A Biodiversity and Eco-Tourism Center Commissioned in the Lake Opeta Ramsar Site

24 April 2012 | Article

The first Biodiversity and Eco-Tourism Centre of Lake Opeta Ramsar site at Magoro CCA in Katakwi District, was recently commissioned by Hon. Jessica Alupo, Minister of Education and Sports at Magoro Sub County. The occasion was also used to celebrate World Wetlands Day 2012 at the District Local Government Level under the theme, “Wetlands Tourism a Great Experience” and slogan, “Responsible Tourism Supports Wetlands”.

The establishment of the Centre is one of the activities under The Community-Based Wetland Biodiversity Conservation (COBWEB) Project which is being implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in collaboration with the Wetlands Management Department (WMD) of the Ministry of Water and Environment, Nature Uganda (NU), Uganda Wildlife Society (UWS) and District Local Governments. The project, under the name “Extending Wetland Protected Areas through Community Conservation Initiatives” aims at strengthening the Uganda National Protected Area Network and is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) through UNDP Uganda Country Office.

In her remarks during the commissioning of the centre, Minister Alupo urged the communities to ensure that they manage the environment, particularly wetlands and forests, in order to benefit from the Biodiversity and Eco-Tourism Centre. She also appealed to the COBWEB Project Partners to scale up sensitization programs so that there is increased knowledge and awareness on the resources around them.

The Centre will be used as an information hub for Lake Opeta Ramsar Site biodiversity. Target users of information from the Centre include local and international tourists, academic researchers, wetland managers and practitioners. Management of the Biodiversity & Eco-Tourism Centre is to be handled by the community in Magoro Sub-County and returns are intended to enhance their livelihoods.

Paul Mafabi, the Acting Director for Environment Affairs in the Ministry of Water and Environment emphasized that wetland management is a collective responsibility that cuts across all sectors. “He also said that it was timely for Katakwi District Local Government to use the same occasion to celebrate the World Wetlands Day 2012 since it is in line with the theme of the year which is “Wetland Tourism, a Great Experience” and the slogan “Responsible Tourism Supports Wetlands”. The theme was also adopted for the 11th Meeting of Parties to the Ramsar Convention (Ramsar COP11) due in July 2012 in Bucharest, Romania. On that note he invited the Minister and stakeholders present to make effort to participate in the conference.

On behalf of the UNDP, Onesmus Muhwezi the Team Leader Energy and Environment, representing the Country Director, re-affirmed continued support to the COBWEB Project, both in Lake Bisina-Opeta in North-Eastern Uganda and L.Mburo-Nakivale Wetland System in South-Western Uganda.

The District Chairperson, Ekongot John Robert, pledged improved infrastructure to ensure that eco-tourism activities run smoothly. “We pledge to work on the road networks including the one in Kamenu Parish. We are also identifying land for an airstrip to allow easy access to the tourism sites and more funds will be allocated by the district council to support eco-tourism activities within the Ramsar Site”, he said. The event involved participants from various backgrounds including school children, local and cultural drama groups, officials from District Local Governments such as Ngora, Soroti and Ngora, technical staff from the COBWEB Project and line ministries.

Wetlands in Uganda are a key natural resource which communities rely on for their livelihoods as well as important havens of biodiversity. Unfortunately, many wetlands are threatened through encroachment due to farming and settlement. There is also a lack of appreciation how investing in the sustainable management of wetland areas can produce long term economic benefits. The Community-Based Wetland Biodiversity Conservation (COBWEB) Project aims to enhance conservation of these bio-diverse areas as well and ensure the benefits are shared at the community level.

Wetlands in Uganda are under threat from habitat degradation and the over exploitation of constituent resources and conversion to agriculture. Some 11,268km2 of the country’s wetlands were lost between 1994 and 2008 (WMD, 2009), representing a 4.7% loss in only 14 years. The COBWEB project is therefore piloting the Community Conservation Areas (CCA) model to extend the Protected Area (PA) network to include and protect wetland ecosystems adjacent to the terrestrial PA network in Uganda

For more information, please contact the Head of Office, IUCN Uganda on barbara.nakangu@iucn.org