Changing Attitudes Towards Conservation with Wildlife-Friendly Enterprises

In Uganda, a lack of income-earning opportunities and resentment about escalating human-wildlife conflict (HWC), can drive rural communities to engage in wildlife crime. But research[1] conducted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and partners around Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area and Murchison Falls Conservation Area suggested that two community-based interventions could potentially reduce this threat: support to wildlife scouts and support to wildlife-friendly enterprises.


Based on these findings, in 2017, IIED, along with Village Enterprise and partners (Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)), initiated a project to test these community-based interventions in nine villages around Karuma Wildlife Reserve (KWR), with the aim of reducing local participation in wildlife crime[2]. The wildlife scout program was led by UWA and WCS, who provided training and support to scouts whose role was to protect farmland from crop-raiding, and to respond when these incidents occurred. The wildlife-friendly enterprise program was implemented by Village Enterprise to train and mentor members of poor households in business skills to break the poverty cycle. Together, the intention was to improve people’s attitudes towards conservation and reduce their likelihood of engaging in wildlife crime.


Following an adapted version of their poverty graduation model (which has been successfully implemented in other parts of Uganda), Village Enterprise created six business savings groups (BSGs), each comprising ten businesses of three entrepreneurs each. The model always involves households most in need, so entrepreneurs were selected from the poorest households in each village. Additionally, a member of each scout household was asked to be involved in the enterprise program, as it was hoped this would act as an incentive for scouts to remain active.


Entrepreneurs were given training and ongoing mentoring in forming and managing small businesses, including business skills and financial literacy. Each business was provided with seed capital of US$150 with the overall aim to increase opportunities for local people to engage in legal livelihood ventures[3]. Specifically, this was expected to generate non-poaching income and increase the labor demands of participating households, which would collectively reduce opportunities to engage in wildlife crime. The model was also intended to complement the scouting program by supporting local businesses that supplied raw or processed materials to help mitigate HWC (for example growing chilies, which elephants don’t eat)[4].

The Pe Nongi Labedo business group gathering straw to protect their chili plants


One of the key reasons for implementing these interventions was for project participants, as well as non-participants residing in project villages, to benefit and for attitudes towards conservation and the KWR to improve. This in turn was expected to contribute to changes in behavior. To evaluate these changes, Village Enterprise monitored the attitudes of 1. wildlife scouts and entrepreneurs, and 2. people living inside one of the nine project villages but not participating in either intervention. Additionally, Village Enterprise collected information on the financial impacts of the enterprise program for entrepreneurs.


The analysis of responses from project participants showed a largely positive change.[5] This was particularly the case for non-scout households (i.e. households only involved in the enterprise program), who showed sizable increases in their positive attitudes towards conservation and self-reported likelihood of engaging in conservation activities. Results from people not involved in the project were equally positive. Of those aware of the enterprise program, 73% knew someone who was directly involved, 96% were positive or very positive towards it and 99% felt there were benefits from having the program in their village. Village Enterprise also monitored whether the project had any effect on the wider adoption of practices undertaken by business groups. Again, the results were positive, with 60% reporting they were part of a savings group. Moreover, half of these respondents had joined a group within the project period and 93% said their experience had been positive or very positive.

Atio Ku Tea business members, Paula Akoka and Margaret Wiyagic, cover chillies with netting and straw to protect the crops from rain and the strong East African sun

The enterprise program also had significant financial benefits for entrepreneurs. Those joining the program in June 2018 were able to use profits from their initial business, as well as savings from the BSGs, to buy livestock and equipment, which has generated further income[6]. Participants remain in touch with their mentors and attribute success to the business skills training they received as part of the Village Enterprise model. Similarly, women who joined the program from scout households in November 2019, who all planted chili, have earned an income from selling their crops to a national chili processing company. For example, the Kwo Lonyo business group earned US$250 from one chili harvest, enabling the women to send their children to school[7].


The whole project team was very encouraged by these results, which suggest that you might not need to involve an entire village in an enterprise program to influence general attitudes towards conservation. More positive attitudes towards saving money and BSGs also imply that if the enterprise program promotes wider uptake beyond those directly supported by the project, then the overall effect for the villages would be beneficial. Taken all together, the results suggest that community-based interventions, such as enterprise programs, can influence people’s behavior, which may reduce their likelihood of engaging in wildlife crime.


Village Enterprise was a partner on the IIED-led project ‘Implementing park action plans for community engagement to tackle illegal wildlife trade’, funded by the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.









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