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  • Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

A tropical forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by D Sheil/CIFOR
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A tropical forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by D Sheil/CIFOR

East Africa is home to some of the world’s most diverse forests: montane forests, which include some of the highest and oldest mountains in Africa; coastal forests; Miombo woodlands; tropical rain forests; and mangrove forests.

Like many forested areas around the globe, they are increasingly threatened by agricultural expansion and deforestation for fuelwood and timber purposes.

Although regional authorities, governments, NGOs and international organizations are working hard to protect these forests, without an accurate dataset, there is no effective way to monitor the ecological, environmental and social aspects of these forests.

Today, there are a number of observatories in East Africa monitoring forest activities. However, they lack precise country and regional level data that will help determine future strategies for protecting forests, reporting on countries’ obligations under the Paris Agreement, and evaluating the success of their initiatives under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) schemes.

Read also: Trait-based approaches for guiding the restoration of degraded agricultural landscapes in East Africa


Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) are now working with the Regional Center for Mapping Resources for Development (RCMRD) and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD), including researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), to lay the groundwork for a new regional observatory in East Africa.

Throughout the year, scientists will be conducting a comprehensive study to gather forestry data and assess the status of forests, REDD+ activities, institutional systems and monitoring capabilities across four East African countries – Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

In February, a meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya, with government representatives from the four countries to get the ball rolling. This new project will draw upon the experience of Observatoire des forêts d’Afrique Centrale (OFAC), a similar observatory now operating in Central Africa.

CIFOR scientist Paulo Cerutti, who helped establish OFAC, says the biggest advantage of having an observatory is that the information can be verified by the government.

“The data collected is more reliable because it focuses on a smaller scale, rather than on a global scale.”

Experts like Cerutti point out that global datasets, which are meant to compare larger regions, are not always effective when it comes to smaller regions because they can contain disparities.

People work in a field in Kenya. Photo by Tim Cronin/CIFOR


Before the new observatory can become fully operational, all four countries need to have the same capacity and expertise level to effectively contribute to the platform. Currently, the countries have different levels of technical skills, scientific equipment and data collection methods. Even the terms used to describe the types of forests can vary across borders.

The availability of data is another key issue for experts to overcome. For example, in Uganda, information on taxes and revenues from non-timber forest products is not available because they are not formally traded. Meanwhile, in Mozambique, remote sensing data on forests is only available at the national level. In Tanzania, there is a lack of remote sensing data for forest monitoring.

The new observatory would offer the region a more compatible, streamlined data system that would unite the four countries. It would also provide a new avenue for regional collaboration.

“The observatory will provide strong opportunities for synergies between the different focal points in each country and strengthen national capacity to monitor the forests,” says Alfred Gichu, head of the Climate Change Response Program at the Kenya Forest Service.

Countries in the region would be able to access a platform for sharing, exchanging and accessing data and information related to regional forests and REDD+. It would also provide a unified system for reporting on each country’s obligations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Stakeholders agree that regional cooperation gives everyone an opportunity to share their experiences and challenges and to build a stronger platform for the entire region.

“The observatory will help bring East Africa together as a collective working group to give it a voice in high-level discussions,” says Joaquim Macuácua from Mozambique’s Department of Inventory of Forest Resources.

Experts point out that the current lack of coordination is resulting in different agencies producing the same data.

“The observatory will help avoid this duplication of efforts across the region, and even within individual countries,” says Mugisa Micheal, the executive director of Uganda’s National Forestry Authority.

Read also: Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities


The project will be carried out through March 2018. Upon its completion, a database and website for the regional forestry observatory will be developed. This data will be made available to the public through the observatory.

Additionally, a thorough analysis of the state of forests and REDD+ activities across the four countries will be completed.

If these above objectives are successfully met, a five-year project will then be initiated to bring the observatory to life as part of the project’s second phase.

By Esther Mwangi and Laura Vanessa Mukhwana, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Esther Mwangi at [email protected] or Laura Vanessa Mukhwana at [email protected].

This initiative is supported through the ReCaREDD project, which is led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • ACM levels the playing field for women and men in forest-adjacent communities

ACM levels the playing field for women and men in forest-adjacent communities

A woman collects firewood in her forest plantation in Mpigi district, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR
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A woman collects firewood in her forest plantation in Mpigi district, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Aimed at enhancing women’s participation as well as identifying how negotiation and facilitation can strengthen women’s tenure, a gender-equity approach is showing better outcomes not only for women but also for forest resources.

The approach, dubbed Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM), was outlined in a recent webinar by Esther Mwangi, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) principal scientist and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) former gender lead.

