CAES Management visit MUBFS
The Principal CAES Prof Bernard Bashaasha (left) and his team listening to the tour guide (right) at MUBFS
- Station records success in research and training of primatologists, promoting conservation and the tourism industry
- Understaffing, varsity un-surveyed land, non disposal of old equipment, the need to review and renew the MoU with UWA and underutilization of the station by MAK students and staff topped the agenda
- A- 10 - points way forward reached for the College and University Management to address the issues.
On 7th to 9th November, 2015 a section of CAES Management paid a two - days visit to the Makerere University Biological Field Station (MUBFS) in Kibale. MUBFS is one of the field stations that fall under CAES structure as stipulated in the Makerere University College Statute (2006 and the revised version 2012). It is located in Kibale National Park, about 330 km from Kampala. It has two research sites. The main research site is located at Kanyawara and a smaller camp at Ngogo.
The team was led by the Principal CAES, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha and included the Dean School of Agricultural Sciences (SAS) Prof. Johnny Mugisha, Dean School of Forestry, Environmental and Geographical Sciences (SFEGS) Prof. Mnason Tweheyo and the Dean School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio engineering (SFTNB)Prof. John Muyonga. Other members on the team included the Chair Department of Forestry, Bio diversity and Tourism (FBT) Prof. Philip Nyeko, Chair, Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Assoc. Prof. James Okot - Okumu and Chair Department of Geography, Geo Informatics and Climatic Sciences (GGCS) who was represented by Dr. Frank Mugagga. Part of the Administrative staff on this team included the College Registrar Mr. Obura Edward, the College Accountant Ms. Joseline Biganja and others.
The team touring the lower MUBFS camp
The purpose of the visit was to acquaint a section of the college management with staff and activities of the field station and appreciate the opportunities and challenges of MUBFS with a view to exploring ways and means of harnessing the opportunities and finding solutions to the challenges.
This visit also followed the death of the MUBFS Former Director the Late Dr. Jeremiah Ssali Lwanga who passed away on August 31, 2015. Dr. Lwanga was associated with Makerere University for a very long time since 1997 when he was Director of Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, in Kibale National Park. In 2008, he was appointed Lecturer in the Biodiversity Unit of the then Makerere University Institute of Environment and Natural Resources. In 2009, he was appointed Acting Director, MUBFS. By the time of his death, he was Senior Lecturer in the Department of Forestry, Biodiversity and Tourism as well as Director, MUBFS. At the University, he was well known for his humility and kindness among students. At the time he died, he was supervising over 15 undergraduate students and 10 graduate students. Such is the gap that Jerry, as he was popularly known left. As Director of the Biological Field Station, Dr. Lwanga turned round the Biological Field Station into an attractive, well organized Research Centre where many researchers from within and outside Uganda preferred to work. He has left a very vibrant station. These achievements lend testimony to the commitment that Jerry had. Among his peers, Jerry was known as a hardened scientist because he lived most of his adult life in the forest doing research. He was a well trained Wildlife Biologist and shared his expertise with both his colleagues and students
The visit was coordinated by the now Ag. Director Dr. David M. Tumusiime and station staff, who received the College Management team, conducted a tour of the facilities and later held a meeting with the MUBFS staff. The tour was guided by the MUBFS Assist. Bursar, Mr. Kato Innocent.
Prof Bernard Bashaasha (Principal) and Dr. David Tumusiime chairing the meeting (Ag Director MUBFS)
During the meeting, the MUBFS Ag. Director Dr. David M. Tumusiime, informed members that MUBFS is mainly known world over for its research track record on primates like Chimpanzees and monkeys. However, research interests at MUBFS have expanded beyond primates to include: (1) ecological and behavioral studies of other taxa including fish, birds, insects, and amphibians; (2) studies of forest regeneration in logged areas, in former pine plantations, in grasslands, and on abandoned croplands;
Other areas of MUBFS interest include (3) long-term ecological monitoring, including climatic monitoring, plant phonological patterns, swamp and river limnology, fish populations, etc.; and (4) socio-economic and socio-ecological studies, including studies of the effects of animal crop raiding have also come to be major foci of research.
He said as research progressed, researchers realized that they could not work in isolation from the neighboring communities and national institutions. An outreach program was initiated to teach conservation to the local communities and schools.
The Ag. Director reported some of the key milestones that MUBFS had registered over the years including the following:
- A good number of primatologists trained by the centre .The centre has produced 50 PhDs and 30MSc at national and international levels;
- Over 300 research papers and book chapters that are also available at the station library;
- The tourism industry has benefited a lot from the research conducted;
- There has been increased awareness about MUBFS and attraction of cinematographers;
- A number of associations have been established and local tourism promoted;
- There has been reduction on illegal poaching and increased awareness on importance of conservation among communities;
- The station has provided services to the communities in conservation and education;
- Kibale conservation health centre was set up in 2009 to provide Primary health care and health education to the communities;
- In collaboration with the partners and using the internally generated funds, the station has management to put up a number of infrastructures.
