Microenterprises in Uganda Tap into Gorilla Tourism

Microenterprises in Uganda Tap into Gorilla Tourism

Paul Thomson

The new Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is perched on a narrow ridge adjacent to the vast Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The lodge is the centerpiece – but not the only piece – of an array of business ventures recently developed by the Nkuringo community through the direction and support of AWF and International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP).With its proximity to Bwindi, which is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, Nkuringo faced the problem of gorillas leaving the park and feeding on their crops. Yet they had a unique opportunity as well: they could benefit from gorilla tourism and other conservation-related enterprises.

In 2004, AWF through IGCP helped the 30,000 member community form the Nkuringo Conservation Development Foundation (NCDF) to catalyze community development projects. In essence, NCDF has created a fair platform for community members to share benefits of the lodge and also form an association to create their own enterprises.

Chairman of the Nkuringo Conservation Development Foundation at the new Clouds ecolodge in Uganda.

The NCDF Chairman says the new lodge will be a huge asset to the community.

Just down the road from Clouds lodge is the Nkuringo Women’s Handicraft Group, a small shop where women make and sell their traditional handcrafted baskets and decorations. Just next door is the shop for a youth wood carver’s group. Both groups have received training by AWF/IGCP to improve quality so that they can tap into international markets. Beekeepers and traditional healers are also active in the community under the umbrella of NCDF.

Some of these microenterprises have been woven into the tourism experience. A visitor to the Clouds lodge can take the guided Community Walk and see the enterprises at work.

A portion of visitor fees at the Clouds lodge goes back to the community through NCDF. The money goes to community projects like education, roads, water supply, agricultural and health projects.

Where people and gorillas meet: the Nkuringo community borders Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Where people and gorillas meet: the Nkuringo community borders Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

These smaller satellite enterprises help local entrepreneurs tap into the growing conservation-based tourism and diversify the opportunities for community members to generate income and play an active role in conservation.

About the Author

Paul Thomson worked with African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi for a year before moving to Washington D.C. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is a member of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leadership initiative. He has also contributed to a conservation campaign to combat the illegal trade of Asian pangolins. Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and nyama choma.