In opening the discussion, Ewen Le Borgne of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, which organized the webinar, foreshadowed how ACM can be used to foster increased gender equity in the management and use of community forests.

“Strengthening women’s rights is possible even when norms of patriarchy are strong,” he said. “[Mwangi] shows that strengthening women’s rights and decision-making has positive implications for the reforestation of degraded forests as well as for increasing on-farm tree planting.”

Mwangi, whose research focuses on forest governance issues, including gender, tenure, property rights, community participation and linking knowledge with action, presented the findings of work carried out in Uganda over a six-year period that ended in 2016.

Read more: Strengthening women’s tenure and rights to forests and trees and their participation in decision making

Gender biases generated through cultural norms and practices are considered to be among the most common impediments to women’s rights to, and participation in the benefits of, forests and trees.

Customary norms regulate land and resource rights in many parts of Africa, with studies showing that such norms permeate into formal decision-making arenas where they can constrain the implementation of gender-equitable statutory provisions.

During the discussion, Mwangi questioned what tends to eventuate from policies, which are generally well-intended, particularly those aimed at promoting gender equity in the forestry sector. In Uganda, she explained, forest policy was very explicit about increasing the security of tenure over forest resources for women, as well as encouraging women and youth to actively participate in decision-making, resource management and benefit-sharing.

A ficus tree is pictured in Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Interested by this policy, Mwangi examined the extent to which the good intentions were fulfilled in practice. She first presented the results of a situation analysis conducted in 18 communities in three districts in Central Uganda, which aimed to establish how men and women used and managed forest resources.

Mwangi discussed the nature of the relationship between men and women and their decision-making in relation to forest resources. She found that gender inequalities still exist in the sector, often due to cultural norms and practices at the community level, among many other reasons.

These norms can dictate who owns trees and forests, as well as who makes decisions about trees within community forestry groups and on farms.

“There was a clear bias against women,” she explained. “Women cannot plant trees. In particular, certain trees are considered taboo species, such as ficus.”

Ficus natalensis, also known as the natal fig, can be used for fodder and firewood, or as timber for furniture and boats. Ficus bark is also processed into barkcloth, used for traditional functions and burial ceremonies in Uganda, which can provide a source of income for processors.

Prior to the development of ACM, because of the existing cultural taboos surrounding the planting of ficus, women in Uganda were prevented from cultivating and deriving an income from the trees. However, the collaborative approach encouraged more women to negotiate with their husbands to allow them to plant ficus.

Read more: Forbidden no more: women negotiate changes in tree planting traditions

ACM enhances women’s participation and identifies how negotiation and facilitation can strengthen women’s tenure rights amid customary norms with a male bias, Mwangi explained.

“It involves voluntary groups that are facilitated in order to enhance communication, improve collaboration, resolve conflict and […] seek out ways of collectively learning about the impacts of their actions.”

It is ultimately about “enabling communities to deal with their own issues and their situation,” she said, which can improve equity, and “empower women and other marginalized groups to have a say in how forests are used and managed.”

Forest degradation and a decline in forest resources were key issues in the forest-adjacent communities, who found they could reduce pressure on forest resources with on-farm techniques such as tree planting, keeping bees and pigs, and water harvesting.

Within the process of implementing these priorities, women were facilitated to take on leadership positions, and participate and engage in more meaningful ways. Through ACM, women can contribute to discussion without fear of ridicule or retribution, Mwangi stated.

A farmers’ group works with seedlings in Mbazzi, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Mwangi looked closely at the application of the ACM approach among six randomly selected forest-adjacent communities in three districts in Central Uganda.

According to her, women in the communities expressed concern over exclusion from decisions despite their use and management of forests and trees; absence in leadership positions; poor attendance at meetings; a lack of confidence to speak up during meetings; and cultural norms that prevented them from planting, owning and economically benefiting from trees.

Before the approach, there were no women planting Ficus natalensis, due not only to the issues identified by the women, but also the taboos highlighted by the researchers surrounding the trees as land ownership symbols. Following the efforts, around one-third of the women involved began to plant the trees, while two women also began to sell barkcloth made from ficus.

Women also planted and owned more trees, were able to contribute equally to discussions, and took on more leadership positions.

Read more: Strengthening women’s tenure rights and participation in community forestry

Within these efforts, linkages to external actors were key, as they provided buffers, resources and legitimacy, and helped to identify new opportunities. Men in the communities were also important players in improving women’s rights.

“Men can be allies in processes of strengthening women’s rights and empowerment, and in fact mixed groups can be a viable pathway, in addition to women-only groups,” said Mwangi.