The meeting identified some key issues that require follow up by the College and Makerere University Management.
It was noted that apart from subvention from Makerere University to pay staff salaries, the station entirely relies on internally generated funds and is at times financially constrained to offer services hence the need for university to give in a hand in terms of the financial resource envelope. The centre continues to attract many researchers and users and at times unable to accommodate all her visitors. Most of the infrastructure was built by donors as early as 1980’s and cannot match the current demand hence the need for the college and university management to both improve and increase on accommodation and other infrastructure.
Some of the MUBFS staff attending the meeting
Members also noted the existence of a weak and expired Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Uganda Wild life Authority (UWA) and Makerere University (MAK). This limits user rights hence the need for the University to review and renew the MoU. It was also observed that some contents in the MoU on ownership, mandates and property of MUBFs need to be studied clearly before signing the new or revised MoU. Some of the issues raised in the MoU include:
- Issues about entrance fees. Some students come to MUBFS for a short time like two weeks but they are charged monthly fees which the station feels is expensive and a deterrent for visitors who come to the station. The other is about entrance fees charged to the local communities like primary school pupils, some of them cannot afford to buy exercise books but are required to pay shs. 2500 to access the National Park. MUBFS feels that such fees should be waivered on pupils;
- The station wants the MoU to address the issue of how donors, researchers and universities should be handled as far as entry fees are concerned on reason that these groups pay research fees and should be charged less or no entry fees. Currently, Masters Students pay $100 Us Dollars while PhD students pay $ 200 per month to UWA as research fees. These students also pay Shs. 750, 000 to MUBFS per quarter (3months);
- From the MoU, MUBFS possesses the infrastructure, only which it does not own the land which belongs to UWA, the land lord.
The other issue noted during the meeting was about land owned by the university that requires surveying. Makerere University has land in Kamwenge and Kingo not surveyed raising issues of ownership and security. The land in question is estimated to be about 55 acres. The Estates Department three times visited the land and took some GPS Points to ascertain how big the land is but has not yet communicated. MUBFS would like the university to expedite the process of acquiring land titlefor protection against land grabbers. Currently, the MUBFs planted plant markers in terms of Eucalyptus. When secured, MUBFS feels, this land can be leased out to tour companies to pay ground rent or rent it for a certain period or as MUBFS is expanding it can put some structures for students accommodation as they go to work in forests or any other business.
The team posing at the Insect Laboratory that was constructed in 2011 coordinated by Prof. Philip Nyeko who is currently Chair Department of Forestry, Biodiversity and Tourism
Members further noted that since the death of the Former Director Dr. Jeremiah Lwanga, on 31st August, 2015, there has not been an official hand over to the Ag. Director, Dr. David Tumusiime making it difficult to access documents and materials hence the need for the university to work on this handover as soon as possible.
Another issue identified was in regard to the issue of staffing at MUBFS. The station was seen to be critically understaffed as explained below:
- The university in its restructuring of the contract staff reduced trail cutters from 10 to 4.This decision according to MUBFS managers was due to lack of the understanding of importance and roles of trail cutters.When Makerere reduced trailed cutters from 10 to 4, the station has had challenges with its two camps of Kanyawara which has over 200 km of the trail system and Ngogo which has 150km of the trails. MUBFS appeals to the Management of Makerere University especially the Human Resource Directorate to reinstate trail cutters to the original number of 10. Although during the rainy season even the 10 are not enough, the station expressed willingness to use the local revenue to boost on the 10 trail cutters during the rainy season.
A trail is the small path found in the forest which students, researchers and other forest users use to walk through without any disturbance. Trail cutters are the workers mostly employed from the local communities. To benefit from the field station, this job is kept for them strictly because they suffer from the problems of wild animals so that they can see the benefit as they receive direct payment from salaries. Their work mainly is to do periodic maintenance of the trails.
- MUBFS has four persons employed on permanent basis that is the Security guard, the Accounts clerk, Clerk of works and the Director but the rest are on contract. The MUBFS has a total of 10 workers on contract paid by Makerere University; four of these are trail cutters. The station employs 12 other casual laborers paid by the station to keep it running;
Besides the shortage of trail cutters, MUBFS has other senior positions which are vacant for instance the position of the Senior Research Fellow. The Senior Research Fellow should be sitting in to help the Director in the areas of research and conservation, go to the forest and monitor whether researchers are conforming to standards. The Research Fellow is also supposed to orient, supervise and give students scientific talks and not the Director who is busy with administrative meetings and teaching at Makerere at the same time.
The team also went to see the water reserviour
The station has vacant posts for the Administrator, Librarian, Driver, Secretary and Accountant. The roles of the Secretary are currently being carried out by an office messenger. The station has no driver but has five running vehicles including a tractor and a lorry. The station has a temporary person doing the work of the Librarian but is not trained to manage books and other important resources of the station.
