Conserving endangered cranes whilst improving family planning in Uganda

November 23, 2018


Today in south west Uganda the team from the Margaret Pyke Trust, three conservation NGOs, and the local hospital, finalised the first stage of the design work on a new style of conservation project suited to the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Trust and its partners’ work is being supported by a Darwin Initiative Scoping Award.

The wetlands around Kabale, in south west Uganda, are a classic example of how increasing pressures on wetland ecosystems impact both the ability of people to maintain sustainable livelihoods, and the integrity of habitats on which threatened and endangered species depend. Local environmental problems include loss of ecosystem goods, such as papyrus, soil fertility decline reducing agricultural productivity, and a reduction in access to clean water as wetlands become less able to undertake their natural functions. Wetland degradation is also impacting threatened biodiversity including Uganda’s national bird, the endangered Grey Crowned Crane.

The African Crane Conservation Programme (a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust and International Crane Foundation) and NatureUganda are already supporting local communities to develop sustainable livelihoods. But Kerryn Morrison, of the African Crane Conservation Programme, knew Kabale families were reporting that barriers to family planning mean they are having larger families than they would ideally choose. This increases pressures on families themselves, and local ecosystems, and so Kerryn contacted the Margaret Pyke Trust. A cross-sectoral partnership begun to evolve, recognising that generating sustainable livelihoods alone might not be enough for either the cranes or the local communities.  

David Johnson, Chief Executive of the Margaret Pyke Trust said, “We know from our experience elsewhere in Africa that integrating sustainable livelihood interventions benefitting ecosystem health, with human reproductive health interventions benefitting human health, is an effective way to help both rural communities and the non-human species relying on the same local ecosystems. We believe that by integrating improvements in family planning provision, with the development of sustainable livelihood opportunities, we will be able to generate greater environmental, health and gender outcomes than if we only focussed on one of those sectors.”

Kerryn Morrison explained, “Successful biodiversity conservation requires taking into account people, our health, and our interactions with the natural world. Integrating ecosystem and human health actions responding to population pressures to enable sustainable utilization of wetland ecosystems really is a win-win.” The project hospital partner is Rugarama Hospital and Dr Gilbert A. Mateeka, their Medical Superintendent, explained, “the need for greater community reproductive health knowledge is acute. Integrated programmes provide one way of reaching more people through outreach, as well as being a way to engage men – who are often one of the barriers to women exercising their right to choice. This is something we will address in this project.”

In addition to the health and conservation actions, the academic partner is the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Professor Susannah Mayhew, who is also a Trustee of the Margaret Pyke Trust said, “We want to analyse the project outcomes, to determine whether the project partners’ assumption that projects integrating human and ecosystem health interventions generate greater positive outcomes compared to single sector health or environment projects is correct.” Achilles Byaruhanga the Executive Director of NatureUganda concluded, “We are working together to develop an integrated programme which will respond to the connected local environmental, health and livelihood challenges. Securing long-term sustainability of wetlands contributes not only to Convention on Biological Diversity goals, but also our need to have a twenty first century approach to conservation, acknowledging the cross cutting nature of the SDGs, and the demographic realities of a world with a fast growing population.”

Grey crowned cranes in the wetlands around Kabale, Uganda