Political Ecology of Shea Butter Tree (Vitellaria paradoxa C.F. Gaertn.) Conservation, Use and Management in Uganda
Shea nut trees play an important role in enhancing the livelihoods of the people in northern Uganda. Because of the conservation challenges and complexity in access and use of the shea butter tree it is prudent to use political ecology approach to unlock the waves of factors that affect use and conservation. The current study focused on the two districts of Agago and Otuke representing the Acholi and Langi ethnic groups respectively. The study used a combination of designs: exploratory design because it is suitable when seeking new insights and assessing phenomenon in a new light; descriptive design to characterise the narratives and actors involved in the conservation and use of the shea butter tree; and interpretive design to understand the attitudes, perceptions and other subjective experiences of various actors involved in the conservation and use of the Shea butter tree. The study identified; Regulators; Shea fruit collectors; processors and traders; Herbalists, spiritualists and traditional leaders; Non-Governmental Organisations; and Charcoal dealers as the actors that shape narratives on Shea butter tree conservation and use in northern Uganda. The environmental crisis narrative was the most dominant among all actors except charcoal dealers. All the other actors (except charcoal dealers) argued that the Shea butter tree is threatened by charcoal production that can lead to local extinction of this tree which ultimately will jeopardise the benefits people get from this tree and eventually affect their livelihoods. Conservation NGOs believe loss of this tree in the area will lead to genetic loss of this tree since shea is endemic to a small area in Uganda. But the charcoal dealers (producers, transporters and vendors) argue that shea nut tree is a safety net for income from its charcoal because it provides the quickest means of getting an income in financial crisis therefore the restrictions by government and traditional leaders is violating their rights to use the Shea butter tree. Actors were observed to exercise different powers to pursue their interests. Regulators and law enforcement actors have structural power exercised through enacting and enforcing laws using the coercive agencies such as Police and the Army. Traditional institutions use power derived from their attribution and respect that the culture gives them to control use of the Shea butter tree and they use traditional sanctions to ensure compliance. Conservation organisations use discursive power and incentives to promote non-wood extractive uses of the tree. Charcoal dealers use their economic power and connections with powerful elites not to comply with the laws that restrict use of this tree for charcoal. The study also revealed significant differences in the motivational factors and interventions required to promote the sustainable management and conservation of shea butter trees between Agago and Otuke district. Addressing the threat of charcoal is the most important motivation in Otuke while cultural importance of the tree is in Agago district respectively.