The potential for off-farm employment (OFE) to contribute significantly to forest conservation in the tropics is a widely held logic among donors, governments, and social scientists. While an aggregate level examination of OFE cases can support this logic, there is disagreement as to the operative aspects of specific linkages and assumptions. This study examines the case of the tea industry in western Uganda, and uses a combination of fieldwork and remote sensing to pursue a more nuanced examination of the role of migration and non-monetary aspects of OFE on forest conservation in both a national park and unprotected forest contexts.
Results indicate that the tea industry does serve as an off-farm employer to a limited number of local smallholders but these benefits are offset by the industry’s overwhelming dependence on migrant labor which sees OFE as temporary, then seeks to settle locally. There is also evidence that the tea industry is contributing to conservation efforts of Kibale National Park by unintentionally serving as a physical buffer zone, which inhibits both human encroachment on the park and wildlife encroachment on smallholder crops. The latter represents a site-specific phenomenon that holds much potential for future management plans of the area and exemplifies the importance of considering the site-specific circumstances associated with off-farm employment development.