Echuya Batwa, commonly known as pygmies, are an endangered group of people around Echuya Forest Reserve in Kisoro and Kabale Districts of South-Western Uganda. The Echuya is located in the Albertine Rift region recognized as an important eco-region. The Batwa are believed to have migrated from the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo in search of wild animals to hunt, hence the name Kisoro, literally meaning “the area occupied by wild animals”. The Batwa live in small huts mainly made from sticks and grass.
“Originally, Batwa were forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers based in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, and are widely accepted as the original inhabitants of the region. As their traditional forest lands and territories fell under the control of agro-industries and conservation agencies, the Batwa became squatters living on the edges of society. The establishment of the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks for Mountain Gorillas in 1991 enabled the authorities to evict the Batwa definitely from the forest. The Batwa in Uganda (today) experience systematic and pervasive discrimination from the government and other sectors of society, and their rights as indigenous peoples are neither recognized nor respected”.
Echuya Forest Reserve is located in the most densely populated area where, the average land holding per household is 0.8 ha and population density is 353.9 persons per km2. According to the National Population and Housing Census (2002), Batwa population in Uganda was 3500. Other than Batwa, the forest is surrounded by Bakiga, Hutu and Tutsi who comprise a bigger percentage of the population. Bakiga are commonly referred to by Batwa as Bairu. Batwa comprise about 5% of the population (Plumptre et al. 2004). Their households are scattered in various settlements in villages located adjacent to the forest. They include: Murubindi, Kashasha; Gitebe-Kanaba, Biizi-Rugeshi–Murora, Mukasaayi that comprises two settlements, Karengyere-Rwamahano and Kinyarushengye.
A few Batwa own very little agricultural land, and the least productive, ( less than an acre per household for the few who have access), in designated locations in hard-to-reach hilly terrain near the forest. The land was obtained from development agencies such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, BMCT (Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust) and AICM (African International Christian Ministry). However, before the declaration of the Echuya as a central government forest reserve, the forest was heavily encroached upon. Up to now, some activities such as wild hunting, collection of honey, mushrooms, water, bamboo for basket making, building poles, making of bee hives and fire wood are being carried out by both Batwa and non-Batwa dominant ethnic communities. Batwa, illegally hunt in the forest due to lack of alternative sources of proteins. The forest is also of cultural importance to the Batwa, who offer religious sacrifices to their gods. Echuya Batwa were never involved nor considered for consultation and compensation when the decision-making process to exclude them from the forest was being taken. As a result, most Batwa became landless with extreme poverty and have been reduced to a life of destitution, living on non-Batwa's land as squatters. Batwa have been forced to resort to begging, providing cheap manual labor, prostitution and stealing for survival. They can be referred to as marginalized minority people, internally displaced persons or environmental refugees.
The Forestry Nature Conservation Master Plan (FNCMP) of Uganda (1999) underpins Echuya Forest Reserve as one of the forests that have been selected for CFM (Collaborative Forest Management) involving participation of local communities including Batwa in resource protection, management and planning of nature reserves. The 1999 FNCMP further focuses on equitable utilization of forest resources amongst the communities adjacent to the forest. This led to formation of CFM groups at parish and sub-county levels, which are mostly dominated by non-Batwa who for long have marginalized the Batwa. Batwa interests were therefore, not fully met when the communities were being assisted to participate in negotiating, drafting and finally signing CFM agreements with the National Forestry Authority.