Innovative Partnership Serves Communities, Supports Wetlands, Saves Cranes

Grey Crowned Cranes in flight, Uganda
The number of Grey Crowned Crane breeding pairs in the project site has increased by 200 percent, from 11 to 33. Margaret Pyke Trust

David Johnson, Chief Executive, Margaret Pyke Trust, +44 (0)7481411117
Dr. Adalbert Aine-omucunguzi, East Africa Regional Manager, International Crane Foundation, +256 772 890535
Kerryn Morrison, Vice President International: Director of Africa, International Crane Foundation / Head of Africa Conservation, Endangered Wildlife Trust; + 27 828775126
Jodi Legge, Director of External Affairs, International Crane Foundation; 612-670-6739

Darwin Initiative Grant Funds Family Planning Services & Climate Smart Agriculture Action

Rukiga, Uganda – An innovative partnership to serve communities, support conservation, and save cranes has been extended to provide further training in climate-smart sustainable livelihoods and deliver the improved health services requested by the people of Rukiga, Uganda. The partnership, funded by the UK Government through “The Darwin Initiative,” was formed in 2021. The Darwin Initiative has recently extended its funding for an additional three years. Partners include the Margaret Pyke Trust, Rugarama Hospital, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the International Crane Foundation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The partnership was formed to address barriers to family planning services and respond to community members’ requests for sustainable incomes that would help ease pressures on their families, their communities and the local environment. The healthcare partners focus on the healthcare service provision, including contraception and other family health services. In tandem, the conservation organizations deliver innovative conservation interventions, including training on climate-smart agricultural practices that not only help with wetland conservation but also provide local farmers with the opportunity for greater crop yields and better incomes to help combat poverty.

Women's family planning instruction, Uganda
The project has delivered more than 6,400 healthcare services, including almost 2,000 family planning services. Margaret Pyke Trust

The wetlands of Uganda are rich in biodiversity and are important for both people and animals. The Endangered Grey Crown Crane, which is Uganda’s national bird, uses these wetlands as a critical nesting habitat.

Restoring degraded ecosystems, including wetlands, is not only critical to prevent the extinction of Endangered species, but also necessary for the health and well-being of the people who live in and rely on the wetland for food and water security, livelihoods, and to slow the increasing number and scale of floods, a further impact of climate change.

“This integrated project is complex, but these issues are overlapping,” said Uwimbabazi Sarah, Uganda Manager, Margaret Pyke Trust. “By supporting the community members’ ability to choose the size of their families, providing better health care overall, and teaching better ways to farm, we believe this project will lead to improved wetland, crane and human health.”

“The International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership joined this partnership because we’ve seen the Rushebeya-Kanyabaha wetland in southwest Uganda reduce in size by 33 percent between 1986 and 2020, which significantly decreased the habitat for the Grey Crowned Cranes,” said Dr. Adalbert Aine-omucunguzi, the International Crane Foundation’s East Africa Regional Manager. “This reduction is largely driven by expanding agriculture required to meet the needs of the local community, which has limited alternatives. We knew we had the tools to train community members to use more sustainable options.”

Agricultural land, Uganda
The team has trained 248 households in climate-smart sustainable agricultural practices. International Crane Foundation

For the past two years, this innovative approach has enabled the partnership to effectively and sustainably respond to these issues and produce tangible benefits for the wetland, cranes and more than 13,500 people in Rwamucucu Sub-county of Rukiga district. To date, this project has achieved the following significant gains:

  • Delivered more than 6,400 healthcare services, including almost 2,000 family planning services;
  • Trained 248 households in climate-smart sustainable agricultural practices;
  • Established Conservation and Health Agreements covering 200 hectares of wetland;
  • Planted Napier Grass on hillslopes and established nurseries to reduce soil erosion and improve water clarity (which has increased visibility from 19cm to 55.6cm based on turbidity tests);
  • Increased the number of breeding pairs of cranes in the project site by 200 percent (from 11 to 33); and
  • Increased the number of crane chicks fledging by 146% (from 13 to 32).

“Before starting this project, we undertook extensive research to help shape the project activities and found the community has a deep understanding of the connections between their own health and the health of their local environment,” said Professor Susannah Mayhew, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “People spoke about how wetlands slow floods, provide clean water and food, like mudfish, and provide materials needed for baskets and mats.”

The partners also learned how climate change is affecting the community with unpredictable seasons and rainfall patterns leading to crop failures and that the floods and heavy rains are destroying crops, leading to malnutrition. Relatedly, many people spoke about the challenges of large families, which diminish available farmland over time as parents subdivide land for their children’s inheritance, making it harder to feed everyone. This is exacerbated by the lack of quality family planning information and services, leading to larger families than desired.

Planting erosion-control on farm fields in Uganda
The project has planted Napier Grass on hillslopes and established nurseries to reduce soil erosion and improve water clarity, which has increased visibility from 19cm to 55.6cm based on turbidity tests.

Additionally, soil erosion, tree felling, and a lack of anti-erosion measures further reduce soil quality and crop yields, increasing the need to convert the remaining fragments of the wetland into agricultural land. Communities also reported how low incomes and poverty lead to gender-based violence (which puts women at greater risk of unintended pregnancy).

“It was clear that an integrated approach to address both conservation and health needs was required to successfully resolve the challenges facing the communities living in and around Rukiga’s wetlands,” said Dr. Esther Rutaremwa, Medical Superintendent, Rugarama Hospital.

Early indications from the academic partners highlight the partnership is working: “This program is generating greater conservation, health and gender outcomes than has been possible from more traditional single sector projects,” said Kerryn Morrison, International Crane Foundation Vice President International: Director of Africa / Endangered Wildlife Trust Head of Africa Conservation. “To date, the growth in crane numbers in this project area is higher than in other sites in Uganda.”

Further details of these developments will be published in the next few months.

“We are thrilled the Darwin Initiative has provided us with a second grant, enabling us to expand and scale up our work for the next three years,” said David Johnson, Chief Executive of the Margaret Pyke Trust.

Identified as a “Population, Health & Environment” or PHE project, this multi-sectoral partnership approach to biodiversity conservation, human health and sustainable livelihoods will allow the partnership to provide detailed data of the greater conservation, health and gender outcomes from this approach. The evaluation framework has been developed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The partnership plans to share this evidence, as this project has significance far beyond Uganda.