Full speech by U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac
Monday, March 1, 2017, 5:45PM
Good evening! I am delighted to be here this evening to mark the official launch of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund and to support its mission of generating sustainable financing for conservation in Uganda.
I want to thank the Government of Uganda for joining USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society to convene this milestone event. The U.S. Government shares your vision of a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and democratic Uganda. And I believe the Uganda Biodiversity Fund will be a key piece to help realize that vision.
I think we can all agree that Uganda is a truly special place. Its biological diversity is among the richest in Africa. If you’ve ever trekked through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to find a silverback mountain gorilla lounging in the leaves, spied the lions of Ishaha swishing their tails from perches high in the trees, or woken up at the crack of dawn to catch a majestic shoebill stork patiently hunting for fish in the wetlands of Lake Kyoga – you have definitely experienced the magic of the Pearl of Africa.
This remarkable natural endowment does not just feed the soul; it serves as the foundation of Uganda’s economy and the livelihoods of its citizens. The success of the country’s billion-dollar-per-year tourism sector depends almost entirely on the country’s wildlife and natural beauty. The environmental goods and services provided by Uganda’s forests, wetlands, and diverse habitats benefit other sectors of the economy as well. The agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and energy industries all depend on water and nutrient cycling, pollination, climate regulation, and raw materials – elements that need protection and maintenance to promote sustainable development and growth.
Support for biodiversity conservation is therefore key to addressing poverty and sustainable economic development in Uganda. It will help maintain stable and productive ecosystems that in turn will strengthen communities’ resilience to climate change and other stresses.
But, while Uganda’s natural wealth provides incredible benefits, it also faces serious threats. Included among these are agricultural and human settlement expansion; demand for firewood, charcoal, and affordable energy; and extractive industries and the infrastructure required to support them. While these activities provide economic benefits to Uganda’s burgeoning population, at the same time they contribute to the degradation of the natural resource base that sustains them. This inherent conflict challenges us to find effective ways to balance the important demands of economic development with the need to conserve those very resources on which such development depends.
Today there are more than 80 conservation trust funds operating in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with more than a billion dollars in assets under management. Conservation trust funds are tried and tested financing mechanisms for biodiversity conservation, benefiting from capital provided by a variety of donors.
The Madagascar Biodiversity Fund provides a case in point. The Fund, created in 2004, last year reached a total capitalization of more than $52 million, thanks to support from multiple donors including Global Environment Facility, the French Development Agency, the German Development Bank, the World Bank and other smaller donors. The Fund supports more than 2 million hectares of protected areas, covering a third of the Madagascar Protected Areas System. It has had positive impacts on 1 million lives through site-based management and alternative livelihoods activities.
Such efforts have already taken root here in Uganda. Twenty years ago, USAID and the Global Environment Facility coordinated, funded, and capitalized the Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Trust. This organization has played a vital role in conserving the Mountain Gorillas of southwestern Uganda – invaluable treasures not just to Uganda, but to the world community.
In September of 2014, USAID embarked on a four-year partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society to build on that experience. This new effort convened stakeholders from civil society, government, and the private sector to build a national-level conservation trust fund here in Uganda. Today, we mark a major milestone on that journey with the official launch of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund. This exciting new fund will play an important role in supplementing the existing, yet still insufficient, conservation funding already provided by the Government of Uganda and its various partners.
The Fund provides an independent, accountable, and transparent financial mechanism that can ensure that donor resources flow directly to support specific conservation investments and meet identified targets. It can help companies meet corporate social responsibility objectives and enhance their visibility as conservation advocates. It can help to mitigate environmental degradation that could adversely impact business and provide offsets for industries with direct environmental impacts.
National in its scope, the Uganda Biodiversity Fund is prepared to support a diverse range of beneficiaries, innovative approaches and conservation priorities. Simply put, the Uganda Biodiversity Fund will make conservation a truly valuable investment.
Today, I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Government, through USAID, has made the first financial commitment to the Uganda Biodiversity Fund. In demonstrating our confidence in this new institution, we are providing a seed grant of $100,000 to support innovative approaches to conservation and to mitigate human wildlife conflict in the Albertine Rift region.
While I am proud of USAID’s role in supporting the establishment of this Fund, we can’t take all the credit. The launch of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund represents a larger effort, spearheaded by the development partner community, to address the critical need for sustainable conservation financing.
The success of this initiative will ultimately depend on continued support from development partners, government institutions, and the private sector to endow the Fund with the capital necessary to invest in the conservation of Uganda’s biodiversity on a national scale. Stakeholder participation – from filling key advisory roles to providing important feedback on the content of the Trust Deed – has played an important role throughout the development of the mission and structure of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund. Your sustained input will be critical to enable the Fund to offer opportunities for both contributors and beneficiaries that are responsive to their needs and objectives.
Conservation is an American tradition, and it is fundamental to USAID’s mission as a development agency. Our support for the Uganda Biodiversity Fund underscores the value that the U.S. Government places on Uganda’s sustainable development and the well-being of the people of this beautiful and dynamic country.
In closing, I would like to thank you all for joining me in marking this momentous occasion. I am honored to be a part of the legacy of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund, and I look forward to celebrating its future successes.
Thank you, and congratulations!