Community participation in ecotourism development and conservation of forest resources: A case study of Mabira forest in Buikwe district
Tendo, Masika Rodah
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This study was conducted in Mabira Forest Reserve, an ecotourism site covering 306 square kilometers in Buikwe district between Lugazi and Jinja on the main Kampala-Jinja highway, in Uganda. The study investigated how community participation in ecotourism activities contributes to conservation of forest resources in Mabira Forest Reserve. The study analyzed the ecotourism activities undertaken at Mabira Forest Reserve; examined the nature of participation of local communities in ecotourism development and determined the effects of ecotourism on the communities neighboring Mabira Forest Reserve. Data was collected using interviews and questionnaires and analyzed using the statistical package for social sciences (SPSS) computer software version 23. The findings of this study reveal that Mabira Forest Reserve presents a number of ecotourism activities that include education purposes, bird watching, nature walks, camping, monkey tracking, biking, butterfly watching, trekking and hiking and cycling. The nature of the local community participation in ecotourism development and conservation were in four categories namely functional participation, interactive participation, active participation and participation for material incentive. As the result of ecotourism, effects of ecotourism establishment to the neighboring local communities were employment opportunities, infrastructure development, promotion of forest conservation and its sustainability, market creation and income generation, exposure to new technologies and social capital, poor waste management, threats to dangerous animals, human-wildlife conflicts, unequal distribution of ecotourism resources and exploitative labour practices. The study therefore recommends that management of Mabira Forest Reserve should continue engaging local communities to participate in ecotourism activities at different levels especially at the level of self-mobilization that was lacking and functional participation where their decisions can be shared and integrated. The management should sensitize the local people about ecotourism development and conservation but also skill the local communities on how to utilize the ecotourism resources in the forest reserve such as guiding, teaching them some foreign languages like English, hospitality and environmental stewardship.