THE West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve in Eastern Uganda is one of the last standing exhibits of tropical flora and fauna, but decades of illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have accelerated the degradation of the forest landscape, destroying both the forest ecosystem and the livelihoods of nearby communities. However, a collaborative effort underway to restore the forest to its original natural state with local communities is realising promising results.

The West Bugwe Forest Central Reserve is one of the three remaining natural forests in Eastern Uganda. This 3,064-hectare forest reserve is home to a variety of flora and fauna species. It is also a source of fuel, food, and medicines for 14 villages and communities around it.

Located at the border between Uganda and Kenya in Busia county, the forest has in the last decade witnessed a sharp decline in native tree species caused by deforestation, charcoal burning, fuel wood collection, and farming. As the native tree species gave way, new invasive species took their spaces, leading to a decrease in biodiversity. Data show the forest had lost 82 per cent of tree cover between 1989 and 2016. This has hurt the ecosystem, as well as communities that rely on the forest for their livelihoods.

A new ecosystem restoration project is working with local communities to restore native tree species and protect the forest and its resources.

“In the morning we assemble as a patrol team and plan which direction to take to protect the forest,” said forester Florence Nadunga. Florence and her team work hard every day to safeguard the forest from illegal logging and poaching. They plant native tree species, monitor the forest, and engage with local communities about preserving the environment.

Florence is a forester and supervisor of the forest reserve at the National Forest Authority (NFA) of Uganda. NFA is the government agency that manages all central forest reserves in the country.

In 2020, the Uganda Timber Growers Association (UTGA) signed a partnership agreement with NFA to restore and protect 1,000 ha of degraded forest landscapes in the West Bugwe Central Reserve. UTGA is an independent private sector association that brings together commercial timber growers from all over Uganda.

“Our goal is to restore the forest to its natural state,” says Peter Mulondo, programme officer at UTGA. UTGA and NFA are working together to ensure that this forest is managed sustainably and that communities draw increased benefit from its resource