Category Archives: Capacity building

My Bwindi experiance

Today marks my 16th day in Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (famously known as ‘Bwindi’). This is the land of the mountain gorillas that am yet to see and cross off my bucket list of 100 things I want to do in life. Just when I thought I had had enough of the Seattle rains and the cold weather, Bwindi sits at an elevation of almost close to 3000 feet, way colder than I had imagined, and feels to me like winter…only this time there’s no snow present. Apparently am told this is the hot/dry weather season…I can only imagine what is in store for the cold season! The dry season I know of in Kenya actually  means drought…the hot sun shining through the open grassland savannas and the strong winds blowing through virtually any vegetation cover spared by the scorching sun. I look around and the place is lush green and full of life with no indication of dry visible…maybe except for the white dust on the roads.

As I write I have actually lost track of dates and days. Everyday feels the same since you cannot tell the difference between a week day and a weekend.  Everyone seems to get the hang of it except me. At least I know it’s Friday today because it’s ‘movie’ night, a tradition that has been practiced at ITFC for God knows how long. Am amazed at the excitement all around, and Badru, the well re-known master DJ is busy setting up all the gear in place.

Well, one thing is for sure…this is a tea drinking zone. With temperatures as cold as this, I have succumbed to taking refuge in the Ugandan tea and the very famous ground nuts to keep me sane. I love the foods here, Valentino Sigirenda; one of the camp-keepers has ensured that I add an extra kilogram because his meals are way too irresistible. He makes the best chapatis and I have fallen victim to his delicious meals, especially the peanut sauce.

The kind of hospitality I have received here is one that I will always appreciate for sure. I have made new sets of friends and have received so much love and support and I trust the next two months will be no different. Am all settled in and ready to start working on a project that I will be assisting with. A simple monitoring tool for local community use in Bwindi’s Multiple use zones. I am excited about the project and hopefully I’ll get to learn a bit of the local language somewhere along the way as I interact with the local community members.

Veryl and friends from a walk

Exploring Bwindi thanks to the new friends.

If they make me love the place, I will hopefully return to pursue my Msc research and hopefully  make new friends with the gorillas 🙂


Conservation Throught Poverty Alleviation Interim Workshop

This week we are updating you on the Darwin Initiative and DFID (Department for International Development, UK) – funded Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA) project. Last Tuesday (12th March), ITFC hosted various partners of the CTPA project and Integrated Conservation and Development (ICD) practitioners for the Interim Research Workshop, which aimed to update them all on the project’s progression, as well as debut the new database tool, one of the legacies of this project.

Dr. Michelle Wieland introducing the research users database (Photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Dr. Michelle Wieland introducing the research users database (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

ITFC welcomed Dr Julia Baker all the way from the UK, as well as other partners and ICD stakeholder organisations, including key organisations such as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) and ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment). The packed schedule for this interactive workshop kicked-off bright and early, starting with a series of short presentations on the key findings so far. The day also included cohort discussions, question and answer sessions and group-work based on the main topics from the presentations. There was also a demonstration of the new database tool on ‘Wellbeing and Livelihood Needs of Resource Users around Bwindi’, which was developed through this project in order to help inform ICD practitioners about the ‘who & why’ of resource use – to understand the people behind the numbers, and uncover peoples’ motivations behind unauthorised resource use and bush meat hunting.

Group work session

Group work session (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Stephen Asuma telling us about the forgotten stakeholders around Bwindi

Stephen Asuma telling us about the forgotten stakeholders around Bwindi (photo by Andrew Kirkby)


All in all, it was a great day; the workshop ran smoothly and everyone had a great time, getting thoroughly involved, contributing to discussions and voicing their opinions. Group-work sessions were particularly fruitful, producing diverse and abundant outputs to the focus questions, and fulfilling the aim of encouraging dialogue and collaboration between ICD stakeholder organisations. There was even a great media output (in the form of a radio broadcast and a newspaper article), thanks to Arans Tabaruka, a journalist for KBS radio & the Daily Monitor. The other aims, including debuting the database and updating everyone on the research were also fulfilled, and everyone was complimentary of the project. UWA’s Chief Warden for Bwindi & Mgahinga was particularly pleased with the day and grateful for the research, particularly the database tool that promises to help improve future ICD schemes around the park, helping improve community livelihoods and wellbeing, park – community relations and conservation success!


