Conservation and Society

: 2016  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 183--194

The Political Economy of Conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda: Between Local Deprivation, Regional Sustainability, and Global Public Goods

Paul Vedeld1, Connor Cavanagh2, Jon Geir Petursson3, Charlotte Nakakaawa1, Ricarda Moll1, Espen Sjaastad1,  
1 Department of Internal Environment and Development Studies, Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway
2 Department of Internal Environment and Development Studies, Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya
3 Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland

Correspondence Address:
Paul Vedeld
Department of Internal Environment and Development Studies, Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås


This paper presents a case study from Mount Elgon National Park, Uganda, examining and deepening an understanding of direct incomes and costs of conservation for local people close to protected areas. In the early 1990s, collaborative arrangements were introduced to Mount Elgon National Park to improve people-park relations and enhance rural livelihoods after a period of violent evictions and severe resource access restrictions. In areas with such arrangements – including resource access agreements, Taungya farming, and beekeeping schemes – we observe a marginal increase in annual incomes for involved households. Other incomes accrue from tourism revenue sharing schemes, a community revolving fund, and payments for carbon sequestration. However, these incomes are economically marginal (1.2% of household income), unevenly distributed and instrumentally used to reward compliance with park regulations. They do not necessarily accrue to those incurring costs due to eviction and exclusion, crop raiding, resource access restrictions and conflicts. By contrast, costs constitute at least 20.5 % of total household incomes, making it difficult to see how conservation, poverty alleviation and development can be locally reconciled if local populations continue to bear the economic brunt of conservation. We recommend a shift in policy towards donor and state responsibility for compensating costs on a relevant scale. Such a shift would be an important step towards a more substantive rights-based model of conservation, and would enhance the legitimacy of protected area management in the context of both extreme poverty and natural resource dependence.

How to cite this article:
Vedeld P, Cavanagh C, Petursson JG, Nakakaawa C, Moll R, Sjaastad E. The Political Economy of Conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda: Between Local Deprivation, Regional Sustainability, and Global Public Goods.Conservat Soc 2016;14:183-194

How to cite this URL:
Vedeld P, Cavanagh C, Petursson JG, Nakakaawa C, Moll R, Sjaastad E. The Political Economy of Conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda: Between Local Deprivation, Regional Sustainability, and Global Public Goods. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Mar 30 ];14:183-194
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Full Text


Conservation does not come for free. The global history of enclosure for the establishment of protected areas is marked by major conflicts, especially in societies where livelihoods are characterised by small-scale agriculture or pastoralism and wherein significant proportions of household incomes are derived from natural resources (e.g. Adams and Hutton 2007; Vedeld et al. 2007). In such contexts, physical or economic displacement in the name of conservation constitutes a major challenge for local people – economically as well as culturally and politically. In this sense, protected area management inevitably articulates with other key governance issues such as human rights, empowerment, participation, and democracy; in other words, with the very substance of liberal citizenship (Brockington and Igoe 2006). But at the core of these concerns is an important economic debate that is essential for fully understanding these conflicts and identifying solutions (Igoe 2006): namely, the political economy of conservation in general and the allocation and distribution of costs for biodiversity conservation in developing countries in particular.

Forest and biodiversity conservation generates public goods at multiple scales, far beyond benefits to the communities living in or close to conservation areas. At the regional scale, protected areas provide a number of crucial ecosystem services, such as water catchment enhancement, natural hazard mitigation and access to a variety of both timber and non-timber forest products. Individual protected areas also contribute to the maintenance of global public goods, such as the mitigation of climatic change and the conservation of the Earth's biological and genetic heritage.

While we certainly acknowledge these regional and global benefits of conservation, our approach foregrounds a more fine-grained analysis of economic issues in this context, with a specific focus on direct local costs and benefits. This implies both a narrowing compared to a social cost and benefit analysis at national or even global levels, and a concentration on a part of these costs and benefits, namely the direct local incomes (and costs) to protected area-adjacent populations. Nonetheless, we pursue such a fine-grained analysis of these specific variables in acknowledgement that dispossession and other adverse economic outcomes are some of the most salient drivers of anti-conservation attitudes among local populations – attitudes that may ultimately challenge the sustainability of both the regional and global public goods provided by conservation efforts in the long term. Moreover, if the burdens imposed by conservation are severely asymmetrical, this raises salient social and environmental justice concerns, and especially so when the costs of protected area governance appear to be borne by populations who – in global as well as national terms – can least afford to do so. Consequently, a focus on the local costs and benefits of conservation is pertinent for both ethical and utilitarian reasons.

A household economic approach intersects with a well-established scholarship on the skewed distribution of costs and incomes from conservation. This is especially so in developing countries where a majority of people derive their livelihoods directly from the natural resources base as environmental incomes (Emerton 1999; Northon-Griffiths and Southey 1995; Adams and Infield 2003; Balmford and Whitten 2003; Igoe 2006; Vedeld et al. 2007; Agrawal and Redford 2009; Vedeld et al. 2012). Despite high-profile debates on the economic aspects of conservation, few studies have examined whether protected areas actually empirically result in net direct costs or incomes for specific local communities (Howard 1995; Naidoo and Adamowicz 2005; Chiozza et al. 2010, Coad et al. 2008, Vedeld et al. 2012, Tumusiime and Vedeld 2015). Arguably, however, such data are crucial for enhancing the formulation of policies for 'evidence-based conservation' (e.g. Pullin and Knight 2003), given that they both improve our understanding of socio-economic impacts on protected area-adjacent populations and point to contexts in which there may be an elevated probability of ecologically destructive conflicts. Indeed, when such data are neglected or excluded from research programmes or the policy formulation process, they perhaps reinforce Adams and Sandbrook's (2013) concerns about the asymmetric nature of conservation science. In other words, such exclusions underscore debates on whose knowledge and which forms of data 'count' for the purposes of policy formulation. This echoes longstanding critiques of the 'uneven playing field' (Larson and Ribot 2007) of environmental science and policy, which tends to favour the analyses of elite scientific communities over various forms of 'indigenous' and local knowledge and practices (e.g. Escobar 1998).

