bat biodiversity partnership - Ecosystem monitoring, restoration and sustainable management in tobacco growing areas in Uganda

The British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership, through the Tropical Biology Association and its partner in Uganda, Nature Harness Initiatives (NAHI), is working with British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) to help farmers to better monitor and manage the forest and freshwater ecosystems upon which they rely.

Background

Demand for natural resources, including agriculture, forestry and charcoal production, is putting significant pressure on native forests and watersheds in Uganda. Over the last 20 years, forest resources have been significantly reduced and current trends suggest some forests will be lost by 2015. Deterioration of watersheds has affected water resources and some rivers are starting to dry up.

Objectives

Forests and watersheds are vital for maintaining the ecosystem services upon which people depend for their health and livelihoods, such as water, soil and wood. As a company reliant upon these services, BATU is working with the Partnership to address its impacts and dependencies on ecosystem services and bring tangible benefits to local communities.

Key activities

In BATU’s main tobacco-growing districts, Hoima and Arua, land use information was collected and used to assess the impact on native forest resources. Studies showed that significant areas of forest and bushland have been converted to agriculture, for both subsistence and cash crops.

In Arua, this is now effectively being offset by planting trees and establishing woodlots; however, in Hoima, native forest continues to be cleared on a large scale. The Partnership’s efforts are focused on bringing the native forest in Hoima under sustainable management to go beyond reforestation and afforestation, and this will ensure that solutions are sustainable and embedded into BATU’s everyday operations.

Working with its in-country partners, NAHI, and local communities, the Partnership has established tree nurseries to restore over 1,000 hectares of degraded forest and grow trees to build ‘live’ barns for air-curing Burley tobacco. A typical BATU contracted farmer requires over 2,000 poles to build a tobacco barn and these are usually rebuilt every three to four years, but live barns, in which upright poles are replaced by living trees growing in situ, reduce wood use by about two-thirds.

In Arua, local communities have been given specific grazing rights for their cattle and permission to collect dead fuelwood in the BATU plantations, which is helping to reduce wildfires and protect the forest resources. In Hoima, the local communities have received specialist training to trial non-timber forest products such as bee-keeping and fruit trees. These initiatives incentivise farmers to conserve forests by giving them an alternative source of income.

As population growth continues to put pressure on land, many farmers are removing bankside vegetation along rivers, streams and ponds and converting the land to agriculture. This vegetation stabilises banks and protects the water from pollutants and silt running off the adjacent land. Removing the vegetation leads to pollution, siltation, eutrophication and the associated decline of freshwater biodiversity, and, ultimately, the drying up of water bodies. A research project led by the Tropical Biology Association found that the accelerated run-off of nutrients from fertilised agriculture into streams was leading to the deterioration of some freshwater systems in the region.

"Partnership activities have helped to bring British American Tobacco Uganda closer to conservation agencies in Uganda to the extent that BATU has been recognised as one of the key private sector players that contribute to biodiversity conservation."
Paul Hatanga, Conservation Officer, The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT)

 

In response, the Tropical Biology Association has developed a tool to rapidly assess freshwater quality in East African catchments and determine sources of pollution on adjacent land. This tool can easily be used by extension workers, with only a minimal amount of training, and has greatly raised awareness of the need for freshwater conservation among British American Tobacco staff.

In addition, the Partnership has implemented a holistic programme of work to restore and conserve bankside habitats in Hoima through reforestation, awareness raising and training. The programme has overseen the planting of indigenous trees along degraded river banks, directly supporting national legislation, and the development of awareness-raising tools and materials to support this.

Conservation awareness messages have been developed and integrated into the passbooks of over 30,000 BATU contracted farmers and five prominently placed signboards, endorsed by the National Environmental Monitoring Authority (NEMA), have been erected. A variety of other media have also been developed and distributed.  

Outcomes

By taking a leading role, the Partnership has brought together a range of stakeholders to work with BATU to improve sustainable management practices. This model of working has resulted in a positive impact, through demonstrating best practice and engaging with local communities. Furthermore, it has the potential to bring about change on a wider scale which will help tobacco and non-tobacco stakeholders address their dependencies on forest and freshwater ecosystem services.

Africa