Dr. Robert Bitariho leading the discussion on the future of the resource user database

Dr. Robert Bitariho leading the discussion on the future of the resource user database (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

We’ll be back soon with more news from ITFC.


Lucy & Andrew

Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA)

This week we are introducing the Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA) project, run by Medard Twinamatsiko (ITFC’s Social Research Leader). This three-year integrated conservation and development (ICD) project, funded by The Darwin Initiative, is run jointly by The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with support from Imperial College London and Cambridge University.

ICD schemes in the form of allocation of resource use in multiple-use zones are already in place in Bwindi; the CTPA project intends to build on this and support Uganda’s capacity to link biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation through research to better understand the drivers of unsustainable resource use in protected areas that are critical to the survival of endangered species (e.g. the Mountain Gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in Bwindi). This understanding will then be used to shape policies and practices so that conservation is achieved while simultaneously supporting local livelihoods. The project ultimately aims to improve ICD policy in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and replicate the programme in other protected areas within Uganda in the future .

To gain some firsthand insights into the research phase, Andrew and I joined Medard on Monday to attend a meeting with CPI (Community Protected Area Institution) parish representatives. CPIs were developed to provide a link between communities, local governments and protected areas, and this meeting was to discuss the effectiveness of the scheme before the project was halted two years ago by UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority).

We made our way down from Ruhija to Ikumba to meet with Gerina, Alex and Mary, three CPI representatives. After the introductions took place, the discussion slipped into Rukiga, with Medard keeping us up to speed. The CPI representatives saw the scheme as highly important for integrating communities in conservation. They shared their personal experiences as CPI representatives, how the scheme could be improved, as well as any other ideas or recommendations they had.


Medard meeting with CPIs

Medard meeting with CPIs

Later in the day we joined-up with field researchers for CPTA, who were conducting household surveys of authorised and unauthorised resource users and their neighbours to elucidate the effectiveness of multiple-use zones, and how poverty might drive illegal activity. Arrests and details of unauthorised forest users are also documented, and through GIS mapping (thanks to Andrew’s GIS skills) maps are being generated to help illustrate these activities and reveal trends in the data.

CTPA researchers off to survey households

CTPA researchers off to survey households

ITFC field researchers collecting data for CTPA project

ITFC field researchers collecting data for CTPA project


‘Anybody addressing the fate of tropical forests must confront peoples’ needs and perceptions if they are to achieve equitable and acceptable conservation and land use outcome…’(excerpt from Ghazoul and Sheil, 2011. Tropical Rainforest Ecology, Diversity and Conservation). Watch this space for updates on this exceptional project as well as more news from ITFC.


Lucy & Andrew

The Press or the science journal? Where should a scientist look first?

As long ago as 2005, a Norwegian scientist published research findings in a science journal stating that the lives of people living on certain slopes of Mt. Elgon were in danger because of looming landslides. However, neither community members nor local authorities got this information early enough to migrate from danger. On the 1st March 2010, the settlement suffered from landslides that left 92 people dead, 300 people missing and 300,000 displaced.

“Just being able to conduct your research, write a thesis and publish a paper in a peer reviewed scientific journal isn’t enough. Most scientists are funded by the public, not by journals. Why then spend millions of public funds on a study, only to publish findings in a scientific journal and not in the relevant local press?” Martin Robbins of The Guardian (UK) mused.

