Enhancing equity and fairness

A workshop in Uganda finds that when it comes to implementing wildlife conservation, different groups have different perspectives on what is "fair" writes guest blogger Hellena Nambogwe.

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23 February 2015

The Enhancing Equity workshop in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park brought together government officials, local residents and conservationists (Photo: Alessandra Guiliani/IIED)

What does equity/fairness within conservation mean to you, and why is it important?

I may not know what your response would be to these questions, but these were the intriguing questions that were asked to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to local government officials, to communities and to conservationists during our Enhancing Equity workshop at the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) in Ruhija in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), southwest Uganda.  

Their responses revealed some interesting answers, including how different partners have different views about what equity means to them, and how they would make the sharing of tourism revenue with local people living around the national park fairer.

But why hold this Enhancing Equity workshop? Many efforts have been made to ensure that communities living near to Bwindi do not bear an unfair burden because of conservation.

But this is a difficult challenge, and our workshop brought together representatives from government, local communities and the conservation sector to discuss how conserving Bwindi can be fairer.

How inequity affects conservation efforts

Recent research at Bwindi has highlighted how inequity can affect conservation efforts. One key finding is that some local people who feel that they do not receive a fair share of the benefits from conservation compensate themselves by taking resources illegally from the national park.

Inequity also has other implications. It can increase conflict between humans and wildlife over access to resources. It can also result in poor environmental policies and decision-making processes, with frontline communities not well represented and the processes seen as lacking transparency.

Why equity is important to communities and for conservation?

Generally, equity implies a need for "fairness". Responses from stakeholders at the workshop revealed why equity is important to them. Interestingly, all the three groups thought equity was important for increasing a sense of ownership, leading to effective participation of stakeholders. But there were some striking differences:

  • Local government thought equity promotes the sustainability of community conservation programmes such as revenue sharing, leading to coexistence of people and wildlife
  • Local communities thought that equity reduces UWA's maintenance costs for the protection of the park. They also said it was critical for conservation to be sustainable, especially when communities are supported to identify revenue sharing-funded projects that address their priorities. For instance communities believe that if gorillas tracked by tourists are found in their gardens, they should be given a fair share of the gorilla permit fee or be allowed to track them free of charge
  • Lastly, conservation agencies thought that equity helps to make conservation sustainable and build local support for the park, rather than the continuing local perceptions that conservation is unfair, which only fuels more resentment about the national park.

"The gorillas are our oil.  If the gorillas come on our land we should be allowed to do tracking" -- Community leader

Can stakeholders agree on what equity/fairness means?

The different groups' different interpretations of what equity means can lead to different priorities. A good example can be seen in the different understandings of "equitable" governance. 

To local communities, this meant including local people in the park's governance using bottom-up approaches, whereas conservation agencies said it meant supporting those unable to participate due to limited resources.

Equity analysis - what is meant by fair and unfair:

Diagam showing equitable sharing of costs and benefits and equitable governance.

There were also different priorities when it came to revenues. Representatives from local communities (including the Batwa, traditionally forest-dwelling people) expressed the urgent need for acquiring a better share of Park revenues because they bear the cost of conservation. Conservation agencies wanted to see conservation benefits for all, while local government officials struggled to address issues of human-wildlife conflict because they lack capacity and financial support. The presence of representatives from these different groups made the workshop very consultative and interesting because everyone’s view was valid and everyone wished to enhance equity / fairness within conservation. It is very uncommon to find such groups of people discussing an issue with a common goal.

"Once I went into the park and they arrested me and charged me. But if a gorilla or baboon comes onto my land and ruins my crops they don't charge the gorilla and compensate me" -- Community leader

All groups agreed that sustainable development/conservation were the most important, with, for instance, local government saying that equity promoted the sustainability of conservation. Community and conservation groups thought that equity helped make conservation sustainable, benefiting everyone despite our differences.

Everyone also agreed that equity was important and that enhancing it will improve the wellbeing of the local people as well as supporting the conservation of Bwindi.

How to achieve equity

Achieving equity can be possible if all the people affected by conservation and related projects are involved, including the local communities. For instance, communities living around Bwindi think that the park and Integrated Conservation projects (ICDs) should address mistakes made in the past, before the park was degazetted. How possible is this? Such perspectives provide food for thought.

With all these different views about what equity within conservation is, Phil Franks from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) pointed out that "there is no right or wrong understanding of fairness/equity but it is important to understand that different people have different perspectives and this may result in the need for negotiation".

The way forward

From my perspective, the most interesting thing about the workshop was hearing these different perspectives. They reflected each group's desire to find equitable solutions on the ground, as reflected in the workshop report.

What do you understand by equity/fairness in conservation? Do you have a different perspective from the groups at the workshop?

Hellena Nambogwe (hnambogwe@gmail.comis an environmental educator working with the Uganda Poverty and Conservation Learning Group (U-PCLG) and PCI Media Impact as a communications coordinator for a project on great apes conservation and poverty alleviation.


This project is funded through the UK Government's Darwin Initiative, which assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to implement their commitments under the international biodiversity conventions. It is also partly funded by UKaid from the UK government; however, the views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the UK government

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