The Mpanga Gorge in Western Uganda used to be part of a transitional corridor, linking Kibale Forest National Park in the North (a highland rainforest) with Queen Elizabeth National Park in the South (a lowland savannah).
The Gorge itself holds a unique ecosystem with cascading waterfalls and is providing the habitat for the target species, the endemic and Critically Endangered cycad, Encephalartos whitelockii.
Currently there is increased pressure on this fragile ecosystem. The slash and burn methods practiced by the surrounding community and the need to bring large numbers of cattle down the gorge to find water has caused the cycad population to come under significant pressure.
The remaining population is estimated at about 8,000 individuals. There is little or no awareness within the surrounding community regarding the unique character of the species and enforcement of the legal framework has been inadequate.
Until present no activities have been rolled out to ensure the conservation of the species and to address the above mentioned challenges, beside small-scale restoration activities by the hydropower dam that was built on this site a few years ago.
PROTOS is renowned in Uganda for their leading role, since 2006, in the implementation of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). Together with the Ministry of Water and Environment, PROTOS has put in place an institutional set up, according to the principles of IWRM, for the whole Mpanga River catchment.
Based on this experience and others the Ministry has since recent developed a new policy for Catchment Based Water Management for the whole country.
At present PROTOS is developing typical "model sites" within the Mpanga catchment where practical models of IWRM are being rolled out. The Mpanga Gorge is one of these key model-sites where ecosystem conservation and restoration focused on the Critically Endangered cycad species, will play a central role.
Together with local partners and with close involvement of Local Government structures the program will first of all focus on awareness creation for the surrounding community.
At the same time enforcement of the legal framework at local level will be stimulated by both software activities (community information sessions and formulation of local bye laws) as well as hardware interventions (the demarcation of the legally protected areas).
These actions are combined with the creation of community incentives by the close involvement in the nursery and planting activities as well as ensuring the improved access to water for the community. The program also holds research and pilots on the marketing of seedlings.
The project will first of all focus on the monitoring and mapping of the actual situation as little precise information is available at present.
Based on this baseline priority zones for interventions will be identified and up to 5000 seedlings will be planted.
The seedlings will be propagated from community nurseries. Due to the creation of increased awareness and the formulation and enforcement of bylaws, as well as the clear demarcation of the legally protected area, the discontinuation of slash and burn activities are targeted.
Finally the projects aims at creation of direct incentives of the involved community (alternative water sources) and the research for alternative income generation (e.g. through the sale of cycad seedlings).