Accordingly, it is primarily here that this paper contributes to the extant literature. It is unlikely that conflicts over carbon, water, and biodiversity will be locally reconciled if impoverished people are forced to bear the economic brunt of conservation with little direct economic income in return. Or, in Ostrom's (1990: 91) words, if there is a disproportionately large “lack of congruence between appropriation and provision rules” (see also Schmidt-Soltau and Brockington 2004). And importantly, poor communities and households within communities are significantly more dependent on environmental incomes than wealthier ones (Balmford and Witten 2003; Vedeld et al. 2007).

Particularly in East Africa, the history of protected area management foregrounds both the forcible enclosure of natural resources and the systematic exclusion of local resource users (Neumann 1998; Brockington 2002; Webster and Osmaston 2003; Cavanagh and Himmelfarb 2015). In Uganda, it has become increasingly clear that such an exclusionary approach has generated deep conflicts between protected area management and local communities, to the extent that these conflicts in some cases threaten the basic objectives of biodiversity conservation itself, even in the face of sustained force or violence from the state (Hulme and Infield 2001; Chhetri et al. 2003; Norgrove and Hulme 2006; Vedeld et al. 2012; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2015). As a means of offsetting the worst effects of this legacy, Uganda and many other developing countries have embarked upon a variety of Community-Based Conservation (CBC) approaches since the late 1980s (Musali 1998; Beck 2000). These approaches have sought to reduce conflicts between conservation and local communities by involving the latter in park management and providing limited compensation for restricted access to land and natural resources. Generally, this has been pursued through various benefit sharing arrangements, the creation of employment opportunities, resource use agreements and the redistribution of ecotourism revenue (Archabald and Naughton-Treves 2001; Child 2004; Tumusiime and Vedeld 2015).

Research indicates mixed experiences with these initiatives (Adams and Hutton 2007), however, and in some cases they appear to have actually increased land-use conflicts (Baker et al. 2011). In practice, protected area managers have been reluctant to devolve power and authority to local communities, citing their alleged lack of capacity (both human and financial) to collectively manage natural resources (Ribot et al. 2006). In scholarly debates, moreover, the success of CBC approaches remains contested (e.g. Dressler et al. 2010), yet the empirical performance of such schemes has not often been rigorously analysed.

In relation to the Mount Elgon context, in particular, most of the extant literature indicates that – despite efforts to secure community support – park management is still characterised by high levels of conflict between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and local communities (White 2002; Norgrove and Hulme 2006; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2015, Tumusiime and Sjaastad 2014). Recently, and ostensibly in the interest of mitigating 'natural' disasters such as landslides, conservationists have called for more evictions and even firmer restrictions of resource access at Mount Elgon (Mugagga 2011). On the other hand, human rights activists and social scientists express concern about the substantial costs imposed by protected areas on adjacent communities in the form of evictions from land, crop raiding, livestock predation, and resource access restrictions (e.g. Hurinet Uganda 2011).

In this context, our main objective is to examine and compare the nature and distribution of direct local costs and incomes of people living adjacent to the protected area and suggest potential measures for ameliorating the present conflict-ridden situation while also protecting the mountain's ecosystem services. In doing so, we examine local costs and benefits in relation to the positive effects of conservation mentioned above – that is, relative to both regional sustainability and global public goods – pointing to the ways in which the prevalence of local deprivation may in fact compromise the other two objectives. In contrast with recent writings on the potential acceptability of 'trade-offs' or 'hard choices' in conservation governance (e.g. McShane et al. 2011), then, we suggest the need to identify and maintain synergies between livelihood and ecological goals at multiple scales.

 The Study Area

Mount Elgon National Park, Uganda

Mount Elgon is an extinct volcano bisected by the border with Kenya. On the Ugandan side, Mount Elgon National Park (MENP) covers an area of about 110,971 ha. Due to processes of administrative decentralisation, eight (8) districts now border the protected area, which covers 26.4% of all land in these districts (420,000 ha). The length of the park boundary exceeds 650 km.

MENP protects the Ugandan portion of a transboundary ecosystem that serves as a major water catchment area in the region (Van Heist 1994). The area's Afro-montane flora and fauna have significant global conservation values (UWA 2000), and the mountain's fertile volcanic soils and abundant rainfall (1500-2000 mm) have contributed to some of rural East Africa's highest population densities. Indeed, both rainfall and population densities are highest on the eastern and southern slopes of the mountain. Overall, the area supports a population of about 1.6 million people, or some 255,000 households, with densities ranging from 116 in Kween to 827 people/km 2 in Mbale district, and an average of 379 people/km 2(UCC 2010).

