How can improved stakeholder engagement with the Batwa improve the World Bank’s Uganda Forest Project?

Monitoring the early stages of a World Bank forest project in Uganda, BIC and our partner Bio-Vision Africa are concerned that the Bank and implementing ministry have not meaningfully engaged with the local Batwa Indigenous communities. As the project has yet to begin implementation, the Bank can improve project outcomes and prevent potential harm by holding safe, in-person consultations with the Batwa and including their inputs in the project’s design.

BIC and our partner, Bio-Vision Africa (BiVA), are working to monitor the World Bank’s Investing in Forests and Protected Areas for Climate-Smart Development. Uganda’s rural population, particularly the Batwa Indigenous People, depend upon forests to sustain their livelihoods, but deforestation and degradation are rapidly increasing. The project seeks to bring together conservation and poverty reduction in a sustainable way by improving the management of protected areas, increasing revenues and jobs from forest and wildlife protected areas, and improving landscape management in refugee hosting areas. Although the Ugandan Parliament has yet to approve the project, the World Bank and Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) have already moved forward with preparations for the project’s implementation by holding initial stakeholder consultations and preparing a Stakeholder Engagement Framework and Vulnerable and Marginalized Groups Framework

BiVA undertook field visits to assess the extent to which consultations provided the Batwa the opportunity to understand the project and influence its design. Overall, their findings are concerning. While some Batwa are aware of the project, BiVA found that the Bank did not accurately inform many Batwa groups about the future project’s potential impacts or benefits. Many Batwa indicated that they anticipate adverse impacts such as loss of livelihoods and possible displacement from the project. Furthermore, they stated the Bank and MWE did not obtain their Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), meaningfully engage with them, nor inform them of future consultation plans. Considering the Batwa’s traditional knowledge of the forest, which can enhance the project’s outcomes, in addition to their increased risk of exclusion as a marginalized group, the Bank needs to improve its stakeholder engagement practices so that the Batwa can raise their concerns and provide input on the project design. 

For the project to achieve sustainable and inclusive outcomes, the Bank should: 

  1. Hold local in-person consultations in the Batwa language. The Bank has indicated it is too early to engage in in-depth consultations or consider the applicability of FPIC since the Ugandan Parliament still needs to approve the project. However, consulting with the Batwa in the early stages of project design and before project implementation is critical for the Bank to avoid harm and include them in project benefits. As the Batwa rely primarily on oral rather than written communication and have limited access to technology, the Bank should not rely on modern information and communications technology or written notices in national languages. Rather, the Bank and MWE should hold consultations, with COVID-19 safety protocols, in locations easily accessible for the Batwa and hire interpreters. This will enable meaningful engagement with the Batwa in a manner that allows them to understand project information and contribute to project design. 
  2. Use the Batwa’s forest knowledge to inform project design. The Batwa’s knowledge of Uganda’s forest and national park areas is unique and profound. For example, the Batwa have a wealth of knowledge on medicinal plants, which include some 32 species treating a broad range of common ailments, including serious diseases such as malaria. (see Annex 1 of our report.) The Bank should integrate Batwa knowledge to guide decisions on areas meriting protection, on the placement of new infrastructure, and the potential commercialization of certain plants, if limited to sustainable amounts and safe uses.  
  3. Create active roles for the Batwa to participate in project implementation. Given the Batwa’s deep knowledge of Ugandan forests and the forests’ central role in their livelihoods, the project should create opportunities for the Batwa to benefit from and continue being stewards of the forest. Such roles could include experts in native arboriculture and horticulture, forest monitors, park guides, scouts, or rangers.  

Since the project is still in the early stages of design, the Bank and MWE have an opportunity to prevent the exclusion of the Batwa and enhance the sustainability and success of the project, but only if they meaningfully consult with the Batwa and include their inputs into the project design. 

To explore our initial findings and recommendations further, please see BiVA and BIC’s full report here