Have you visited Uganda’s Best Community Tourism Initiative 2015?
Article by Charlotte Beauvoisin
Introducing the highly recommended “Deo’s Model Homestead Tour” and “Agartha’s Taste of Uganda” Tour, Ishasha – great stopovers for people travelling on the road between Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
If you have ever worked in rural Uganda, you will appreciate how much work goes into developing a successful community project. For it to become self-sustaining financially is even harder, but one community group in Ishasha, in a remote corner of south-west Uganda, have managed to achieve this.
At the inaugural Tourism Excellence Awards, the Ishasha Community Uplift Project received the ultimate accolade: Best Community Tourism Initiative 2015, in recognition of the project’s success in bringing together tourism, conservation and community in a fun, interactive and educational way.
So what exactly is the Ishasha Community Uplift Project all about? And more importantly, how can I visit?
If you’re travelling from Bwindi to Queen Elizabeth – in either direction – allow time to pull over and visit Deo’s Model Homestead Tour and Agartha’s Taste of Uganda Tour, the twin tourism experiences developed by the Ishasha Community Uplift Project (ICUG). Meet the real people of Ishasha and see how the community is devising ways to pull themselves out of poverty. For just $15 per person, you can visit both innovative projects. All proceeds go to the community.
Introducing Deo’s Model Homestead Tour
Deo’s Model Homestead Tour shows you how Ugandans survive alongside wildlife on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Every member of the family plays their part in farming and defending their crops from animals, day in day out.
One of the undoubted highlights of Deo’s Model Homestead Tour is the opportunity to view and even climb down inside the elephant trench, first excavated by the Uganda Conservation Foundation.
Deo the farmer and his family live on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. An elephant trench separates them from the park and its hungry wildlife. Maintaining the trench – to the required two metres wide by two metres deep – can be a full-time job, especially after the rains, and elephants will regularly try and cross poorly maintained sections of the trench to eat the farmer’s crops. Left to enter his fields, an elephant can eat and trample the entire crop in just half an hour. Bush pigs and baboons are regular invaders too. To deter the elephants, Deo burns a mixture of elephant dung and chilli. Should the elephants approach more closely, Deo bangs loudly on the jerry can and the rest of the family come running to make noise and shoo the animals away. As part of Deo’s tour, you will have a chance to see for yourself how he burns the chilli concoction and beats the jerry can. You may even be invited to help maintain the trench!
Do you know how to tell whether a jackfruit is ripe? Do you know the medicinal uses of the Aloe plant? Do you know how to prune a banana plant to stop it rotting? Deo answers these questions and more as he guides you through the fields of maize, bananas and medicinal plants. I enjoyed being given a machete and helping prune the bananas, and I loved seeing how Deo scares off the baboons! How does he do that? Ah, well you need to visit and see (experience! and hear!) for yourself.
Introducing Agartha’s Taste of Uganda
The lovely Agartha and her female neighbours invite you to learn more about the life of a Bakiga woman living in this remote part of Uganda.
Agartha will show you how she and the local women treat dry millet, one of the community’s staple foods. She will spread out the freshly picked millet in a large flat basket in front of you and start working the seeds with her feet to separate the seeds from the stalk. (Agartha has some good dance moves!)
The next part of the process is called willowing, and involves gently throwing the grains into the air to let the dry husks blow away. Agartha may even invite you to have a go. Next, you may try pounding the millet with a dry stone to dehusk it. Not as easy as it looks!
Finally, the millet flour is mixed with hot water to make porridge. With the hard work of grinding the millet out of the way, Agartha will invite you to sample the porridge in modern mugs (or traditional gourds), and taste hot soybeans and groundnuts.
Agatha advised us that the millet porridge must be warm when the Bakiga woman’s husband gets home from the bar; this is the role of the Bakiga wife. Millet porridge is also the first meal a woman receives after giving birth. Millet is high in iron, which helps with the lactation process.
Chatting with Agartha and sampling millet porridge gives you an interesting insight into the everyday life of a Bakiga woman, and the tour takes approximately half an hour, or a little longer if you have time. (Note that the tour has been designed for people who want to break up a long journey between Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth, but who may not want to hang around too long. A new toilet block ‘fit for a king’ has just been installed behind Agartha’s house).
Who benefits from this project?
The fee you pay to visit “Deo’s Model Homestead Tour” and “Agartha’s Taste of Uganda” boosts what is now a successful SACS Savings and Credit Scheme. Everyone in the community is welcome to join this scheme and access loans of over a million shillings (rather than the previous 30,000 UGX). Members are now starting up businesses and instead of hiring land to plant crops, are now buying land.
Community Group members have also learnt planning techniques, customer care skills and improved their use of English.
Furthermore, every community member can take part in the (rather oddly titled) ‘revolving’ goat and chicken project. A number of community members have been given livestock, thanks to the tourism revenue. As each animal produces, the offspring are passed on to another community member, meaning that everyone can benefit over time.
The ICUG Community Group is a member of the Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA) and receives regular visits, and training support, from their Community Liaison Officer. UCOTA believes that both unique projects are great examples of successful community initiatives.
The success of the ICUG Community Group is thanks to three years one to one training, guided by Julia and Wilber and independent monitoring and evaluation by UCOTA. NAADS have also visited and inspected the projects. Visitor feedback, and input from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, has been crucial in developing and fine tuning the tourism experiences to a high international standard.
“Deo’s Model Homestead Tour” and “Agartha’s Taste of Uganda” complement the well-established tourism activities, such as wildlife game drives and birdwatching that draw tourists to Ishasha. The two projects are self-sustaining and – according to UCOTA – are an excellent template for grassroots community development. They are a fascinating look into rural Ugandan life. Do try and visit them yourself!
How to get there
Deo’s Model Homestead and Agartha’s Taste of Uganda tour are based in Upper Kazinga, Rusorooza Parish, Kihihi Sub-County. They are approximately 2 km apart.
Leaving Kihihi, heading towards Ishasha, drive for 10 minutes to the next trading centre, where you will find a signpost to Agartha’s Taste of Uganda tour. Deo’s is signposted approximately 2 km from the trading centre, and immediately before the Queen Elizabeth National Park boundary. His homestead is a few minutes’ drive from the main road. Look out for the lovely new signage!
How to book
To visit Deo’s Model Homestead and Agartha’s Taste of Uganda, prebook with Wild Frontiers Uganda (Tel 0414 321479 / firstname.lastname@example.org) or call Agartha on 0777 216853 or Deo on 0781 201368.
For $15 per person, you have the option of visiting one or both of the community projects. Please note this is a flat rate (adult/child), regardless of whether you take one tour or two. All proceeds go to the community.