Local populations and dependence on park resources

Three groups populate the Mount Elgon region, all highly dependent on the forest ecosystem: the Bagisu, the Sabiny, and a small group of historically forest-dwelling and forest dependent upland Sabiny known as the Benet. The Sabiny depended historically more on livestock than the Bagisu, but both populations now combine agriculture, livestock, forest resources, wage labour, petty trade, and small businesses for their livelihoods (Scott 1998; Gosalamang et al. 2008; Norgrove 2002). Given that farmers only have limited access to financial capital, fertilisers, or other high-yielding technologies, key constraints to increased agricultural production include land shortage and declining soil fertility. Accordingly, increases in agricultural output are more often achieved by expanding the area under cultivation (extensification) than through increasing land productivity (intensification). Combined with high population densities, extensification often translates into high levels of protected area encroachment (UWA 2000; Mugagga 2011; Petursson et al 2011). The natural capital assets in multiple environmental resources on Elgon are thus of crucial importance for local people's livelihoods in terms of energy sources, grazing, medicinal plants and a wide range of other environmental incomes that have been extensively studied and verified (Scott 1998; Sletten et al. 2008; Petursson 2011). Although most households depend on this access, the level of dependence becomes far greater for the poorer households that, in many cases, have few if any substitutes for energy, water, and various non-timber forest products (Nakakaawa et al. 2016).

Like most national parks in Uganda, state authorities promote MENP as a tourist attraction, given that Ugandan protected areas are now expected to “pay their own way”, and generate revenues that can offset conservation costs (Adams and Infield 2003). However, unlike many parks in the East African region, MENP lacks the “charismatic” wildlife that attracts foreign tourists in large numbers to come to other areas. Its “non-charismatic” biodiversity is therefore of low direct economic value on the current tourist market; the park is thus not very popular (less than 2500 international visitors (UWA 2012) and does not appear to retain the potential to attract large number of tourists in the near future.

The park retains important values to society at all levels beyond local resource dependence and tourism, but these have generally not been holistically assessed or quantified (LTS 2011). These relate to MENP's ecological and cultural values, and importantly to its provision of wider ecosystem services such as the functions of the mountain massif as a water catchment area for the region, as a carbon sink to mitigate climate change, soil conservation and global aspects of biodiversity conservation. Nonetheless, our focus is on pointing to the potential of local socioeconomic deprivation to undermine these benefits, rather than on seeking to quantify the contribution of the latter to (trans)national societies and economies.

Brief historical context and management background

The history of MENP is in many ways inextricable from the context of colonial state formation and the crystallisation of related forms of export-oriented agriculture in the region (Cavanagh and Himmelfarb 2015). As the British consolidated their control over the Uganda Protectorate and constructed infrastructure for the purposes of resource and commodity extraction, both Uganda and Mount Elgon became increasingly tied to the transnational colonial economy. The initial gazetting of Mount Elgon as a Forest Reserve in 1929 constituted an integral part of this process, given that the British realised the mountain's economic potential to serve both as a watershed for commercial agriculture and as a source of timber for the development needs of the Protectorate (Webster and Osmaston 2003; Himmelfarb 2012). Consequently, however, both the land tenure and resource access situation for local people were drastically altered when Mount Elgon was declared a Forest Reserve in 1929. This formalised (colonial) state ownership for the first time – and strengthened it when the PA was officially demarcated in 1936-7 (Petursson 2011).

Many existing conflicts on Mount Elgon stem from both this exclusionary colonial precedent and the noteworthy continuation of similar policies under independent Ugandan governments (Petursson and Vedeld 2015). Divergent values and interests of involved actors drive these conflicts, including – after independence – those of international donors and conservation NGOs; national conservation agencies and Ugandan civil society; as well as local politicians, elites, and resource users. In addition, power inequalities, institutional issues related to unclear boundaries, longstanding tenure insecurity, poor governance, a lack of benefit-sharing measures and inconsistent execution of policies have all contributed to the perpetuation of these conflicts (Norgrove and Hulme 2006; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014; Cavanagh and Himmelfarb 2015).

In 1993, Mount Elgon was re-designated from a forest reserve to a national park. At this point, management shifted from the authority of a laissez-faire Forest Department (FD) to a much stricter, conservation-oriented Uganda Wildlife Authority (Gosalamang et al. 2008). Uganda was recovering from two decades of turmoil associated with the consecutive reigns of Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Milton Obote (again), which were characterised by widespread corruption and dysfunction in various government agencies. Institutional vacuums and uncertainties for both FD staff and resource users characterised this period, with various unrecognised resource rights. Generally, rent seeking behaviour, encroachment by disenfranchised communities, and distrust increased conflict levels between the two parties (Kamugisha-Ruhombe 2007). Further, the evictions, displacements and resettlements that followed the conversion from forest reserve to national park status were involuntary, poorly planned, uncompensated and violent (Norgrove and Hulme 2006; Gosalamang et al. 2008; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014).