Such is the tone of proceedings at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) science communication workshop, that took place in Nairobi last week. With about 25 science journalists and 7 communication officers (of research institutes) from various African countries, the main theme of the training was to equip journalists with a better understanding of science methods and skills to effectively report science. At the same time, it trained communication officers in ways to get research findings published in the mass media. INASP and their Nairobi partners – Information Africa Organization -facilitated the training. Media houses represented included Uganda’s Nation Group, New Vision and Observer, Namibia’s New Era, Nigeria’s Observer and Guardian and many others from Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia, Somalia and Kenya.

Science communicators from 9 African countries

Science communicators from 9 African countries

In one of the sessions, communication officers and journalists were asked to air their opinions about each other. Interesting  issues were raised:

  • Scientists and their communication officers only consider publishing in peer reviewed journals worthwhile and seldom consider contacting the local press about their study’s findings.
  • While writing press releases, there is a tendency for research communication officers to emphasize their institution’s image rather than the actual issue of the release.
  • Researchers are often uncooperative with the press. They only want to bring in journalists after publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Journalists on the other hand, feel they need to be informed from an early stage in the study.
  • When researchers contact the press, they often provide expert information that is hard to be interpreted by a common journalist.
  • Research institutes should outline duties and responsibilities for their communication officers that include attending to the public, through the media. Time and finances ought to be budgeted for this.

For over 6 hours, Owuor Otula (a veteran journalist and publisher of Science Africa) took us through drills of how to write publishable press statements, ways of managing excellent media relations, ways of regularly developing stories from research institutes to the mass media, and how to interest the mass media with the institutes’ researchers and studies. It was exciting!

The training closed with participants being awarded certificates and also being enrolled into a one-year mentoring program still aimed at enhancing the quality of science communication in Africa. This program is coordinated by INASP and the African Federation of science Journalists (AFSJ).

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Going by the daily evaluations, our understanding and perceptions of science communication changed significantly during the training. Learning to communicate research better and to the right audience may be the basis for preventing fatalities such as the Mt. Elgon case mentioned above.

from a cool Nairobi?

Greetings from a cool (and confused?) Nairobi.


MUST and ITFC hold Collaboration and Research Opportunities Workshop

On Wednesday Feb. 8th, ITFC held a workshop at our mother institute Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).

Over 35 participants from medicine, psychology, physics, biology, computer science and many other disciplines convened at Acacia Hotel in Mbarara to take part in the collaborative workshop hosted by the Faculty of Science and ITFC. The morning opened with a welcome from Dr. Julius Lejju, the Associate Dean, Faculty of Science.
Dr. Julius expressed his appreciation that ITFC had taken the initiative to reach-out to fellow university units, presenting its work and various collaboration opportunities. He then invited the ITFC Director, Dr. Douglas Sheil to present an overview about ITFC and its programs.

Douglas giving an overview of ITFC

Douglas giving an overview of ITFC

The workshop was also graced with the presence of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr. Pamela Mbabazi. In her remarks, she emphasized the need to take up the goldmine of opportunities availed by ITFC for the university, more especially because of its strategic location. She went on encouraging each department to devise a way of developing a synergy for collaboration with ITFC. “I would like to see a real action plan for this purpose. For some reason we seem to accept ITFC as a part of MUST but we seem so far apart. Let’s take on this opportunity now” She urged.

The D.Vice Chancellor and ITFC Director having a chat during the coffee break

The D.Vice Chancellor and some of the ITFC staff having a chat during the coffee break

Three other ITFC researches gave presentations before we broke out into discussion groups. Each group was tasked to find practical solutions to the question: “ How can collaboration between ITFC and our department be strengthened?”

Group discussions (1)

Group discussions (1)

Group discussions (2)

Group discussions (2)

Group discussions (3)
                                            Group Discussions (3)

What came out from the discussions were numerous approaches for strengthening the relationship and how each department can seize the opportunities at ITFC; by for example writing joint grant proposals, having regular field visits by MUST staff and students to ITFC, including field courses in the curriculum of university programs so that students have a hands-on field experience. Already the Faculty of Medicine is planning to send a number of students to be based at ITFC for their community practice later this year. On February 15th, the Faculty of Development studies is sending a delegation to ITFC, and a two weeks after a group from the Institute of Computer Science shall visit ITFC.

