This electric fence uses electric shocks to deter wild beasts from crossing into the communities. PHOTO BY INNOCENT KIIZA
Local Wildlife

National Park Electric Fence; Farmers Hope for a Bumper Harvest

Innocent Kiiza is an Enviromental Investigative Journalist with passion for Climate Change, Water and Wildlife.

BY INNOCENT KIIZA

Janet Musoki lives in Kyenzanza-Kagarama; a community neighboring the Queen Elizabeth National Park on the Kyambura landscape of Rubirizi district.

An array of optimism is visibly remarkable on her face that you’re left to wonder if it is indeed her that carries the burden of fending for all her six children at the tender age of 28.

When this writer approached her for comments on the electric fence that was erected about four years ago; Musoki with a beaming face replies.

“At least, we can now sleep, gone are the days when we would have to spend long nights drumming buckets and jerrycans and making fire camps just to scare away the elephants.”

Prior to the installation of the electric fence, it was not uncommon for elephants to stray into people’s farms, ravage crops and sometimes even take human life.

In fact, for Musoki, this was the horrible life she had lived for close to fifteen years when she embarked on her farming journey. At the time, her husband’s family owned about seven hectares of land and it is cotton growing, the family’s main activity on the land that earned them a livelihood.

She reveals that whereas farming had for a long time been the backbone of Uganda’s economy, for communities living around queen elizabeth national parks, the frequent raids by the elephants had turned it into a near worthless venture.

The mother of six recalls an incident in 2016 when she procured a loan of three million uganda      shillings to support her farmland activities. That year Musoki diversified the crop and planted maize on their farm. She hoped that the maize would supplement the cotton yields and subsequently enhance their household income when they harvest.

The hope lived, but it was all gone the moment she failed to guard her farm. One single night, her hard work, finances, time and any other resources had turned to zero after the wild animals paid her farm an u nwelcome but busy visit. And that was not all, she had a loan of three million shillings attracting an 18 percent annual interest on her neck.

Musoki became restless, trying out all avenues, including  seeking support from the government but all in vain. She had hoped to get some compensation for the destruction she suffered at her farmland. In the end, she had to sell part of the land to service the loan she had acquired.

Musoki speaking to the Press while in her garden after the invasion of elephants from the Queen Elizabeth National Park that left part of the farm garden destroyed in 2016. Video Clip by Jerald Tumusime.

“In that situation where the money lender needed his money with interest forced my husband to sale part of our land after UWA compensation remained unfulfilled for long,” Musoki adds.

It is important to note that government was not in any way charged to compensate persons whose properties and or lives were destroyed by wild life until 2022 when the Uganda Wildlife Amendment Act 2019 came into force. Section 83 of the Act provides  for compensation of destroyed properties and lives lost at the handiwork of wild animals that stray into communities. 

The problem of animals remained a big challenge to communities neighboring protected areas which continued to suffer frequent wildlife raids inflicting severe damage on crops, livestock and sometimes human life. Most Cultivators /famers are not reluctant to share their experience of human- wildlife conflict before the construction of electric fences.

Mbambu Jovia, 32, a single mother of 7 children could not hide her excitement about the electric fence which she said has done wonders in her life. As she lay in her maize farm, she said, “My children and I no longer have to sleep outside in the cold during the night and yet we will have more yields. This was a long-time-cry, I am happy that it came to pass.” 

Like Musoki, Mbambu says she has been steadily improving crop yields and she is even more optimistic that the coming season will even see her reap even bigger as she is investing more resources and time on the garden.

On 27 April, Innocent Kiiza(Reporter) traveled to the communities that practice commercial farming of cotton and other cash crops like maize, beans, peanuts, groundnuts, along Queen Elizabeth around Muhokya Sub County in Kasese District and Kyenzaza-Kagarama section bordering Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, in Rubirizi District on the effectiveness of electric fences.

The feedback from beneficiaries( farmers) showed how the fence has improved the socio- economic profile of the farmers , livelihood status , economic activities, reduced on Elephant conflict, resources access from the park, improved farmers and neighboring communities attitude towards the park among others.

Mbambu in a Purple sleeveless dress showing an extension officer how Tomatoe growing is now possible along the National Park in Kasese. Photo BY Innocent Kiiza.

The electric fence in Queen Elizabeth national park has reduced the rate of crop riding by 87% in south-western Kasese in Uganda, according to space for giants assessment report 2019/2020.

He also observed that farmers  have since diversified the crops; growing a variety ranging from bananas, ground nuts, soya, beans, onions, simsim and the traditional cotton and maize.

 According to Nyakatonzi Growers Cooperative Union, now the bananas account for  2.3%,beans 5.6%,cassava ,coffee 1.7%,cotton 24.9%,eggplants ,groundnuts 7.5%,maize 46.2%,onions,simsim 1.2%,soya bean 1.7% and tomatoes 7.5%.