The physical evictions of people from inside the park were conducted to restore some 25,000 ha that had been occupied and encroached upon during the 1970s and 1980s (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014). Much of the land was largely cleared for agriculture, as confirmed by UWA (2000) and representatives from IUCN (White 2002). As many as 30,000 people were either evicted from their homes, or excluded from their fields, their grazing land or from forest access in the Benet case alone, which affected about 7,500 ha of the total 25,000 ha of land in what is now the Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts (e.g.; White 2002; Vangen 2009; Himmelfarb 2012). It has proved difficult to get a good assessment of total figures for the extent of physical exclusion and economic displacement around the entire protected area, but 100,000 people seems to be a rather conservative estimate of the scope of eviction (see figure. Vangen 2009: 135 where figures of up 150-300,000 evicted people are suggested). White (2002) estimated that the land area subject to evictions could have supported a total population of up to 84,000 households. There was no compensation for losses of houses, farm implements, land, or standing crops lost or destroyed throughout the processes of eviction (Norgrove and Hulme 2006). Furthermore, there was no compensation for the loss of agricultural land inside the park.

Sentiments around these issues remain strong. However, because these costs have been incurred already and may be seen as not recurring costs, we have not included them in the final calculations on total local costs of the park ([Table 1]). They are nonetheless important to note.{Table 1}

To improve people-park relations (which had suffered from these moves), UWA – with substantial bilateral and multilateral donor backing – introduced collaborative resource management agreements with communities directly bordering MENP (Sletten et al. 2008). Unlike many other countries in the region, Ugandan conservation legislation explicitly provides for collaborative use of resources within national parks. Those agreements were offered at the 'parish' local government level and included community rights to collect a range of resources under a set of rules and responsibilities. However, most of the extant literature on MENP indicates that – despite efforts to secure community support via the implementation of such arrangements – park management is still characterised by strained relations and conflicts between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and local communities (Norgrove and Hulme 2006; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2015).

Beyond local interests related to securing household livelihoods, international and national actors have more recently expressed interest in protecting ecosystem services such as water catchment and carbon sequestration. An example is a carbon offset project launched in 1993 between UWA and a Dutch NGO, 'Face the Future', which provided additional incentives for restricting resource access and use (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014). Given that state actors were pre-occupied with securing funding to address national budget deficits, the carbon project was largely implemented without much regard to contested rights and livelihood impacts. This quickly became a source of local resentment as it 'opened old wounds' among those evicted from the forest via the contested reforestation of their previous agricultural lands (see also Lang and Byakola 2006).

It is within this complex legacy of intersecting and overlapping historical processes that the present distribution of park-related incomes and costs must be interpreted. Indeed, in this context, any new intervention or initiative articulates with existing institutional landscapes and the conflict-ridden history of the region.


Data sources

We collected primary local economic data for our analysis from January to March 2011 and June to December 2011. Household interviews were conducted using a semi-structured questionnaire in order to obtain information on various aspects of local livelihoods (Moll 2011). We purposely selected one sub-country within each of the four local district [1] units of Bulambuli, Sironko, Mbale and Manafwa based on prior knowledge of its including parishes directly bordering the park that both had and had not resources use agreements. As we needed a sample of villages both with and without resource use agreements, we selected four study parishes, two with (Bugitima and Buginyanya) and two without resource use agreements (Bubyangu and Tsekululu) along a North South gradient which were all bordering the park ([Figure 1]). This gradient captures variations in rainfall, temperature and in what people cultivate in their farms and their general livelihood profiles. {Figure 1}

At village levels within parishes (and because we could not access village registers) we chose households within different parishes using a systematic sampling method, wherein every third household on a predetermined route through the village was visited for interviews. In this manner, 20 households were selected for interviews in each of the four study sites, giving a total sample of 80 respondent households, and comprising an overall population of 498 people. This sample size is small, but we have reason to believe that key findings are similar to other findings in the area, documented through a range of M. Sc. thesis and consultancy assignments from the Department of International Environment and Development Studies (NORAGRIC) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.[2]

People are constrained from access to the forest, and more now than before the establishment of the National Park. This is corroborated as well by the findings of key informant interviews with local residents (Gosalamang et al 2008; Moll 2011; Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2015). Though we have tried to make an assessment of the scale of this loss of access, there are several difficulties involved in assessing these losses. For example, people may strategically exaggerate losses, or undervalue reported household incomes; in addition, there may be variations between households around the park that are not captured by the limited sample size and the limited geographical and ecological extension of selected study areas. Much larger sample sizes thus constitute an important objective for future research in the region.

Further, key informant interviews were conducted with local politicians – mainly from local councils at the village, parish and sub-county level; representatives of the different resource use and boundary management committees; local NGOs, activists, civil society organisations, and Ugandan Wildlife Authority staff. Between June and December 2011, supplementary data were also collected on costs incurred by local communities related to crop raiding, conflicts, and evictions carried out by UWA personnel (see more details on sampling and data in Moll 2011 and Cavanagh 2015).

To complement and triangulate primary data, we subsequently drew upon other relevant studies conducted on MENP governance, livelihoods and dependence on park environmental incomes. These include a number of M. Sc. research projects supervised by our project research staff, especially Gosalamang (2003); Jankulovska et al. (2003); Katto (2004); Namugwanya (2004); Sletten (2004) and Kiggundu (2007)). We also compared our findings to material from Sohail (2008), as well as from PhD studies by Beck (2000); Norgrove (2002), Mugagga (2011), Petursson (2011), and Himmelfarb (2012), as well as from consultancies conducted by researchers from NORAGRIC. The methods used in these studies include household surveys, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders in the communities, government, NGOs, and environmental management agencies.

