Biovision has been active in Uganda since 2009. By supporting traditional medical practitioners in the use and cultivation of local herbal plants, Biovision is helping to protect the biodiversity of the surrounding forests.
At the end of 2019, Uganda’s population was just over 43 million and is currently growing by about 3% per year. In total, almost 68% of the population are under 24 years of age and approximately one-sixth of the population live in towns. As a result of the widespread rural exodus, this urban population is growing annually by 5.4% - almost twice as fast as the national average.
The Human Development Index of UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, which determines prosperity on the basis of health, education and income, ranks Uganda 159 out of 189. Average life expectancy is 68.2 years of age and child mortality at 49/1000.
The main health problems include HIV/AIDs with an infection rate amongst adults of 5.9% as well as malaria with millions of cases every year. Almost 80% of those living in Uganda have access to clean water.
Today, more than 76% of all those over 15 years of age can read and write and the literacy rate has increased significantly since the early 1990s.
With a land area in excess of 241,500 sq. km, Uganda is almost 6 times the size of Switzerland. About one-fifth of its surface area consists of lakes, swamps and rivers including the source of the White Nile, making it the most water-rich country in East Africa, Only the Karamoja region in the North East – on the border with Kenya and South Sudan – is classed as semi-arid. The majority of the population live in the Buganda region, a high plateau some 1000 ‑ 1300 metres above sea level with gentle hills and extensive river basins. The area between the East African and Central African Rift Valleys is known for its fertile soils.
In addition, Uganda has a rich variety of plant and animal species, mainly because it marks the transition from the Savannah of East Africa to the rainforests of Central Africa. An additional factor is that altitudes can differ significantly within a small area - sometimes by more than 4,000 metres, e.g. between the lakes and the volcanic mountain ranges.
Although the government has created 10 National Parks and several game reserves in an attempt to protect the flora and fauna – some of which are unique –, the country’s natural resources are under enormous pressure. Almost half of the forest cover was lost during the rule of the dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. Since then, the forests have continued to decline and now comprise only 7% of Uganda. Particularly on hillsides and after intense rainfall, this ruthless exploitation has caused serious soil erosion and mudslides that have threatened rural settlements such as those on Mount Elgon in the east of the country. In addition to the ongoing deforestation, wetlands have been drained in order to increase the land available for cultivation and this is yet another cause of changes in the region’s rainfall patterns that have increased the prevalence of drought and floods.
In the Mpigi Forest School Biovision and its partners have trained women in particular in herbal medicine. They learn how to use the woodland products sustainably and with their newly acquired knowledge they can improve healthcare in local communities.
Since the early 1990s, the Ugandan economy has been growing at between 4.5% and 10% and from 2005 - 2012, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) more than doubled. In 2014, the rise in GDP to over USD 28 billion was significantly higher than the rate of population growth of 3.3% and so average incomes are still rising. However at USD 770 per person per year the level is still very low. The World Bank estimates that 21% of the population were living below the general poverty line in 2017 despite the fact that the rate had halved in the previous 10 years.
The majority of people in rural areas - about 70% of the entire population - depend on agriculture for their livelihood: Some two-thirds of them are primarily subsistence farmers. Productivity is low and so the agricultural sector only contributes some 28% to Uganda’s economic output although it is the most important source of foreign currency. Biovision helps small-scale farmers in various parts of Uganda to adopt ecological methods of farming. The aim is to enable them to increase their productivity with locally available resources without exhausting these natural assets.
In addition to traditional exports such as coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco, Uganda now exports other products such as cocoa, vanilla, honey, dried fruits and cut flowers. One of the top exports – particularly to Europe - is the sale of Nile perch from Lake Victoria. In fact, this species is a non-indigenous predator and its release largely wiped out the other species of fish in the lake.
In the first few years after independence from British rule, Uganda was one of the most industrialised countries in East Africa. However, under the violent regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, who in total ruled the country for two decades, much of the existing infrastructure was destroyed by civil unrest and continued mismanagement. Since the start of the 1990s, the economic and social situation has significantly improved. An important indicator in this respect was the marked reduction between 1992 and 2012 in poverty. Uganda is hoping for a further boost to its economy from the considerable oil deposits found along the Albertine Rift in the west of the country. Exploitation of these deposits should increase industry’s current contribution of 21% to GDP as well as improve incomes. However, its use is dependent upon the construction of a pipeline several hundred kilometres to the Indian Ocean where the oil can be shipped.
During the regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote in the 1970s and early 1980s, some hundreds of thousands of dissidents met their death. In 1986, the current president Yoweri Museveni seized power in a military coup and his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) still has a comfortable majority in parliament. It amended the constitution and introduced a series of fundamental rights. These included freedom of assembly and speech, the right to a fair hearing, religious freedom and the right to information together with better protection for women, children, the disabled and ethnic and religious minorities. After a 20-year period of one-party rule by NRM, a multi-party system was reintroduced in 2006.
With the introduction of fundamental democratic rights and the economic and social progress made by the country, Uganda was for many years regarded by international financial institutions and donor countries as a role model. However, cracks have started to appear in this image. For example, the constitution originally restricted the president to two electoral terms but in 2005 this provision was repealed allowing Yoweri Museveni to stand for re-election as president even though he has now served 30 years. In addition, his image has been damaged by growing corruption and mismanagement and the violent attacks by police on demonstrators.
Similarly, even the gender equality anchored in the fundamental rights and the acceptance of sexual minorities have their limits in everyday life. Resistance comes not just from traditional elements in society but also the ultra-conservative free churches, which thanks to funds from the United States have recruited a growing number of followers and now represent a political force.