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Phionah Orishaba, Project Assistant, Nature Uganda (NU), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), and International Crane Foundation Partnership (ICF),

Wetlands in Uganda’s Kigezi region are under increasing pressure from the growing human population in need of fertile farmland. Poor agricultural practices in upland areas have led to soil exhaustion and degradation, thus resulting in reduced yields and harvests. Functioning wetland systems are vital for humans with regards to water security and flood prevention, and they form critical habitats to support wildlife, including Uganda’s National Bird, the Endangered Grey Crowned Crane. Agricultural encroachment into wetlands leads to increased human disturbance of breeding cranes and degradation of wetland habitats. To combat these threats, the International Crane Foundation (ICF), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), and NatureUganda (NU) have been working with the Kabale District local government, to restore buffer zones along the Kiruruma River in the South Kiruruma Wetland.

Environmental education and awareness campaigns are broadcast through local radio stations (such as Voice of Kigezi 89.5 FM and Peak 90.0 FM, which have a listenership of approximately 50,000 people in south-western Uganda. These campaigns promote wetland conservation and the restoration of buffer zones along local rivers and lakes. Following recent radio announcements, community groups, societies and cooperatives who own land along the Kiruruma River held meetings and agreed to implement restoration activities. They invited the ICF/EWT/NU project staff and district environment officers to guide them in measuring out the 30 m-wide buffer zone before they began planting crops this season.

The Rwakihiwa United Farmers Community Conservation Group in Kasheregyenyi Parish, Kamuganguzi Sub-county, is one of the groups that has committed to restoring their wetland by securing a 15 m-wide buffer zone, which they will extend to the legally required 30 m in time. A 15 m-wide buffer zone has been demarcated along a length of 722 m, which equates to 10,830 m² of wetland habitat.

Similarly, the Nyaconga Bariisa Tukwataniise Group, located in Kisaasa Parish, Kamuganguzi Sub-county has voluntarily agreed to restore a 15 m-wide buffer zone throughout 978 m, equating to an area of 14,670 m². With a membership of 53 people, this group has promised to work alongside the government to monitor crane populations and conserve wetland habitats. Cooperatives and societies in Buhara have also elected to participate in the restoration of the Kiruruma riverbanks after they witnessed the riverbanks and their potato crops being swept away by recent floods in the area. The ICF/EWT/NU project staff, the local Environment Officer of the Kabale District, and community members participated in measuring two 30 m-wide buffer zones equalling 68,250 m². Indigenous tree species, such as the Red-Hot-Poker, also known as Ekiko in Rukiga, Sesbania species, and bamboo species are used to demarcate the buffer zones.

Through active participation by local communities, ongoing enforcement and assistance from local council authorities, and project implementation by the ICF/EWT/NU partnership, a total of 93,750 m² of wetland habitat along the Kiruruma River has been secured. With continued support from the government and local communities, the team intends to continue this work along the entire length of the river.