Some key concepts and approaches

This study utilises a livelihood approach to analyse cost and income effects of the park and its establishment on local people. These include costs such as losses of access to forest resources and loss of crops to crop-raiding and historical costs related to eviction of people from their houses and land inside the park. Incomes of the park relate to employment and tourism, and to community revolving funds, resource use agreements and to Taungya farming systems.

We were, however, not able to get representative household level data for many of these costs and incomes accruing from the park at individual household levels, because they often accrue only a small subsection of the households around the park not captured in a sampling of a small selection of households.

Instead we use estimated aggregate costs and incomes for the whole sample and from there find costs and incomes accruing the average household relative to the total income. Many of these items and activities would demand a very large sample to capture representative values from a household survey. For example, we find that 107 local people are employed in the national park out of 255,000 households. We can estimate the total value of those man-years and add that value to the average household income, but it would be impossible to trace such incomes in a traditional household survey.

All costs and benefits are further, in line with standard economic theory, brought up to the same base year (2011)[3]. Costs and benefits associated with specific events and activities have been gleaned from separate studies in separate localities, and then extrapolated to the entire park via population-based and/or area-based multipliers. Present values of costs and benefits are converted into annual figures via a discount rate of 10 percent. Annual figures are then computed as a percentage of mean household income. While some costs and incomes are annual occurrences and need to be computed over an infinite time horizon, others have been incurred or have accrued over a finite period.

 Results and Discussion

Direct local incomes from MENP

First, we investigate five sources of direct incomes from the park area that accrue to local people: 1) resource use agreements and direct resource access 2) temporary farming (Taungya) around tree seedlings 3) direct employment in conservation and in a related carbon offset forestry project 4) tourism revenue sharing and 5) a community revolving fund. These can be seen as derived assets in the form of natural and financial capital (Igoe 2006).

Next, we discuss the nature and scope of these benefits in relation to people's overall livelihood outcomes. We also estimate the annual monetary value for each source of income. When doing so, we consider only direct, local use values of the park. Simultaneously, however, we still acknowledge that both existence values of resources and also a number of other ecosystem services are of importance also for local livelihoods even if not monetised in this study.

Resource use and Taungya system agreements

The first Collaborative Resource Management Agreements (CRMAs) were signed with Mutushet and Kapkwai parishes in Kapchorwa district (White 2002; Sletten et al. 2008). By 2011, Kapchorwa had the highest number of agreements followed by Sironko and Bulambuli districts, while Bukwo and Manafwa districts had none. The agreements were established at parish levels with communities that were able to maintain good relations with UWA staff (Moll 2011; Cavanagh 2015). The agreements provide communities with rights of access to a range of natural capital assets, specific park resources such as firewood, medicinal plants and bamboo shoots (bamboo shoot extraction agreements) or to undertake specific activities such as beekeeping (bee keeping agreements) and Taungya farming (boundary management agreements) within the park boundaries.

1) Resource use agreements: Based on local population densities, average land holdings, and the amount of land area under cultivation, we estimate that approximately 255,000 households neighbour MENP. We find that the average environmental income is around 18% (USD 135.2) of total average household incomes (USD 751.3) (Moll 2011). Households with agreements (21% of the sample) report some 20% higher environmental incomes than other households in the area.

The annual value of the present agreements is estimated to be some USD 1.45 million or some USD 5.7 per household and year.

2) Agreements on Taungya farming allow people to cultivate land inside the park for a period of 5 years. In certain areas, this has increased annual household incomes and reduced resource use conflicts. In discussions with local people, many stated that this has improved local attitudes towards the park. As mentioned earlier, some 25,000 ha of land were and are still partly encroached, and are therefore slated for replanting and management over a five-year period according to the Taungya model.

Estimating the value of this 5 year “lease” is somewhat difficult, but the gross margin for maize production in the area is estimated to constitute some USD 61.3 per ha (800kg/ha at a farm gate price of 0,05 USD/kg see WB 2011). USD 61.3/ha equals USD 1.53 million for the 25,000 ha or some USD 6.0 per household per year over 5 years. The net present value of this total income (at 10% discount rate) is USD 5.8 million. If calculated as a direct total annual income; this amounts to a total of USD 580,000 per year or some USD 2.3 per household and year (see [Table 2]). The annual value of Taungya farming that can be maintained for 5 years is thus USD 580,000. If this income is spread out over 255,000 households, it would amount to USD 2.3 per household and year.{Table 2}

As described and calculated, the Taungya farming contribution is temporary as the system presumes a canopy closure after some 5 years. UWA believes that allowing farmers to cultivate land within the buffer zone on a permanent basis would threaten long term biodiversity conservation goals, both within the buffer area and the 'core' protection zone. This income is thus not permanent or infinite, given that reforestation is intended to restore indigenous forest and not to create plantations that may be harvested in the future.

Employment incomes from MENP

UWA employs approximately 201 individuals at MENP, of which 107 positions (53.2%) are held by local people, recruited from adjacent districts (Cavanagh 2015). Based on an average annual income of one million Ugandan shillings (408 USD) (Christian and Mwaura. 2013), these 107 person-years would yield a total annual value of USD 63,116.

