Bigodi village is situated in the highlands of Western Uganda, in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains, the famous “Mountains of the Moon”. The Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary forms an important wildlife corridor for Kibale National Park (KNP), which has the highest density of primate life in the world in its forests. The wetland is located in Kamwenge district, 5 kilometers south of famous chimpanzee viewing site at Kanyanchu, in KNP.
The main tourist attractions include primate species such as Black and White Colubus, Red Colubus, Baboon, Grey Cheeked Mangabey, Red Tailed Monkey, Blue and Vervet Monkeys, and the L’Hoest Monkey. There are over 200 bird species recorded in the area including the elusive Great Blue Turaco and the national bird, the Crested Crane.
Here in and around the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary, the non-governmental organisation KAFRED – Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development – uses ecotourism and other environmentally sustainable businesses to promote biodiversity conservation and community development.
KAFRED’s vision is to promote conservation, reduce poverty, and develop local communities. And the goals are: to conserve the environment in and around Bigodi Wetlands; to improve the quality of life of the people in and around Bigodi Wetland; to reduce poverty by increasing economic well-being and opportunities available to the Bigodi community through ecotourism and IGA’s; and to continually increase the organizational capacity of KAFRED, its effectiveness and efficiency in the community, and the quality of its activities.
Eco-tourism activities include guided nature walks through the wetland, an interpretive village walk, agro-tourism, homestays, traditional meals, dance and drama performances and handicrafts making demonstrations. The swamp walks are operated by trained guides, and take place via boardwalks constructed through the wetlands. The village walks, meanwhile, were initiated to allow tourists to see the traditional ways of living within the village. The activities include visiting the primary school, the church, and a traditional healer, and hearing about the role of women in the village, traditional ceremonies, and the story of the “Village of Two Tribes”. This refers to the history of Bigodi, in which the indigenous Batooro were joined by the migrating Bakiga, from south-western Uganda, in the mid 1950s. A founding member of KAFRED is pioneering homestays and traditional meals and has so far registered impressive results. The home receives over 50 visitors a month translating into over USD5,000 per annum. Others include a walk through agricultural fields, dance & drama and handicrafts making demonstrations.
KAFRED’s socio-economic impact within Bigodi has been through its investment of tourism revenues in projects such as:
- The construction of all structure contributing to student’s fees and teachers salaries at Bigodi secondary school. The school started 1993 with 20 students but has 320 students today; it has since graduated over 1,000 students.
- Support to the community health centre by providing housing for midwives
- 90 women of Bigodi Women’s groups helped start eco-businesses such as handicrafts, tree planting and savings and credits
- Started an interest-free eco-business revolving loan scheme for 150 families (about 1,320 individuals) neighbouring the Bigodi wetland
- Supported the building of more than 200 fuel-efficient stoves and planting more than 10,000 indigenous tree species for fuel wood
- Constructed a safe gravity water project that benefits over 100 families
- Directly employs 54 local people as tour guides, teachers and support staff. KAFRED’s construction projects have employed about 300 and 200 people are employed indirectly through the hotel, food, accommodation and souvenir businesses.
KAFRED demonstrates to the local community that our livelihoods depend on natural resources. Wetlands that have traditionally been seen as wastelands have been proved to be a source of livelihood as they continue to provide the traditional resources and other ecosystem services. Most local NGO’s either use a top-bottom approach or have foreigners leading them but KAFRED is entirely owned and run by locals. Women and other marginalised groups are brought on board. At least 70 women have been equipped with skills to tap tourism income through the development and marketing of handicrafts that have traditionally been a leisure activity. Another group of 25 women do dance and drama performances to generate tourism income.
On average, between 1993 and 2000, KAFRED received 1,500 visitors a year; between 2004 and 2016, the numbers have increased to 4,000 per annum. This has led to a corresponding increase in revenue from visitors and employment of local people. Currently KAFRED generates an average of USD60,000pa from walks; an estimated income of USD 80,000 p.a. is indirectly generated through spill over businesses such as hotel, food, accommodation, souvenirs etc. The entire community is involved in the planning process.
