Authored by Brad Czerniak

Nabajjuzi wetland, a Ramsar site, is located in Masaka district central Uganda some 120km southwest of Kampala. Nabajjuzi wetland remains relatively intact despite a long history of resource extraction by local communities. However growing use of wetland products for commercial purposes as well as subsistence use has led to increased levels of harvesting. Some of the surrounding areas have been modified and are built up into trading centres and small towns and this has further caused an increase in demand for resources. The wetland is the main source of piped water for residents of Masaka.

The population living beside the southern part of Nabajjuzi wetland are predominantly suburban residents of Masaka and neighbouring townships while communities along the northern part of the wetland practice subsistence lifestyles. Both groups extract water from the wetland and in the case of Masaka this is pumped and treated by a plant adjacent to the swamp. Rural communities also water cattle while the seasonal wetlands are used for grazing. A range of plant materials are harvested for thatching, medicine and crafts. Papyrus and Loudetia are used to produce baskets, mats and chairs which are sold at the observatory, occasionally along the road or taken to local trading centers. The wetland is also a source of Mudfish and Lungfish.

There is evidence of wetland edge cultivation with incidences of wetland encroachment. This problem is predicted to intensify with the rapidly increasing population and expansion of the urban centres. Local residents have yet to make much of an impact on the area but the rate at which damaging activities are accelerating is worrying, especially on the wetland margins of Masaka and other towns within the Nabajjuzi valley system.

The most specific and localised threat to the wetland system is pollution from a tannery immediately adjacent to the wetland. Effluents from the tannery are discharged directly into the wetland, a major source of pollution that is likely to cause biodiversity loss, changes in water quality and threats to public health, generally compromising the ecosystem health and impairing the ecological functioning of the wetland. The communities living nearby draw their water from the same wetland and some of the springs are quite close to the points of discharge. The Masaka Municipal Council waterworks are also situated only a few hundred meters away from the tannery. There are also open troughs containing the refuse. This poses a health hazard and life threat to the communities.The Sitatunga, another Nabajjuzi resident affected by habitat loss is also threatened by hunting, especially by the military personnel based in Masaka.

NatureUganda in partnership with the Uganda Wetlands Management Department (WMD) is supporting the Masaka Youth Development Organization, a community-based organization, to develop and provide eco-tourism services. Communities and schools have been empowered through education for sustainable development programmes. This initiative is intended to provide motivation to wetland edge communities to participate in the management and conservation of Nabajjuzi wetland. Other initiatives include the support to Masaka Municipality and local communities to develop and implement a Community-based Management Plan for Nabajjuzi Wetland. The plan has been completed with the full participation of the local community and Masaka local government staff. Highlights of the management plan include eco-tourism development, fish farming, tree planting and wetland edge gardening.

NatureUganda has also implemented research and educational activities in Nabajjuzi wetland. From the research findings, Nabajjuzi wetland system qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA).