Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in Uganda is well-known throughout the world as the home for nearly half of the world’s population of critically endangered mountain gorillas. However, gorillas are no longer the only entity on Uganda’s endangered list. Bwindi’s local people have also felt the brunt of years of illegal logging and other activities which have slowly degraded the area.
Fortunately, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established as a national park in 1991, and was initially designed to protect both its treasured gorillas along with its precious and deteriorating forestland, and as of today, the program has been a great success. Yet, while the park itself has benefited from a surge in tourism (thousands of visitors pass through the park every year on pricey gorilla treks), Bwindi locals have not been able to reap much financial benefit from the increased tourism, which in turn, has caused considerable conflict amongst the community.
Much of this socioeconomic dichotomy has been contributed to revenue loss due to the procurement of food products designed for local lodges and restaurants coming from outside the area (as far as a ten hour drive away). Considering the most common livelihood for locals is subsistence farming, and that the area’s soil is extremely fertile, developing a farmer’s association where locals could gain cash income by supplying fruits, vegetables and other products to a growing tourism industry seemed a natural solution.
Thus, the Bwindi Advanced Market Grower’s Association (AMAGARA, which means ‘life”, in the local language Rukiga) was born, and it has been evolving ever since.
Situated only four kilometers from the BINP gate, visitors can get a firsthand glimpse at the association’s gardens, which boasts everything from fiery red chili’s to sweet honey (harvested from their own bee hives). Guests of AMAGARA can take a personal tour led by on-site team members which offers education on how the association operates and how a wide range of growing techniques are taught to local farmers. Cooking classes featuring the traditional cuisine of Uganda are also offered daily, and are led by the institute’s professionally trained chef, Moses, who shares his personal recipes and cooking tips, including a few rather interesting twists on classic dishes.
An on-site garden shop sells a wide selection of gifts including packaged honey and tea from Bwindi. Purchases from the garden shop directly support the work of AMAGARA as well as that of the local community.
For traveler’s looking for a complete African Mountain Gorilla safari, Volcano Safaris, a company that specializes in great ape ecotourism and who is a well-known leader in its industry, has recently partnered with AMAGARA. As part of their gorilla trekking safari, which already includes tracking in the BINP and lodge accommodations, guests can also tack on a visit to AMAGARA when staying at the Volcanoes Bwindi Eco-Lodge. The lodge, which overlooks the forest, features eight bandas and utilizes only local materials and solar energy. Meals are prepared on-site and highlight produce purchased directly from AMAGARA.