Golf course in national park is ecologically unsustainable

Wednesday December 15 2010

By Hilary Bakamwesiga

It’s almost a month since the directive to Tourism Ministry and the Uganda Wildlife Authority by President Yoweri Museveni to allow the Madhvani Group build a golf course in Murchison Falls National Park. I keep asking and answering myself: What if...? Would there be any dire consequences? Not to Uganda’s economy but the park’s ecosystem and then Ugandans.

While wildlife conservation in Uganda has been incapacitated by the lack of sufficient operating budgets and cases of corruption within custodian institutions, many including myself awaited the economy to improve to a level of having unlimited capacity to protect, monitor and enforce laws regarding wildlife conservation.

Nevertheless, the directive to build a golf course in Uganda’s largest national park is a remarkably demoralising factor. In one of the extracts by the World Conservation Union, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Red List of Threatened Animals, on the consequences of loss of biodiversity: “Any species may have vital pharmaceutical or medical value and cumulatively the existence of many species promotes crucial ecosystem resilience.”

The extract cited an example: “In 1990, a compound derived from twigs and leaves from a tree in the Malaysian rainforest was found to stop the spread of one of the two strains of HIV that causes Aids. But when researchers returned for more samples, they found that the stand of trees had been felled, and no other trees in the vicinity yielded the crucial ingredient.”

Like any other developing country grappling with challenges of meeting social and economic goals of increasing production and government revenue, Uganda has a considerable human population growth momentum. The combination of this demographic dividend and economic growth has created strong pressure for using natural resources. Coupled with uncontrolled and unmonitored conversion of natural habitats outside protected areas to farmlands as well as climate change, protected areas remain the only significant refugee to wildlife.

Emphatically, the protected area system has for long been and will, most importantly in the case of Uganda, probably continue to be the most viable option to species protection as demonstrated by international efforts to conserve areas of global wildlife significance such as World Heritage Sites and World Biosphere Reserves, among others.

There is need to appreciate that natural ecosystems constitute species which are made of genes. It also follows, the higher the genetic diversity of an ecosystem, the more chances of survival of species. The size of the area of an ecosystem much determines species diversity and distribution. Additionally, any interference in the state of natural ecosystems in the name of development - as in the case of a golf course - may substantially lead to restricting forage ranges of animals. In turn, this undermine animals’ behaviour, feeding and breeding. This marks the beginning of the extinction.

For Uganda and Ugandans, sustainable development would mean meeting the needs of an increasing Ugandan population without destroying natural capital. Uganda’s economy needs to grow without exceedingly high natural resource demands and ecological repercussions that in turn would undermine the future generations in their capacity to survive. Tourism is a classical example where natural systems (ecosystems) support human system or human market systems (economy).

However, with already visible effects of climate change and to avoid losing tourism and ecosystems, Uganda cannot afford to clear many hectares of vegetation in a protected area in the name of a golf course. To the agitators of alternative planted forests, remember planted forests cannot be a replacement to naturally growing mosaics of natural vegetation.

Mr Bakamwesiga is secretary, Ecological Society for Eastern Africa
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