The distribution of tourism related employment incomes such as those derived from engaging in non-skilled employment – as tourist porters and artisans – were also related to location factors such as proximity to park entry points and presence of tourist attractions such as the Sipi waterfall chain in Kapchorwa district. The multiplier effects of the park – from tour operators and park suppliers to artisans and petrol stations – provided some employment for local people, amounting to some 145 man-years in sum (Cavanagh 2009). Based on an average annual income of one million Ugandan shillings (Christian et al. 2013), these 145 man-years would yield a total annual value of USD 85,532. Accordingly, we have thus estimated the sum of employment and multiplier effects from the park to be in the range of USD 148,649 annually ([Table 2]). In addition, the UWA-FACE project provided seasonal employment to about 500 individuals and income opportunities via the procurement of seedlings from local farmers during the period 1994-2003, but employment opportunities largely disappeared when the project came to a halt as a result of unresolved conflicts (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen, 2014).

There has also been a reforestation project recently established under the Mount Elgon Regional Conservation Programme (MERECP) that made a one-time payment to local communities of USD 14,000 in total for carbon sequestration, provided on the basis of community revolving funds.

Tourism - revenue sharing programmes

Section 69 (4) of the Uganda Wildlife Act of 2000 obliges UWA to share 20 percent of all park entry fees with local communities (the 64 parishes neighbouring MENP) that directly border protected areas (UWA 2000). This redistributed park revenue is intended to support projects that seek to reduce pressure on park resources, creating alternative income generating activities to improve community welfare, and contributing to poverty alleviation (UWA 2012). For the period 2002-2009, the redistributed revenue from tourism was approximately USD 39,469 in total, or some USD 6,578 annually (UWA 2009).

The most commonly supported income-generating activities include both private and public goods. These include classroom construction in local schools, beekeeping, dairy farming to provide milk and meat for households, coffee and tree nursery establishment, tree planting and plantation management, soil fertility management and water conservation, support for construction of a biogas plant and improved cook stoves (Moll 2011; Petursson 2011; UWA 2012).

Community revolving fund

Some of these same projects have also been supported through the Community Revolving Fund (CRF) under the East African Community/Lake Victoria Basin Commission's Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme (MERECP) (Hoefsloot et al. 2011). The CRF is an income sharing arrangement under MERECP aiming at improving livelihoods by channeling funds to Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and NGOs operating in communities adjacent to MENP. Some funding has also been directed to improving physical assets like rural school buildings through lending out money to individuals and communities. Accordingly, some USD 87,000 has been set-aside in a fund for a variety of economic activities. To assess the annual value of such a fund is difficult. One could look at the rate of the returns in the activities money is lent out for, which will be very difficult; as for instance for school equipment. The alternative that we use is to assume that the fund is able to recover or regenerate 10% of the funds annually– a reasonable return, yielding an annual value of USD 8,700.

These rather symbolic revenues are unevenly spread around the park, with a large proportion (about 43%) accruing to Kapchorwa (now Kapchorwa and Kween) and Sironko districts (Cavanagh 2015). Indeed, these two districts received all disbursed revenue in 2002 and 2006. When questioned about the concentration of revenue disbursements, park staff openly replied that these incomes were used to reward communities that cooperated well with UWA (Moll 2011; Cavanagh 2015).

MENP-related direct costs for local people

The historical costs of the park establishment for local people costs, they clearly recollect, are linked to physical evictions from inhabited land settlements and the loss of standing crops and livestock. Furthermore, there are economic displacement costs related to losses of cultivated land within the park and destruction of property in eviction-related incidents.

The present day current costs relate to the exclusion from their traditional rights of access to forest resources, and costs incurred through losses of livestock and crops by wildlife.

These costs may of course further translate into deprivation of local communities' and households' natural, social, financial and even physical capital assets (Igoe 2006). In this study we have focused on the current costs, though it is clear that historical costs are also important to understand local people´s sentiments against the present park and its management.

Exclusion from accessing forest environmental incomes

There are a few studies carried out to assess the costs of exclusion from forest resources for local people in Mount Elgon. However, Gosalamang et al. (2008) found that the proportion of local people collecting resources from the Mount Elgon forest declined from around 72% to 30%, and that the amount and variety of resources they consumed or accessed was also dramatically reduced after eviction. However, people still collect forest resources to some degree, both through the official resource access agreements already accounted for and through informal or clandestine access (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2015). Using Gosalamang et al.'s figures and our findings that environmental income now constitutes 18% (USD 135.2) of total household income, we estimate that the average loss in household income from reduced access to environmental income sources is some USD 108.2 /household and some USD 27.6 million for all people around the area.[4]

Human-Wildlife Conflicts (HWC)

The animals most commonly involved in crop raiding include monkeys (91%), baboons (67%), wild pigs (28%), foxes (4%), grasshoppers (3%), birds (3%) and forest antelopes (2%) (Kiggundu 2007). In addition, some locals report that leopards and hyenas kill livestock and dogs.

Focus group discussions conducted in 2011 also revealed substantial losses due to crop raiding. The reported crop losses experienced by 18% of the households range between 20-80% of the crop harvests (Cavanagh 2015). These losses are complex, where crop raiding propensities and costs will vary, not only by distance to park, but also by types of animals inside the different segments of the park, by types of crops grown, by measures in place to reduce crop raiding, and so forth.

For those who reported losses, the average scale of these is 34% of total household incomes. With an annual average income for the sample of 1,765,609 Uganda shillings (USD 751), we estimate the direct total annual costs around the park to be approximately 27.6 billion Uganda shillings or some USD 11.7 million [5]. This constitutes 6.1% of total household income for all households, or USD 45.8 per household per year. This is well in line with other authors from Mount Elgon: Katto (2004), for example, reports losses of 6.3% while Jankulovska et al. (2003), as stated, indicate higher losses (21%) in another study also from Kapchorwa and Sironko.