Dr. Nkurunungi JB presenting his group's deliberations

Dr. Nkurunungi J.B. presenting his group's deliberations

Perhaps most importantly, it was clear that all participants really want to get this going.

A group photo of the participants

A group photo of the participants

Special appreciation to all the MUST staff and participants who saw to it that the workshop was a success.


Bwindi’s Teachers Receive Environmental Education Training

Conflicts and disagreements between park managers (UWA) and the neighboring communities have existed ever since the gazetting of Bwindi Impenetrable National park. This is partly attributed to the limited local awareness of the forest’s environmental and conservation value. Environmental education offers one solution.

The environment and how to protect it has to be a central part of education and school curricula. For this reason,  ITFC invited the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) who have a lot of experience with this in the region, to conduct environmental education training for primary school teachers near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.  It was just last week that we finally hosted a four-day workshop at our Conservation Education Center. We had 28 local teachers participating.  The training was facilitated by three Canadian volunteers under the supervision of JGI’s Education Officer Aidan Asekenye.

Twenty Eight teachers from around Bwindi during the EE training

Twenty eight teachers came from around Bwindi to attend the EE training

The main aim of the workshop was to prepare the teachers to become champions for environmental conservation within their schools and wider communities. Teachers were also equipped with methods of infusing environmental education in the curricula of four primary school subjects (of Maths, English, Social studies and Science).

After taking a guided forest walk in Bwindi and later through the nearby community, teachers were asked to raise  the key environmental issues and also suggest solutions to these issues. Among the challenges identified were poor waste disposal, declining water quality, poor farming methods, and a high human population density as a threat to the conservation of Bwindi.

Through a series of interactive discussions, the teachers were helped to come up with practical solutions  not only to these issues but also to the other global environmental challenges like global warming, wildlife habitat loss,etc. Each teacher was given an opportunity to illustrate how best they could articulate these solutions into their daily lesson planning without necessarily teaching environmental education as an independent subject. After each presentation the audience were invited to suggest improvements to the proposed lesson plan, e.g. how could it be made more engaging and hands-on?

The workshop ended with each participant receiving a Teachers’ Guide Environmental Education information pack and a certificate of attendance.  They also received an evaluation questionnaire which they shall post back after six months to document what they believe they have accomplished as a result of the training.

A group photo of the participants and some of their facilitators

A group photo of the participants and some of their facilitators

If we can raise the funding, we hope we can extend these activities to more schools and communities. We hope that the communities and park authorities will work more closely because they agree that Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and their mountain gorillas should have a long-term future.  That’s our vision.  That’s what we work for.


Beautiful pictures from the Rwenzori expedition

Dear friends of ITFC,

Our team has descended from setting up the GLORIA plots on the Rwenzori Mountains! We expect them back at the station later today.

WCS’ Anton Seimon, who trained the team came back a few days earlier and send us some pictures. We share them here with you, as the beauty of this place is really stunning. But some suffering was unavoidable: they had it tough, with days of snow fall, wet feet after walking through the bogs and worries about one of the porters who fell sick and had to be rescued from above 4000 m.a.s.l.

Here is a glimps of where they were and what they saw (courtesy Anton):


Camp at Guy Yeoman, surrounded by giant groundsels (a Senecio spp)


Time for relaxing (and warming up?). This picture does not make it look that rough!


Vegetation? Does anyone see it? Quite a different environment for forest researchers from Bwindi!


The team at work laying out a GLORIA plot


The grid used in the detailed description of the high altitude vegetation plots


All these meters of rope can get quite in the way! The greyish shrub is one of the Helichrysum ‘everlasting flowers’.


The team surrounded by giant groundsel rozettes and old flower stems.



