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Industrial growth vs environmental protection

Tourists at Murchison falls National park. The country’s 1.4 billion-dollar-per-year tourism sector, for instance, depends almost entirely on the country’s wildlife and natural beauty. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA

The report noted that humans extract 60 billion tonnes from nature each year to satisfy demand worldwide for crops, fish, minerals and other goods. The harvest is unsustainable, the researchers say. As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in developing countries like Uganda, unless these countries step up their conservation efforts.

“For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services which conducted the assessment at the request of national governments, recently told The New York Times.

The researchers said nature’s current rate of decline is unparalleled, and the accelerating rate of extinctions means a likely grave impact on people around the world.

Possibly it is such damning findings that are prompting Ugandan conservationists to marshal funds to finance the protection of Uganda’s critical natural resources.

Colette Marcellin, the Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassy in Kampala told the guests that there is no doubt that environmental goods and services provided by Uganda’s forests, wetlands, and diverse habitats have benefitted Uganda’s economy over the years.

She said agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and energy industries all depend on water and nutrient cycling, pollination, climate regulation, and raw materials – elements that need protection and maintenance to sustain economic development.

“Support for biodiversity conservation is therefore critical for Uganda’s private sector development,” she said, “It will help maintain stable and productive ecosystems that, in turn, will strengthen business outcomes.”

Marcellin said success of the country’s 1.4 billion-dollar-per-year tourism sector, for instance, depends almost entirely on the country’s wildlife and natural beauty yet despite extraordinary benefits to the economy, biodiversity faces many challenges ranging from agriculture and human settlement expansion to oil and gas developments in the Albertine region in western Uganda.

In September 2014, American aid agency, USAID, embarked on a five-year partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society to build a national-level conservation trust fund – the Uganda Biodiversity Fund which was eventually launched in 2017 to supplement existing yet still inadequate conservation funding provided by the government and donor agencies.

Marcellin said USAID has decided to reorient the way it does business to focus on supporting partner countries’ journey to self-reliance.

“Part of this journey includes financing and implementing market-based solutions to spur sustainable, locally-led economic development,” she said.

“We ask that you consider ways to help conserve Uganda’s rich natural resources; such support can help companies meet corporate social responsibility objectives and enhance their visibility as conservation advocates.”

“It can also help to mitigate environmental degradation that could adversely impact business and provide offsets for industries with direct environmental impacts.”

Francis Ogwal who is the Convention for Biological Diversity focal person at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) stressed to the private sector the importance of having a productive and healthy environment, saying it is the best gift one can give to the next generation.

“As you produce, the generation of waste is unavoidable and managing this waste is important and where you damage the areas around your investment, restoration is the way to go,” Ogwal said.

Dr. Simon Nampindo, the Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, challenged the private sector to invest more than they are already doing for conservation since there are benefits for the companies in terms of corporate image and integrity in the communities where these businesses operate.

Kyokunda said her organization’s role is to be the leading grant making institution in Uganda that awards grants to support the government and civil society institutions, as well as individuals such as researchers involved in protecting and conserving Uganda’s rich biodiversity.

It also seeks to act as a liaison between government agencies, civil society, development partners and the private sector in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in the country.

She said the Uganda Biodiversity Fund will “tirelessly and meticulously monitor how biodiversity is faring in Uganda, diligently seek funds to safeguard and restore it, and allocate funds to make impact on the ground.”

She said her organization intends to create a conservation fund worth about US$ 80 million over the next five to ten years as well as guide the investments.

Gideon Badagawa, the executive director of the Private Sector Foundation-Uganda said the mindset of modern manufacturers is changing from only caring about making money to being accountable to society and the environment.

Badagawa, who also sits on the NEMA board to take care of the interests of Uganda’s private sector, said the private sector has come up with a three-year strategic plan that goes beyond corporate social responsibility.

Meanwhile, Juraj Ujhazy, an agricultural and finance consultant working at the East African Development Bank’s Biodiversity and Investment Fund told the forum that from experience there have been over 150 companies that have gone to the bank in recent years seeking loans with environmental protection being part of their spin-offs.

Ujhazy said this could be an entry point for endowment funds like the Uganda Biodiversity Fund to work with financial institutions to ensure part of the interest on loans is geared towards environmental conservation.

“Financial institutions could, for example, offer these businesses loans with part of the interest going to Uganda Biodiversity Fund to protect water catchment areas around the country,” he said.

Going forward, Ogwal said meeting over breakfast was a good idea but, creating a Biodiversity Forum where conservationists and the private sector regularly meet to discuss responsible investments would be a better initiative.

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