However, KAFRED still has challenges and these include: human-wildlife conflict e.g. crop raiding by primates and birds that live in the wetland; construction of a new tarmac road through the wetland that is likely to cause increased wildlife deaths and unnecessary floods; increased population thus need for more land hence pressure on the wetland; the ever increasing community needs, need to diversify income generating projects to avoid dependency on tourism for income.
KAFRED put in place simple participatory byelaws. They were developed in consultation with both the tourists and the local community:
A) Guidelines for the host community
- Ensure tourism benefits to a wider community!
- Put in place garbage disposal systems!
- Ensure proper customer care and avoid complaints!
- Remember the qualities of a guide and practice them!
- Have a first aid kit!
- Put in place schedules and other information displays for activities and remember to keep time!
- Ensure safety of the visitors property!
- Be friendly and professional!
- Ensure safety of the visitors and their property!
- Conserve the environment – that’s why visitors come!
- Use simple and understandable language. Do not change your accent!
- Avoid begging by both adults and children!
- Guides should not lobby for tips, tourists do not come to solve the problems of the World!
- Never give false information – learn to say NO!
- Do not be undisciplined!
- Do not confront visitors, use your communication skills!
- Avoid sharing your personal problems with the visitors – keep remembering they are on holiday!
- No overcharging visitors or introducing fees in the middle of an activity. have a package fee or give prior warnings!
- Do not engage in sexual relationships with visitors in your community or workplace!
- Do not introduce unrelated businesses to visitors. Remember its ecotourism!
B) Guidelines for the visitors/tourists
- Conserve the environment, e.g. use availed trash bins!
- Respect the culture of the local people!
- Cooperate with other visitors and the host community. Be friendly and respectful!
- Have your own insurance and first aid!
- Take an extra step and support the community in conservation and community development projects!
- Follow the community procedures, e.g. sign registration books!
- Pay the designated fees and get official receipts!
- Take enough drinking water, rain gear and other personal needs on the walk!
- Have fun!
- Carry out illegal businesses such as trade in wildlife!
- Use drugs!
- Use provocative language in public!
- Make unnecessary movements; ask for advice or walk with a guide!
- Take photographs of humans without prior information/permission!
- Take more than photographs and souvenirs and leave more than footprints, cash payments and gifts!
- Give handouts to children – it encourages begging. Give gifts in an organized way, e.g. community leader or head teachers of schools!
- Buy goods displayed on the trail, it discourages children from going to school. These products are available for sell in our visitors centre!
- Make noise while on the walk or walk off the trail – keep with the group!
KAFRED has been very successful and won awards at national, regional and international levels – most recently the TO DO-Award 2017.
That´s what the jury said about the project: “Bigodi, represented by KAFRED, shows that environmental protection and tourism adapted to the local conditions can develop an entire region. It is not only the number of tourists or the amount of money earned that determines the success of the project. … Investments, financed with money from tourism which may not seem worth mentioning in the Western world, can indeed – through consistent work and participation over 25 years – change a small world in a significant manner.“
More about Bigodi Tourism.
Author: Tinka John /KAFRED
KAFRED was founded in 1992, and uses ecotourism and other environmentally sustainable businesses to promote biodiversity conservation and community development in and around the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary. KAFRED is a community based organization that is registered as an NGO in Uganda. Membership has grown from 06 members in 1992 through 31 members in 1996 to over 150 today. Full members pay a fee; however, swamp neighbors are automatically registered as non-voting members and become full members by paying half the fees. The growth in membership indicates that more people are getting to understand and appreciate the vision and mission of KAFRED and therefore own it. KAFRED holds Annual General Meetings and monthly committee meetings. The committee of nine members is democratically elected every two years. It helps to oversee the activities of the organization and reports to the Annual General Assembly. A third of the committee members are women.