Statutory rights are not always automatically exercised or implemented, she explained, especially when cultural norms create roadblocks, which is why collaborative approaches are needed on the path to gender equity.

“Negotiation and facilitation by intermediaries can strengthen women’s rights and participation,” she said. “We can actually move from one set of norms to another, which allows women greater freedoms, allows them to take leadership, and be seen as legitimate leads in decision-making, resource allocation and resource access.”

This results not only in better outcomes for women, but also for forest resources and reforestation, she added.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator. 

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

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  • Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities

Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities

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  • A recent study, focusing on national and district-level government officials involved in forest tenure reform implementation processes in Uganda, has highlighted key challenges and opportunities for future improvements. Analysis of responses shows that:
  • As reforms responded to a need for sustainable forest management and livelihood improvements, activities leant towards forest protection, rather than strengthening and securing community forest tenure rights.
  • Progress in tenure reform implementation has been below implementers’ expectations, largely due to inadequate funding, onerous processes of registration, declaration and management of Private Natural Forests and Community Forests, or in the case of Collaborative Forest Management, negotiation of rights with Responsible Bodies.
  • The main economic, social and political challenges faced by government officials implementing reforms were budgetary limitations, poverty levels in forest-adjacent communities, migration and socio-cultural norms. Research respondents noted also that often, politicians impeded rather than supported reform implementation processes. Some of them derived political capital out of exerting pressure on technical staff to engage in, as well as protect, illegal activities.
  • The study revealed a number of technical problems that constrained the implementation of forest tenure reforms. These included the tedious processes involved in getting the rights formalized, community inability to protect and safeguard forest tenure rights, and inadequate benefits accruing to communities involved in forest management activities.
  • There was no agreement among the respondents as to who is responsible for safeguarding community forest tenure rights. Development partners and civil society organizations (CSOs) also undertook activities to support the securing of local tenure rights, such as capacity building, resource mobilization, awareness raising and conflict resolution. However, such support was often shortlived and localized. Although government and CSOs are both involved in reform implementation, there is limited formal coordination between them.
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  • Finding evidence for land-restoration strategies 

Finding evidence for land-restoration strategies 

An agricultural landscape in Eastern Uganda. Photo by Madelon Lohbeck/ICRAF
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An agricultural landscape in Eastern Uganda. Photo by Madelon Lohbeck/ICRAF

Restoration has never been more important, with almost a third of the world’s land surface degraded. But what exactly is restoration? And how do we know if it works?

More than 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people are directly affected by degraded land. The Bonn Challenge aims to have 350 million hectares restored by 2030. Private- and public-sector land managers have already promised almost half that amount. This is very encouraging but how will we even know whether the Bonn Challenge was a success? In other words: what do we mean by restoration?

One common notion is that land restoration returns an ecosystem to some previous, ideal state. Yet it is typical for degraded land to be inhabited by people, who are often among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Restoration has the potential to improve their livelihoods if, indeed, restoration outcomes respond to local needs. But returning to a previous state (whichever state that is) is often not feasible nor desirable. So, if restoration is to succeed in some form, it is imperative to set specific goals together with the people living on the land. Most importantly, what aspects of the functionality of the land are to be restored?

Another common notion of land restoration is that it is done through planting trees. But do we know if land is always in better shape with more trees? And what aspects of the functionality of the land can be restored with trees? Does it matter which trees?

A newly published paper, Trait-based approaches for guiding the restoration of degraded agricultural landscapes in East Africa, addresses these questions. The paper is published in a special feature, Functional Traits in Agroecology, in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

A man records soil samples in Mwingi, Kenya. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF

The study

Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) studied degraded agricultural landscapes in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Farmers suffered the consequences of degradation through declining soil fertility and crop productivity. The researchers focused on soil functions to quantify the extent to which land was degraded or restored. Instead of conducting field experiments, they looked at the variation present in the landscapes and tested whether the variation in soil functionality could be explained by vegetation cover, the number of trees, and by the traits of the trees. The study was observational and reflected the variation in real land-use practices and restoration measures actually being applied.

The researchers not only looked at the number of trees but also their size and traits to assess their impact on key ecosystem functions. This way, trees with certain traits, for instance, high wood density, could be seen to increase a certain function, such as carbon stock, more effectively than trees with low wood density. This would then give clear guidance for land-restoration planners: if the goal was to restore carbon stock then promote the use of high wood density trees.