Graph showing how crop yields increased due to the construction of the electric fence in Kasese and Rubirizi.

Mwesigye Lovisa who activates 3 kilometers away from the Queen Elizabeth National park Kyabakura ,says that value of land has increased almost doubled 5% in price, where an acre goes now to 10 to 20 millions compared to before the electric fence  construction where an acre was at 7 to 9 million.

The space for Giants assessment survey report conducted 2020-2021 on electric fence effectiveness revealed an increase in land purchase values, in Kiremebe Parish , where an acre was reported to be selling between UGX 30-40 million after the fence compared to UGX 15-25 million before fencing. In Kaleberyo parish, an acre was reported to be at UGX 6 million currently compared to UGX 3 million before the fence and increase of 50% over 3 years (2020-2023) while in Kikorongo the price of an acre is currently at UGX20 million up from UGX 2 million before the fence which is a 10% increase in land price.

The UWA Communication officer Hangi Bashir says the appreciation of land is a development indicator in the area since the communities are now a beehive of activities.

“There is a factory recycling old vehicle tyres in Kikorongo employing not less than 50 youths “, in addition, there are also two Hotels that have been built and all are because of the electric fence”, Bashir says. 

How does the fence work?

Justus Tusubira, a specialist from space for Giants, a company that constructed the electric fence, says the construction  and installation started in 2018 around Kyenzaza-Kagarama in Wildlife Reserve -Queen Elizabeth Protected Area(QEPA) because it was the hotspot with the highest rate of wildlife- human conflict cases.

He says they have so far constructed 60 kilometers and expect to complete the remaining parts of Queen Elizabeth National park in the coming second phase.

“Wires are strung Horizontally between 3fts posts, pulsing with up 9,000 volts of electricity drawn from solar powered energy. Protruding from the Horizontal wire are 4ft electrified outriggers that raise at the angle of 45 degrees towards the direction the big cats/ animals will approach from the park.”Tusubira said

Electric fence along the Queen Elizabeth National Park-Rubirizi side. Photo by Innocent Kiiza.

The idea is when the wire touches the elephant on its soft skin on its chest or trunks, it gets shocks, turns and goes back to its habitat.

According to Tusubira, fence design is not harmful to big cats like lions and  elephants or humans and It’s non-lethal that can kill Wildlife apart from scaring them to return back to their habitat. The purpose is to keep wildlife, especially elephants away from people’s crops or property.

 “The challenge we are facing is that Elephants are wise animals because when they find out that they are shocked in a certain direction, they move to find another place where they can exist from,” according to Tusubira. A kilometer of an electric fence costs between 5,000 to 6,000US.    

Disputes

According to Chief Warden Queen Elizabeth Conservation area Pontious Ezuma,cultivators are more impacted upon by Human -Elephant conflict through crop raiding leading to loss of major sources of income and food for the households and fence is viewed as positively impacting their livelihoods.

However, Ezuma added that cattle keepers have also expressed concern with the fact that their animals no longer have access to the pasture within the park because of the electric fence.

Ezuma also revealed that 39.5 kilometers were constructed on the Kasese side of the park while 19.5 kilometers of the electric fence were constructed in Rubirizi.

 Ezuma says the fence coverage could have expanded but political interference disorganized the process. 

“Can you imagine politicians mobilized community members against the electric fence path and urging them to ask for compensation before implementation yet the fence construction is vital in preventing wild animals from straying into communities?”

He adds that those politicians forget that straying animals inflict a lot of damage in the community subsequently affecting the socio-economic development of the community.

However, the chairperson Kirembe cell central division  Januariah Lhuhalha says the community members neighboring park boundaries disagreed with UWA study survey on boundaries where the electric fence should pass but not that community resisted the electric fence development.

“Some farmers wanted to be compensated by UWA before they electric fence installation pass through some parts of their land and UWA refused”,Luhualha adds,   

Electric fence Significance to food production

Tusubira says electric fences have positively impacted on biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction in the short period that was first piloted in Rubirizi district and later scaled to Kasese district.

On poverty reduction, the electric fence has improved food security through farmers being able to re-introduce crops which they had abandoned to cultivate that include banana, cassava, sweet potatoes crops and maize within 3 kilometers of the park boundary.

Tusubira says some of the farmers who used to hire people to guard their crops at a rate of UGx100,00-150,000 no longer have to spend that money, instead the cost of hiring land has gone up from UGx100,000 to between  UGX Two hundred thousand-three hundred thousand.

“These conditions contribute to improve livelihood of the household through either hiring land which was previously laying idle or increased crop production of the hired parcel all leading to increased income” Tusubira said.

On biodiversity conservation, the communication officer UWA Hangi Bashir, while addressing journalists at Multi-purpose Hall last month,  said attitudes of the communities benefiting from the electric fence positively changed. Many are now supporting elephant conservation, some wishing the elephant population would increase in the park. Majority farmers and the population have known that wildlife contributed to revenue generation and tourist attraction into the country.

