UWA decided to undertake a study tour to Costa Rica one of the most successful countries in conservation too learn from the Costa Rican experience in respect to private sector investments in conservation and tourism, research and provision of guiding and interpretation services.
The European Union kindly funded this exploratory visit by members of the UWA management team and Board of Trustees to Costa Rica. Five protected areas were visited and it was clear that strong public-private partnership in tourism and conservation is key to the growth of both sectors.
Costa Rica transformed itself from being the poorest economy in Central America during the colonial days to being the region’s most successful economic and conservation story today, and now boasts of a 95% literacy rate with most Costa Ricans leading a middle-class way of life. The country also has many successful research programs that provide information and guidance to the country’s planners and policy developers.
A key policy change in Costa Rica was from a country that gave incentives to communities to cut down forests to establish coffee, bananas, sugar cane and diary farms to a country that now pays farmers to transform their farms once again into forests. And this policy change has been wholly embraced moreover the proceeds (earnings) from tourism are far greater than earnings from any agricultural crop at house hold level.
Government policy and its commitment to re-greening the country played a major role in encouraging local communities and the private sector to invest in conservation, accommodation, guiding services, and tourism infrastructure such as the hanging bridges, forest aerial trams and forest canopy trails.
Following the visit, UWA recommends to Uganda government to review policies with a view to:
– Introduction of payments for environmental services especially to local communities and the private sector (land owners who have forested land or plant trees).
- Increasing government funding for tourism marketing and awareness
- Making funding available for investment in tourism products and infrastructure
- Privatizing guiding and interpretation services for tourists (including within the national parks)
- Strengthening the research function across the board, ecology, soils, agriculture, weather.
- Fundraising for conservation and pursuing the establishment of endowment funds
- Promoting a debt-for-nature swap with creditors whereby the funds used to pay debts are ploughed back into management of the Pas
- Increasing community benefits from conservation
It is important to note that tourists will always be drawn to well-managed protected areas where security and the safety of tourists are assured, and this is what Uganda Wildlife Authority seeks to achieve. Efforts to market Uganda to local and foreign tourists will continue in earnest despite the challenges we continue to face and the negative comments in the media by the doomsday prophets.