Read more: Trait-based approaches for guiding the restoration of degraded agricultural landscapes in East Africa


The researchers found that in the degraded agricultural landscapes, trees were associated with more productive soils. But more important than the number of trees was the non-woody vegetation cover. With higher vegetation cover, the soil was more fertile (had higher organic carbon) and less erosion took place. In addition, the diversity of functional traits of the trees on the land was shown to enhance soil fertility; invasive species tended to increase erosion.

The results had clear implications for restoration of soil health: avoid bare ground, plant trees, prioritize the removal of invasive species and promote diversity of trees on farms. Such evidence for restoring specific ecosystem functions is urgently needed.

The study also illustrated that evidence for restoration can be found through systematic assessment of vegetation, similar to an approach common in functional ecology. Applying a trait-based approach to existing projects on land-health monitoring would allow the study of complex processes more mechanistically and would eventually generate more impact on the ground. Integrating the approach into new and existing projects would be feasible for three reasons: 1) the growing body of evidence on which traits promote which functions; 2) the large amount of freely available trait-data online; and 3) the fact that many traits are easy to measure.

Read more: Second-growth forests: a boon for land restoration and climate change mitigation

By Madelon Lohbeck, ICRAF Scientist.

Reposted with permission from The Applied Ecologist’s Blog.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Securing tenure rights to communal forests in Masindi district, Uganda: Lessons from Participatory Prospective Analysis (PPA)

Securing tenure rights to communal forests in Masindi district, Uganda: Lessons from Participatory Prospective Analysis (PPA)

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  • The Participatory Prospective Analysis process in Masindi district, Uganda, brought together government, private sector, NGO and local communities stakeholders to collectively reflect on factors affecting local tenure rights, forecast future scenarios and propose actionable plans for securing forest tenure rights.
  • Participants identified several factors threatening local forest tenure rights: lack of land ownership documentation; inadequate implementation and enforcement of forest policies, laws and programs; land use changes; gender bias against women; political interference; lack of community awareness of forest tenure rights; and inadequate financial and human resources to effectively protect local people’s rights to forests and land.
  • To identify potential barriers and drivers, three workshops were organized. With both forestry and agricultural sectors being male-dominated, a women-only workshop was organized to capture women’s perspectives and compare findings with those of the mixed gender group.
  • Four ‘key driving forces’ impacting forest tenure security were identified by both groups: (1) community participation in forest tenure reform implementation, particularly that of women; (2) access to financial resources to implement forest tenure reform activities; (3) the importance of outside organizations having an awareness of community, cultural and institutional norms and beliefs regarding forest tenure rights; (4) the role played by local and national government agencies and politicians in coordinating and promoting progress towards forest tenure reforms.
  • Women stakeholders emphasized the importance of access to land for forestry activities as critical to securing their rights; they also identified that supportive men and domestic relationships can impact on women’s rights to forest land. Mixed group stakeholders identified the role of oil, gas and other industrial activities as a key threat to local forest tenure security.
  • Participants developed four scenarios to anticipate potential future situations impacting on local forest tenure rights. Desirable scenarios depicted a well-governed, well-financed forestry sector characterized by gender equality and participative forest management. Undesirable scenarios were characterized by a dominant oil and gas sector undermining forest sustainability and forest rights; a weak, underfunded and poorly-managed forest sector; forest conversion to other uses; government failure to recognize community rights and integrate communities in forest management; and disappointed, disempowered communities collectively destroying forests for survival instead of managing them sustainably.
  • Several actions were identified to secure local forest tenure rights: (a) making district-level government more responsive to local needs and aspirations around community forest tenure reforms; (b) increasing the number of well-trained district government officers and providing adequate financial resources; (c) facilitating a faster, affordable process for community forest registration, including community incentives; (d) equipping communities with knowledge, skills and resources to enhance their participation in forest tenure reform implementation; (e) promoting environmentally and socially responsible investments to mobilize resources for protecting local people’s forest tenure rights.
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  • Local tree knowledge can fast-track agroforestry recommendations for coffee smallholders along a climate gradient in Mount Elgon, Uganda

Local tree knowledge can fast-track agroforestry recommendations for coffee smallholders along a climate gradient in Mount Elgon, Uganda

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Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) is economically important for many smallholder farmers in the Mount Elgon region of East Uganda, but its production is increasingly threatened by climate change. However, ecosystem services (ES) provided by companion trees in coffee agroforestry systems (AFS) can help farmers adapt to climate change.

The objectives of this research were to develop agroforestry species recommendations and tailor these to the farmers’ needs and local context, taking into consideration gender. Local knowledge of agroforestry species and ES preferences was collected through farmer interviews and rankings. Using the Bradley-Terry approach, analysis was done along an altitudinal gradient in order to study different climate change scenarios for coffee suitability. Farmers had different needs in terms of ES and tree species at different altitudes, e.g. at low altitude they need a relatively larger set of ES to sustain their coffee production and livelihood. Local knowledge is found to be gender blind as no differences were observed in the rankings of species and ES by men and women.