And last but not least; what is left over of the glaciers on Rwenzori’s tops…

Soon more from their experience up there in the ‘abode of the little gods’,


ITFC sets up the first African GLORIA plots on Mount Rwenzori

Dear followers of ITFC’s blog

We have just come back from the footslopes of the Rwenzori mountains, on the border between Uganda and DR-Congo. We had a 1-day workshop there to introduce a new monitoring activity: ITFC will lead a new study that will set up high altitude plots (well above the treeline, around 4000 m.a.s.l.) to follow temperature and vegetation trends over decades to come. These are the first such plots in Africa!

Climate change is expected to hit hardest and fastest at high altitudes, where plants are adapted to cold and have little area to move to once it gets too warm. A perfect setting for research on the impact of climate change! We need data to know what is happening.


GLORIA trainer Stephan Halloy -of The Nature Conservancy- explains what impact climate change may have on species at high altitude.

For over a decade mountain researchers from around the world have developed and agreed a protocol for standardised data collection, called ‘GLORIA’ (Global Alpine Research Initiative in Alpine Environments). Plots have been set up in the Alps, and other parts of Europe, and more recently in the Andes, New Zealand and Asia. But until now not in Africa. The team ITFC put together is setting up the plots on the Rwenzori mountains right now. Included in the team are staff of the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s Research and Monitoring unit, WCS’s botanist Ben Kirunda who has some alpine experience, and ITFC staff Fredric Ssali, Robert Barigyira and Badru Mugerwa.

We had also invited local community members to the planning and training workshop. The mountain, and particularly its snow covered parts, are the abode of the ‘little gods’ of the Bakonjo who live on Rwenzori’s footslopes. They consider the mountain their cultural home and do not like to see their gods disturbed. Their elders shared the ‘cultural behavioral guidelines’ to be followed while on the mountain with the team and two members of their cultural organisation joined the expedition as guides. Rules include to avoid pointing at any of the peaks of the mountain and to referain from referrring to them by their sacred names.


Community representatives listen to the presentations and contributed their views on climate change and what the team should avoid doing on the mountain to stay on good terms with the “little gods”

After the workshop, we sorted out all the scientific, camping and personal equipment for the team; an impressive quantity! In the night, a thunderstorm broke loose and rain pounded the roofs for 4 hours… It made us think about how conditions for camping on the mountain would be, but according to the local people, this was Rwenzori’s welcome and a positive omen!


Over 40 porters assisted bringing up the required gear and food for the GLORIA team


RMNP’s Research & Monitoring ranger Alfred Masereka briefs the team before starting the ascent


Our GLORIA team just before entering Rwenzori Mountains National Park

The team started climbing in good spirits: it will take 3 days to get to the base camp from where they will select sites for the plots. We look forward to their stories ‘from above’!

Miriam and Douglas

ITFC and UWA hold Information Sharing Workshop

Last week, from 12 to 15 April, ITFC resembled a bee-hive. The usually quiet Conservation Education Centre in Ruhija suddenly became filled with chatter and laughter of visitors from all over Uganda, and even Rwanda. They had come to participate in the annual ITFC-UWA Information Sharing workshop, which theme was “Emerging issues and challenges of natural resource management in Albertine Rift protected areas.”

Apart from our own scholarship students, research and project staff and Wardens from Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, partner organizations present included the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, CARE, the Batwa organization UOBDU, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda. In total, this 2011 workshop was attended by some 45 participants.

Guest of honor was Prof. Frederick Kayanja -the Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science amd Technology and long time patron of ITFC- who opened the workshop and reminded the audience that the institute came into being 20 years ago, roughly at the same time that Bwindi was gazetted as National Park.

