Sunday, April 12, 2009

Development Quandry: Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is a beautiful, peaceful lake in Uganda near the border with Rwanda. Steep terraced farms fall down towards the water in a patchwork of greens and browns, dotted with the shiny reflections of tin farm house roofs. The deepest lake in Uganda at 6,500 ft, it has a series of islands dotted throughout.


Until about 15 years ago, there was nothing in the area but the farms and the fisherman who scoot about the lake in their powerboats. But in the mid-nineties, a group of Chrisitan missionaries started a small camp for tourists on one of the islands. Over time, the camp became a modest tourist attraction, and other entreprenours took notice. Today, there are now more than 10 different resorts hugging the hilly edges of the lake. Each has their own piece of the market, catering to backpackers all the way up to posh full service cottages.

The tourist economy created by these resorts has brought a lot of good things to the area - jobs at the resorts, supporting jobs such as transportation, and a market for local handicrafts. These things are "sustainable" in that they don't need outside input to keep the development moving forward (other than tourist money of course, but every industry needs its investment source). Sustainability is an important goal in development work because it means that the people being helped are now capable of supporting themselves, so that development money can be spent elsewhere.

However, this success has its downsides. The resorts have pushed up the value of the land around the lake, meaning that as the population grows young farmers do not have enough money to purchase land to start their own farms and raise a family as they always expected to do. Tenant farmers could be forced off their land. And that valuable land? It's likely to be purchased by foreigners (muzungu's) to start a new resort or build a fancy vacation home. Clearly, every change has positive and negative ramifications. Less clear is the net benefit the resorts have brought to the Lake Bunyonyi region.

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