Former poachers turned farmers weed their garlic gardens in the buffer zone of Mt Rwenzori National Park at Kinyampanika village, Kabarole District. PHOTO BY ENID NINSIIMA

More than 20 farmers, who were formerly poachers in Mt Rwenzori National Park and left the illegal activity to grow garlic, now have a reason to smile.
One of them, Benon Mugisa, 28, a resident of Kinyampanika village, Kabonero Sub-county in Kabarole District, has now spent three years growing garlic.

He has reaped more than Shs3m from the crop in the past seasons.
“For the years, I spent poaching, I never got game meat that sold for more than Shs50,000. Since I decided to grow garlic, I have been able to harvest garlic worth Shs3m in only three years” Mugisa said.
In the first harvest, he got Shs 90,000. For the second, it was Shs1.1m and the third Shs1m. He adds that drought conditions spoilt last year’s yields.
“I sell a basinful of garlic between Shs 50,000 and Shs80,000 but a sack of Irish potatoes from the same piece of land is Shs30,000. And garlic is not eaten by wild animals,” Mugisa points out.

From the proceeds, he has been able to pay school fees for his children,and meet other domestic requirements.
However, Mugisa has some challenges that have limited his income like inadequate seedlings, limited access to markets and adverse weather conditions such as long dry spells.
He says it takes a year to prepare garlic seedlings to germinate, which makes the farmers plant for one season instead of two in a year.
“I have kept my seedlings so that I can plant on a large scale in the next season. I aim to harvest bagfuls, which will give me good money,” Mugisa reveals about his immediate plans. “This time, I will not sell in basinfuls but rather in kilogrammes.”
On the background to this initiative, Joel Muhasa, 49, the chairperson, Kinyampanika Garlic Farmers Association, says the group was formed after a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) intervention.
The aim was to reduce human–wildlife conflicts that had resulted in deaths of many animals after they destroyed crops in the area.
“We were approached by UWA to identify a crop that was of high value, not edible by wild animals and it would make residents feel for wild animals and develop a passion for tourism,” he says.
Muhasa adds that he has been able to raise more than Shs1.8m from garlic in the last three years.

However, he notes that they have been striving to adapt from poaching to the new crop, which was introduced to them.
“We have been able to sell and solve our family problems, including school fees, got study tour to Kabale on how to grow onions on hilly lands and we also want to visit Kayunga for the same so that we can improve our farming.”
Muhasa reveals that his group has a total of 49 farmers. But the biggest challenge is farmers selling from the gardens and therefore fail to get better market, which is the advantage of collective bargaining. “We are forced to sell from the garden because we have no store,” he attempts an explanation for this situation.

He also appeals to UWA to roll out the project to other villages, which are adjacent to the national park.
This is based on the fact that the pilot project has proved successful and that hunters have started appreciating the importance of conservation instead of destruction.
The project code-named “Promotion of Tourism through Cultural Values” was started by UWA in Rwenzori Mountains National Park in 2012 with an aim of reducing illegal activities in the protected area.
The project has been embraced by more than 40 farmers in Kinyampanika village, where it was piloted.
UWA says the impact has been registered including more than 20 poachers denouncing illegal activities and engaging in garlic growing to protect Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
The park’s senior warden, James Okware, applauded Fauna and Flora International for funding the project to the tune of Shs 200m so far.