Participants discussing during the workshop

Participants discussing during the workshop

Otherwise, the first day was dedicated to MSc and PhD research projects, some completed and some still ongoing, as well as presentations by partner organisations about their activities. The range of topics was truly broad; from UWA’s overview of park management challenges to inventories of small creatures like parasitic plants and rodents. At the end of a long Day 1, participants were still happy to stretch their legs and went into Bwindi forest to visit a permanent sample plot for the Multiple Use Program. Others visited ITFCs’ automated climate station, and the ethno-botanical garden.


Visiting a Permanent Sample Multiple Use Plot

The second day was dedicated to presenting preliminary recommendations from two of ITFC’s research programmes, on resource harvesting in Bwindi and uptake of problem animal control measures, and seeking feedback from participants. Robert Bitariho and Emmanuel Akampulira gave presentations, and invited participants to discuss in break-out groups.

For example, one of Robert’s recommendations to improve management of resource use by communities was that “Resource Use agreements with UWA should not be made at parish level, but rather with smaller groups (e.g. village level)”. Some participants strongly supported this, saying that smaller, more homogeneous groups would be more cohesive and have shared interests. They even went as far as to suggest that groups should be organized around a specific resource (e.g. weaving materials and medicinal plants respectively). UWA and others, on the other hand, expressed worries about the practicability of such a change.


Partitipants broke into smaller workgroup sessions

Emmanuel recommended that stakeholder coordination is essential for Human Wildlife Conflict measures to be successful. Roles and responsibilities of each party, including government, should be clearly defined and agreed with all present. Currently this is not the case. Participants discussed that incentives are required to motivate people. Since UWA/government ‘will always be there’ (as opposed to NGOs), they should be the ones taking the lead in sustainable intervention management, with other stakeholders supporting where they are able.

Participants confirmed the importance of workshops like this, where information and recommendations from research is discussed with a wider audience, and is not just “gathering dust and lichens on shelves!”—as one participant described it. Pontius Ezuma (acting Conservation Area Manager) was positive that a lot of the available knowledge from research will be useful in drawing a new 10 year management plan for Bwindi and Mgahinga. He invited ITFC to again be part of the process, planned for this year. He also implored participants to continue doing research for the sake of conservation. “I know that conducting research is not easy, it’s costly in terms of finance, effort and time. Look at your contributions not only in terms of a few years from now, but also 10 or 100 years. Our parents’ generation left us these forests and we appreciate it; let us make sure we leave something good behind for the next generation too!” Pontius said, shortly before closing the workshop.


Some of the Participants

From then on, it was time for entertainment in form of traditional music and dance from the Ruhija Children’s Group, drinks, nyama-kyoma (goat roasting) and more partying which ended late in the night.

We are very grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for financially supporting this annual event.


Participants enjoying a traditional Bakiga Dance

Well, if you missed out, be comforted that all presentations can soon be accessed from our website ( And you could book yourself early for a slot in the 2012 workshop!

A new camera, donated by Wildlife Direct!

Hello readers.

This is Christopher, who is extremely happy with the Sony camera that was donated to ITFC by Wildlife Direct; thank you so much!

When Enoch Mobisa of Wildlife Direct came to see us in Bwindi, I happened to be in the field. Others who were at the station got the chance to have a presentation by Enoch and share ideas with him, and it was so unfortunate that I missed him. However, when I came back to the station, I received the good news that ITFC bloggers were given a Sony camera.

enoch gives camera.jpg

Enoch hands over the camera to Douglas (photo used in earlier blog)

Miriam, the Deputy Director of ITFC who likes blogging herself and who often gives a hand in me writing stories, gave me the camera to try out. It was only my second camera to use, earlier I had used hers. But this is a better one! It’s good to have a camera, because a blog is so much nicer with photos.

During my next field work around Ruhija, I took a lot of pictures of our team that was monitoring the harvested plants. You will soon see the results and I hope you enjoy.


Our waterfall in Ruhija; a new tourist destination?


Just taking a picture of my colleagues, on a GPS walk in the forest

Thanks again to the Wildlife Direct management for their helping hand. With the right equipment available, we are motivated to push ahead!