Ranking species by ES and ranking ES by preference is a useful method to help scientists and extension agents to use local knowledge for the development of recommendations on companion trees in AFS for smallholder farmers.

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  • Forests and village saving schemes in Uganda

Forests and village saving schemes in Uganda

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In Uganda, an Adaptive Collaborative Management project is promoting village saving schemes as a way to empower communities, build businesses and achieve self-generated income. This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Forestry in Uganda: Connecting communities to power

Forestry in Uganda: Connecting communities to power

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In Uganda, an Adaptive Collaborative Management project is drawing links between public, private and community stakeholders to build networks and practices that bring benefits to all. This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Right tree right place: vegetationmap4africa and Uganda Tree Finder

Right tree right place: vegetationmap4africa and Uganda Tree Finder

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FTA communications

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  • Forbidden no more: women negotiate changes in tree planting traditions

Forbidden no more: women negotiate changes in tree planting traditions

Ficus natalensis. Photo: Wikimedia
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Ficus natalensis. Photo: Wikimedia
Ficus natalensis. Photo: Purves, M, CC BY-SA 3.0

Adapted from CIFOR’s Forests News

“Before, if a woman planted Ficus, it was enough to earn you a divorce,” says Ugandan woman farmer Namanda. “That is now changing.”

Trees have strong cultural meanings worldwide. Among the Baganda people of central Uganda, the Ficus natalensis tree signifies chiefdom. In the past, when the king chose a chief, he would plant a Ficus tree for him.

At the household level, the tree signifies ownership of land. For this reason, until very recently, a woman could not plant Ficus. Husbands forbid it, because the very of act of planting would symbolize that she is the head of the household.

Although this cultural taboo is still pervasive, it is slowly changing since five years ago the Baganda started adopting a negotiation approach called Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM), introduced by researchers under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

ACM means that stakeholders who share an interest in a natural resource agree to act together to plan the use of this resource, then observe and draw lessons.

Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in partnership with the Association of Uganda Professional Women in Agriculture and the Environment (AUPWAE), have used the ACM approach to implement forest-related activities in six study sites across Uganda since 2011.

This week, CIFOR and AUPWAE are presenting their findings to the Ugandan parliament’s Natural Resources Committee and the Uganda Women Parliamentarian Association. They want to obtain input on how to improve policy implementation to strengthen women’s rights and to enhance gender equity in forest decision-making. The meeting will also discuss how to scale up Adaptive Collaborative Management and to integrate it into government programs.

“Customary norms commonly mediate land and tree tenure over most of Africa, and usually limit women’s rights to land and trees even where policies and laws are supportive of women’s tenure rights,” says Esther Mwangi, Principal Scientist at CIFOR.

“This project aims at exploring what needs to be done to strengthen women’s rights especially in settings where customary norms are biased against women’s tree and land tenure.”

Farmer Nejjemba Teopista working in a communal garden at Kangulumira, Uganda. Sean Sprague/CARITAS
Empowering women

Coming back to Ficus natalensis. It is a multi-purpose tree that is highly suitable for agroforestry because it can be used as fodder and firewood, and as timber for furniture or boats.

Most importantly, its bark is used to produce bark cloth, which is used for traditional functions and burial ceremonies. Due to the age-old cultural taboo surrounding its planting, women were deprived of this significant source of income. But following the ACM sensitization meetings organized by CIFOR and AUPWAE, 50 out of 99 women group members have planted Ficus. Five of them have even been able to sell bark cloth and benefit economically.

Among them is Mrs. Mukwaya. “Because of confidence building acquired in the many ACM activities, I have been able to persuade my husband to allow me plant Ficus trees intercropped with my coffee and I have now started benefiting economically by selling bark cloth,” she says.

The ACM meetings are prompting more women to negotiate with their husbands to allow them to plant Ficus.

“This outcome is significan,” Mwangi says. “Ficus is turned from a tree once forbidden to women to one that women can not only plant but also sell at a profit.”

“It shows that discriminatory tenure can be turned around, and that customary norms are negotiable rather than etched in stone. Some of the lessons generated here can be used in other settings in Uganda and elsewhere.”

Concepta Mukasa, AUPWAE, indicates that obtaining women rights requires getting men’s confidence and support and this requires working together with men in all activities.

This research was supported by the Austrian Development Agency.

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