Current legislation (2000 Uganda Wildlife Act) does not compensate farmers for crop losses due to raiding. Farmers do employ a number of adaptive strategies to reduce their exposure to this hazard, including constructing fences, shifting crops and abandoning land susceptible to raiding. However, fence construction is reported to be very costly and ineffective, and abandoning land is clearly a last resort solution in this densely populated and agriculturally fertile area. Cavanagh (2015) further found that households devoted substantial amounts of labour to protecting crops, livestock, and property from wildlife – a task often delegated to children – absorbing an average of 10.3 hours of collective labour per day in the growing season, and suggesting that children are often taken out of school to assist with such activities.

Comparing direct costs and incomes for local people

Summing up the current incomes accruing from arrangements at MENP, [Table 2] yields three immediate reflections: 1) resource use agreements enabling direct forest resource access are the main contributor to improved livelihoods, 2)Taungya farming also contributes significantly to community natural and financial capital assets and 3) park related household incomes are marginal related to overall household incomes.

The overall average household income is USD 751. The size of the park related estimated incomes are USD 8.6/ household. The total incomes assessed from the park thus constitute some 1.2% of total household income.

In addition to the low scale of park-related incomes to total incomes, the unequal distribution by districts and the community also poses a problem for the legitimacy of park management. Most of the incomes are concentrated in the three original districts of Kapchorwa, Sironko, and (to a lesser extent) Mbale. Hence, there seems to be a concentration of incomes in Kapchorwa district, which is the location of the two most-accessed tourist gates to MENP, and where local communities have been able to maintain a good and long standing working relationship with UWA, also for the resource use agreements. This pattern has also been noted in Costa Rica, where work options are more extensive and wages higher than in areas more distant from the park gates (Robalino and Villalobos-Fiatt 2010).

The reported costs represent some 20.5 % of total household incomes ([Table 1]). Major cost items are linked to the constrained forest resource access and the loss of crops through crop-raiding. In aggregate, eviction costs and even the loss of cropland are not so important on average, but may have had substantial effects for severely affected individual households.

The net costs results seem to be rather robust. Even if we assume an over-reporting for crop- raiding of 50%, we would still find that the costs of crop raiding alone outweigh the estimated total benefits almost 3 times. The same point applies for loss of access to forest resources; even if the estimated loss by reduced forest resource access is assumed to be halved, the costs of reduced forest access alone would be 6 times the higher total benefits.

While park related incomes constitute just over 1% of total household income, the costs incurred constitute just over 20.5 % of total income. There is thus a substantial discrepancy between costs and incomes from the park for local people. If we accept that most households still use the park quite substantially, though largely in clandestine ways and at substantial legal and physical risks, the incomes of living close to the park will most likely be somewhat higher than what we have been able to register.

Apart from the figures indicating a substantial mismatch between costs and incomes, it is also clear that local people feel and state that they are bearing a major share of the costs compared to the incomes. They contend that this is fundamentally unjust, and that it is a major reason for the high tensions and conflicts between people and the park management (see also Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2014, 2015).

As mentioned, Mount Elgon has an annual number of international visitors of less than 2500, and an annual park gate income of USD 146,000, which is supplemented by an annual management allocation of USD 560,000 from the state (UWA 2010). This also means that local people pay much more for the park in terms of accrued net costs than the state does through its annual management allocation. The scale of these revenues further suggests that – under the present regime and governance context – it will not be possible for parks or wildlife to “pay their own way” (Eltringham 1994). As discussed in greater detail below, we thus find that a different mindset and not least a different set of policies should be considered, both to address social and environmental injustices arising from the present distribution of costs and to enhance the sustainability of the regional and global benefits of conservation at Mount Elgon.

Mount Elgon and the Global Political Economy of Conservation

From our analysis, it is clear that lost access to land and resources at Mount Elgon has severely impacted local people's livelihoods and well-being. Combined with a lack of significant incomes from tourism and Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) schemes, these costs have entrenched a series of conflicts between MENP and the local people.

These findings contradict the conclusions of a related body of literature that finds local benefits to exceed costs for a range of populations living adjacent to protected areas. Indeed, quantitative and primarily economic studies or meta-analyses occasionally suggest that the benefits of protected area-adjacent residency – such as reliable ecosystem services, employment opportunities and shared conservation revenues – largely outweigh the costs of exclusion from access to land and other resources (e.g. Andam et al. 2010; Turner et al. 2012). For example, Andam et al. (2010) argue that communities near protected areas are some of the poorest in Costa Rica and Thailand at baseline and therefore generally experienced poverty alleviation as a result of conservation activities. Likewise, in country-level studies from Cambodia (Clements et al. 2014), Bolivia (Canavire-Bacarreza and Hanauer 2013), Costa Rica (Ferraro and Hanauer 2014), Thailand (Sims 2010) and Zambia (Richardson et al. 2012), employment and tourism-related incomes from protected areas, in particular, were found to result in net benefits.

As Upton et al. (2008) note, however, studies of conservation governance have occasionally suffered from tendencies to both over-generalise from individual case studies, as well as to underestimate the importance of local context and politics in national or global studies of conservation. In other words, there is no a priori reason that protected area governance must result in extreme net costs for nearby residents, nor that protected areas will always produce significant benefits for local people. It is simultaneously both an empirically open question and a question of political will – one that will play out differently in distinct historical and geographical conjunctures.