- The rate at which the university pays workers was another concern to MUBS staff. Since staff were put on contract by Makerere University three years ago, the contracts are irregularly renewed. At times, the contracts are for three months, four and the last one was three months. Besides, employees are never certain of when they would be paid. Sometimes, they are in arrears of three months then a salary of one moth is paid.
The laboratory is the other facility that was inspected by the team
- Some staff for example the Assist. Domestic Bursar has been on contract for 21 years. In 2013, he was invited for an interview which he did and passed but to-date he has not received the appointment. MUBFS workers feel this is a dis -incentive in terms of workers moral, job security and career progression. They are calling upon the University management to look into the issue of staffing at the station.
- The other factor that goes with people who work in forest is treatment. For example incase of snakebite or any other bite by a wild animal, Fort portal is 20 km away. There is need for the university to look at a possibility of giving such people good terms of employment and health insurance because this is a very different working environment. Using local revenues, the station provides protective and rain gear but the university needs to be better prepared for emergencies.
- The MUBFS also feels that the university should look into the issue of training especially in equipment handling and capacity building. There are generators, vehicles and machines for maintenance that require basic knowledge of how to operate certain things. Things like First Aid for snake bites, simple and complex fractures also need trained people.
The team touring the students dormitory
- The above factors coupled by other challenges like lack of social amenities near the station demoralize workers to look for greener pasture. As a university, there is need to treat MUBFS as a special case because at the work level, it takes commitment for one to live and work in a forest and its hard to get people who love forests especially when it comes to ladies who would like to see a solon, a shop, a bank, a market and a bodaboda or taxi nearby.
The delayed process to dispose off old equipment from the station was another issue that was noted. The station is stuck with two stores full of old materials recorded in the university inventory like old apple computers, printers, microscopes, binoculars, fridges, gas cookers, motorcycles, iron sheets, blankets , mattresses etc. MUBFS management has been in touch with Makerere University but the problem has note been sorted out. The MUBS requests the university through the PDU to expedite this process by either auctioning or give some items to the local communities to free space for something better.
Members were also concerned about the underutilization of the MUBFS resource by the Makerere University students and staff. MUBFs offer unlimited research and training opportunities. It was however observed that Makerere as a university has not fully tapped into this resource to bring the students and staff for training and research. The field station continues to attract reputable international researchers and students, but Makerere University remains detached because of the inability of students to meet research fees.
The underground water system is one of the admirable features at the MUBFS
The MUBFS would love to have collaborative efforts with UWA to build capacity of the Ugandan MSc and PhD students to benefit directly. A possibility for the MUBFS and UWA to offer scholarships in terms of offering free accommodation and other facilities and a waiver of research fees was discussed so that students can pay their fees at university for course works and then, the year for research, they come to MUBFS conduct research and have more graduates in the field of conservation and other areas.
At the end of the meeting, members agreed on the following as the way forward
1. The MUBFS Assist. Domestic Bursar Kato Innocent and Ag. Director :
- Get the copy of the old MoU between UWA and MAK;
- Scrutinize the contents and rates as soon as possible before it is signed.
2. A team comprising, the MUBFS Assist. Domestic Bursar Kato Innocent and Ag. Director Dr. David M. Tumusiime, Prof. Philp Nyeko, Mr.Tumukunde Herbert , two project managers and UWA representatives:
- Access and review the old MUBFS strategic plan;
- Identify gaps, project the future and come up with a draft;
- Organize the wider stake holders consultative meeting;
- Receive comments and filter them;
- Come up with the final document. MUBFS will provide meals and accommodation for the meeting.
3. The Principal liaises with the college procurement officer Ms. Sarah Nakibuuka to follow up on matters of land and disposal of junk materials with Estates department, PDU and Audit;
4. The MUBFS Management develops the Human Resource plan. The Principals office through the College Human Resource Manager Mr. Richard Mugisha uses the plan to follow up on matters of staffing with the Human Resource Directorate and give a feedback;
5. College Management sits and explores ways to bring students and staff for training and research at MUBFS;
6. College management to expedite the process of office hand over to the Ag. Director and communicate back access issues;
7. College Management to follow up with the University Management and Administration on additional housing /accommodation at MUBFS and give feedback;
8. College Management will engage other university units, managers and administrators for a wider visit and meeting at MUBFS;
9. MUBFS and College Management explore ways and means of collaborating with researchers, donors and other institutions;
10. MUBFS and College Management should have information packages on what is going on at MUBFS. This include:
- Having regular meetings with University Management and sharing information about MUBFS during the Principals’ meetings with Management;
- Have the MUBFS page on College website, the College Web Admin should work on this;
- Publicize information on college website to the wider university staff;
- Bringing more colleagues on board during visits to MUBFS including staff from other colleges to appreciate the activities, potential, issues and needs of the MUBFS;
- Assoc. Prof. Ali Twaha (Coordinator Makerere Fort portal Campus) was commended for working closely with the MUBFS and the MUBFS would like to strengthen their relationship with the Fort portal campus.
These and more details can be accessed by following the link to the full report.