US AMBASADOR LAUNCHES TOURISM FOR BIODIVERSITY PROGRAM

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The US ambassador to Uganda HE Scott DeLisi on March 14,2013 visited Murchison Falls National Park ad launched the USAID funded Tourism for Biodiversity Program implemented by African Wildlife Foundation.Below are his remarks he nmade at the launch held at Budongo Eco Lodge.

What a pleasure it is to be here this afternoon. Not only do I have the opportunity to launch our newest USAID partnership in Uganda, the Tourism for Biodiversity Program, but I get to do it here in one of the most beautiful regions of Uganda. All we have to do is look around us to know exactly why Uganda is called the “Pearl of Africa.” From the awe-inspiring Murchison Falls and the park's abundant wildlife, to the diverse bird and primate populations of the Budongo Forest, you cannot help but be a bit humbled by the tremendous natural beauty of our planet and the richness and abundance that exists around us.

We all have different ways of enjoying that beauty. For some it is the grandeur of the Nile. For others it is the quiet beauty of the open savannah that I enjoyed so much in Kidepo National Park. Or perhaps it is the mystery and majesty of the lush forests teeming with birds, butterflies, and insects.

We all enjoy and treasure this beauty, no? We take pride in it, as if it were our creation. We nod our heads in approval when it is called the Pearl of Africa. But, my friends, what have we done to preserve what nature has blessed us with? To protect it. To preserve it for our children, and their children, and for those generations we will not be here to see?

The beauty and diversity adds richness to our lives and can add riches to the nation's purse but only if we ensure that we protect the heritage with which we have been blessed. And that is what today is about.

We’re here to launch a new program that will help Ugandans to preserve their heritage so that it can be shared with all the nation's citizens and with the world. The Tourism for Biodiversity Project is a cooperative agreement with those who know first-hand Uganda’s natural beauty and the urgent need to protect it: the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forestry Authority, Nature Uganda, and the Uganda Community Tourism Association.

Their mission, to preserve Uganda's natural gifts, is also part of a global mission, and this second decade of the century has been designated as the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity. We want to do our part, and through the Tourism for Biodiversity program, the American people plan to provide up to 10 million dollars over the next four years for tourism and biodiversity conservation in Uganda.

Protecting biodiversity. Those are words we hear often, but what do they really mean? Simply put, it is about preserving and protecting the habitat and number of different species present in Uganda’s ecology and ensuring that their natural range is not so limited and disrupted that their existence is put at risk.

It is a goal that is simple to state but infinitely complex in its execution. Think, for example about birds in Uganda. There are over 1060 species that have been recorded in this nation and, here in the Albertine Rift alone, there are over 37 endemic species that are found nowhere else on this planet. Then there are the mammals, reptiles, insects, trees, and plants, and a million other biological treasures that are unique to Africa, the region, and Uganda itself.

You may, however, still be asking "why?". Why should I care about a red-faced warbler when we struggle to educate our children? Why should I worry about protecting chimps when they raid the crops that feed my family? The answer that "it is important for global biodiversity" doesn't solve the challenges Ugandan citizens face. But if protecting bio-diversity puts money in your pockets, if it helps pay school fees, if it supports the health clinic or pays for the new road that gives you easier access to regional markets and services, then it makes sense not just globally, but locally. And the Tourism for Biodiversity Project, working through Ugandan partners, seeks to protect Uganda's natural heritage and make it accessible to the world in a way that enriches and strengthens local communities.

President’s Obama’s U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa emphasizes “boosting broad-based economic growth” as critical to Africa’s development. And for Uganda, tourism is one of the least appreciated and most underdeveloped sources of economic growth. By preserving the natural world around us while making it more accessible to tourism, we can give Uganda a resource that will last for all time.

Our commitment to this effort is strong. Since the 1980’s, the American people have provided over 100 million dollars in development assistance to support conservation in Uganda. We demonstrated to the Government of Uganda that tourism is an engine for economic growth through the recently-completed Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift (STAR) project. We partnered with the Uganda Community Tourism Association and the Uganda Tourism Board and had he support of leading conservation agencies as we focused on benefiting communities. Results were promising, with participating communities seeing a 27 percent increase in their incomes as a result of the project. But we want to see more. Much more. We can do even better.

For example, one of the things we learned from past programs is the need to strengthen the links between tourism development and biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity conservation is now the primary goal of all USAID/Uganda’s environmental activities. We also learned the importance of working with local communities to ensure they help in the protection of biodiversity for tourism while reaping the largest possible benefit from it.

The program we are launching today will use tourism to deliver conservation in selected protected areas and central forest reserves. It will increase the capacity of Ugandans to manage their nation’s biodiversity. It will also improve the marketing of ecotourism and provide local communities with the opportunity to develop tourism businesses and services, giving them a stake in the preservation of their own country’s natural resources, increasing the economic benefits they receive from living next to protected areas, and reducing the threats to Uganda’s wide variety of wildlife and habitats across the landscape.

There was a time when Uganda was a prime tourist destination in eastern Africa, and tourism was one of the country’s most important economic sectors. Sadly, that is no longer true and has not been true for decades. But we are making significant progress toward redevelopment of the national park infrastructure and recovery of its animal populations. We are engaging communities, giving them reason to invest in protecting biodiversity, and seeking to shape Ugandan tourism in a way that will benefit those who make that investment. It is a very exciting. and promising time and I believe that together we can shape a new narrative about Uganda's future.

The institutions and policies are in place. Uganda’s natural beauty is unique, something people around the world are willing to travel long distances – and pay lots of money – to see. But, competition for those tourists is fierce, however, and to be successful, government, local leaders, park authorities, tour operators, and resort owners must work together to bring tourism infrastructure and services up to international standards while preserving biodiversity at the same time.

The U.S. Government will continue supporting the Government of Uganda in its endeavors on the road to economic development, especially in the tourism sector. As in any partnership, the Government of Uganda needs to do its part as well. The Government needs to recognize that biodiversity must be protected if long-term, sustainable development is to be achieved. And it must recognize that quality infrastructure must be developed to convince tourists to visit more parks, stay longer, and spend more money.

As I travelled through Murchison Falls National Park yesterday and today, I saw at first hand some of the other challenges facing us. Bush fires, poaching, population pressures, habitat destruction, and more, all pose threats to biodiversity. In addition, we need to ensure that such important development projects as oil drilling, or the Ayago power project, are managed in such a way that biodiversity is not irreversibly harmed. These are not easy issues and the temptation to seek "quick wins" or short-term economic benefits has to be rejected in favor of carefully considered and balanced long-term goals for development, resource protection, and preservation. The challenges ahead appear enormous, but they can be overcome.

To do so, partnership is critical. None of us alone can face all these obstacles. But together – as partners – our collective ingenuity, creativity, expertise and energy can tackle every one of them, and bring us to a day when tourism in Uganda will be a model for the world.

And so, let us begin this important work, right here, right now. It is with great pleasure that the U.S. Mission, in partnership with the Government of Uganda, launches the Tourism for Biodiversity program. I believe that together we can make a difference and I hope that someday your grandchildren, and mine, will be the beneficiaries of what we begin.

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