At Mount Elgon, the severity of local costs points to an increasingly tenuous relationship between local socioeconomic deprivation, regional sustainability and ecosystem service benefits and other global public goods provided by conservation. Although a certain strand of the conservation governance literature argues for an enhanced recognition of the need to make 'hard choices' between socioeconomic and ecological objectives (e.g., McShane et al. 2011), conflicts and local opposition retain the potential to instead transform such enforced 'trade-offs' into lose-lose situations, in which neither livelihood nor conservation objectives are achieved. Given the increasing necessityof actually securing adaptation and mitigation goals related to land use under conditions of global environmental change, moreover, the optimisation of synergies rather than trade-offs between livelihood and conservation objectives may constitute the only tenable way forward (e.g., Minang et al. 2014). Accordingly, we conclude by identifying some specific policy recommendations that may aid the pursuit of such synergies.


This paper has sought to illuminate how global processes of biodiversity conservation translate economically into local contexts in ways that create both winners and losers. In doing so, we have estimated the relative scale of costs and incomes that directly accrue to local people when developing countries and donors follow up on global conservation commitments at the local level. Accordingly, we have sought to reveal economic realities behind the contemporary management of protected areas and how these translate into local peoples' livelihoods.

Overall, we find that local people pay an exorbitant share of the total costs of conservation, and that the poorest segment of the local population in particular bears a disproportionate share of these costs. This is both because they are more dependent on environmental incomes – suffering more from constrained access – and because they have fewer alternative means of accessing agricultural land. In addition, direct local incomes from conservation are scarce and rather insignificant in relation to both these costs and people's overall household incomes.

As such, it appears that, to date, the international community has been either unwilling or unable to pay the real costs of setting aside land for conservation purposes on Mount Elgon. Seen from the perspective of opportunity costs, it follows that the local poor subsidise the global community quite heavily to maintain MENP as a protected area. It seems increasingly clear, however, that costs accruing to local communities from conservation activities will have to make their way into regional, national and international political agendas more forcefully in the near future. Ethically, it is unacceptable that the benefits of conservation on global and national scales come at the cost of the poorest community strata living adjacent to protected areas. Yet in addition, from a utilitarian perspective, such a skewed distribution of local costs and benefits may also challenge the ability of protected areas to provide ecosystem services and public goods at other scales, given that such grievances retain the potential to precipitate 'lose-lose' conflicts with deleterious implications for both ecosystems and livelihoods. In other words, fortress conservationists may indeed occasionally sustain the use of force to suppress local resistance (Brockington 2004); however, we see no necessary reason why the suppression of local opposition must also simultaneously entail the achievement of biodiversity conservation objectives. In the context of global environmental change and increasing pressures on protected areas to deliver on a range of measurable biophysical objectives, the ability of fortress conservation to successfully deliver the latter is increasingly once again an empirically open question.

In the meantime, we see attempts at equalising the relative costs and incomes of conservation for local people as a start towards the reform of protected area management, both in Uganda and elsewhere in the developing world. Similarly, in the emerging context of REDD and other schemes to mitigate the effects of environmental change, there is a need to think along similar lines. Indeed, conservation is a global concern; its costs both cannot and should not be borne primarily by impoverished rural populations. There are also good reasons to believe that such an approach is neither sustainable nor efficient – in other words, that protected areas will deliver neither on objectives related to local livelihoods, nor on regional sustainability or global public goods – unless a major overhaul of policy thinking is conducted.


Funding for the research was partly provided by the Norwegian Research Council. Permission to conduct research was granted by the National Council for Science and Technology and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.


Uganda has a five-tier level of local governments, or district, county, sub-county, parish and village, each having its own administrative roles.For instance, Katto's (2004) thesis – based on 100 household interviews from 2004 – reveals household incomes of around 2.5 million Ugandan shillings), environmental incomes (around 19% of total incomes) and costs of wildlife crop raiding (around 6.3% of total household incomes). Namugwanya (2003) finds for 94 households in Wanale (Mount Elgon) annual household incomes of 3.9 million Ugandan Shillings, 14.1% share of environmental incomes and costs of living close to the park of some 18.5% of total incomes. By comparison, we use our data (Moll, 2011) that indicate household incomes of around 2.6 million Ugandan shillings in 2010 (not inflation adjusted), 23.5% share for environmental incomes, and 6.1% wildlife raiding costs). We do analyse possible variation of these relative figures and how they may influence results of the study.At the time of study (2011) 1 USD = 2350 UGSThe reduction is from 72% households collecting resources down to 30%. For the current 30% of the households, the forest related incomes are 18% of their incomes or 135.2 USD. If we calculate what was the environmental income for the household before the park constrained access, we need to add to the 135.2 USD. If we use the ratio from 72 to 40 we find that the income before the reduction was approximately 243.4 USD. This gives a reduction of about 108.2 USD. Multiplying this loss of income with the number of households around the whole area (255.000), it amounts to approximately 27.6 million USD. (72/40=x/135.2 x= 243,36 243,36- 135,2= 108,2 108.2x255000= 27.6. mill)(11.7mill/191,505) x100=6.1%. 6.1%xUSD751=USD 45.8).[88]


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