Beehives along the Queen Elizabeth National Park as part community intervention to support elephant conservation. Photo By Innocent Kiiza.

The revenue sharing they receive for community development, the population is a ware , comes from wildlife conservation”, Bashir said

Kasese District production officer Julius Baluku says the electric fence has significance on yields adding that the problem of animals invading farms  has reduced and farmers are now boosting over enhanced production.

Baluku says the Electric Wire is solving a big problem of animal and human conflicts. Sound Cloud by Innocent Kiiza.

“Elephants used to invade farmers gardens through various spots and destroying everything in the field, for example Augustine Musereru’s garden, elephants ate almost three hectares of maize plantation but recently the story changed; Baluku said.  

The Regional field officer Cotton Development Organization Adrian Katwetegywe, says  electric fences have had a lot of impact as far as farmers production is concerned.

“By 2018 the production of cotton has stagnated at around 20,000-25,000 bells, now we have been having production above 30 thousand and our production is determined by various factors include price, pests and disease , climate and extension services to farmers  but Electric fence has given farmers choice to decide on what crops to grow depending on the season” Katwetegywe said.

Katwetegywe further says that the fence has benefited 25,000 to 30,000 farmers where each farmer on average holds 1.2 hectares of land but with hope that cotton competes with other cash crops now.

“When the cotton price is high, farmers grow much cotton but when it goes down, they turn to grow other crops and the price of other crops also affect the growth of cotton.” Katwetegywe said.

The Production manager Nyakatonzi Growers Cooperative Union Limited Paddy Neddala says that the production rate for farmers in Rubirizi and Kasese has improved since the installation of the fence along the park boundary.

He cited that maize production has improved from 100kg to 500 kg per hectare, cotton from 200 kg to 500kg, ground nuts from 200 kg to 500kg, beans from 100kg to 300kg, Rice from 200 kg to 500 kg.

Paddy describes the Electric fence as a game changer for the farmers. Soundcloud by Innocent Kiiza.

Joshua Masereka Kisembo, the Resident District Commissioner  Bunyangabu District says that he is happy when he moves along Queen Elizabeth national park and sees people cultivating along the park peacefully without conflicting with animals. 

He is now appealing to UWA to also erect an electric fence in Bunyangabu district along areas neighbouring             Queen Elizabeth National park. 

“Our people in Rwimi have also been grappling with wild animals especially elephants that have met untold suffering especially to the farmers. UWA should now focus on erecting an electric fence in Bunyangabu areas since they have done something in Kasese and Rubirizi. 

The Uganda Wildlife Authority Communication Officer Hangi Bashir says they remain committed to building the fence in other spots that the elephants have been exploiting to stray into communities.

Hangi, however, says it is important to appreciate the fact that the installation of an electric fence is a very expensive venture.

UWA Communications Officer, Hangi Bashir addressing Journalists during the UWA Media engagement meeting at the Kasese Multipurpose Hall in April 2023, Kasese District. Photo by Innocent Kiiza.

The UWA mouth piece also appeals to communities where the electric fence has been erected to guard it jealously and desist from cutting some parts of it to create passages. He also warns people against entering the park illegally emphasizing that the penalties are severe.

Section 30(1),Cap. 200 of the Uganda Wildlife Act says a person who attempts to enter , enters, resides in, or attempts to reside in a wildlife protected area without permission by the Authority, commits an offense

conclusion

Human-wildlife conflict is an enormous challenge around Queen Elizabeth National Park where people and elephants share space, resulting in huge social and economic costs in the form of crop destruction, property damage, human injury, loss of life and livestock. 

Before the fence was built  farmers  had experienced crop-raiding by elephants in the last years  as the most problematic animal.

Human-wildlife conflict  was a major challenge to farmers living near the boundary of Queen Elizebeth Protected Area. The farmers perceived Human- Wildlife  to be increasing and significantly affecting their livelihoods and relationship with the park.

Uganda Wildlife Authority together with the farmers and funding partners had for long used various methods such as trenches, chili spray, banging tins to make noise, scouting and crop guarding, scare shooting, fire, beeshives etc, to deter elephants from crop raiding. However, these measures did little to protect crops from elephants’ raids. 

This had even turned the communities hostile towards wildlife. Like Musoki stated; “Those days, we didn’t care if the elephant died or not. Honestly, considering the suffering we went through when guarding our farms, if one had the means, they would not hesitate to poison the animals.” Adding “thank God now we don’t have to suffer again, the animals and the people can now live in peace.” She says.

Musoki is projecting that this season she expects her six hectares of  maize cultivated , she projects  harvest increment from 200 kg to 600 kg since the installation of the electric fence on the park boundary.

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