstrate positive impact on the conservation of parks and their diversity, non-consumptive utilization of forests such as eco-tourism etc.
- Research activities (20% of income): ecological and socio-economic research that provides data needed for improving park management and park/community relations.
- Park management activities (20% of income): grants to UWA to help meet the costs of implementing management plans for Mgahinga and Bwindi Forest National Parks.
The above distribution of net annual income clearly indicates that the bulk of the fund is legally earmarked for community development activities, which range from common-good projects like primary school classrooms, health units and rural road construction to individual income-generating activities like fish farming, beekeeping, other agro-based activities as well as creation of conservation awareness. These activities are supposed to address the needs that the communities, in the past, obtained from the protected areas, e.g. food, bush meat, fuel wood, timber and traditional medicines.