Prolonged droughts, acute water shortages and poor and erratic rains that have hit Uganda both in the past and presently have not only left many in the country-side hungrier and poorer but have largely contributed to the overall slow down in economic growth from 6.6% to less than 5%. For starters, Eastern and Northern Uganda experienced heavy rains during the three months of July, August and September 2007 that resulted in severe floods in many locations, this trend has continued to manifest its self as early as March 2008 in east and central regions of Uganda. At the height of the floods in September 2007, many rivers burst their banks and could not be crossed on foot, some bridges were washed away and roads became impassable. In the worst affected areas some schools, health centres, homes and other infrastructures were destroyed or badly damaged and many families were displaced and forced to seek shelter in school buildings on higher ground. As a result, Food balance sheets for Amuria and Katakwi for the period July 2007 to June 2008 indicate that Amuria would have a deficit of 16 419 tones of cereals, 27 743 tonnes of roots and tubers while Katakwi would have a cereal deficit of around 3 315 tones but small surpluses in roots and tubers and pulses. This also has a bearing on the protruding global agricultural prices.
The above, coupled with an apparent decline in the water resources and the consequent food insecurity and decline in economic growth is a testimony that environmental conservation today is no longer a question of beauty but a question of economic survival of both individual farmer households and the nation at large– indeed poverty is so much a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation. With every wetland encroached on, swamp drained, top soils eroded, rivers drying up and lakes shrinking, the water table continues to go down and desertification becomes a reality in Uganda. Uganda’s small rivers that feed in the international water bodies like the great River Nile and Lake Victoria are facing extinct. The most visible is River Nyamwamba in Kasese, River Rwizi in Mbarara and River Mporogoma in Eastern Uganda. The culprits and victims for this environmental catastrophe are largely the farmers who interact with the environment on a daily basis. Yet if educated and given capacity, farmers can be the best protectors and custodians of environment.
Yet Uganda has a number of laws and policies geared at conserving and protecting her environment. From the Constitution, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), the National Environment Management Act (NEMA), the national Land/Land Use Policy, the National Wetlands Policy (NWP) and the Water for Production Strategy, among others.
What then explains the continued environmental catastrophe in Uganda? The problem lies in implementation malnourishments. Laws and policies merely exist on paper with palpable limitations in enforcement and implementation. At the Uganda National Farmers Federation we contend that, much as Uganda is one of the few countries in Africa to posses what looks like a supportive legal framework and policy regime on environmental protection, her natural resources continue to dwindle and deplete daily at an alarming rate and as a result, the country stands at the brink of a severe food, environmental and deepening water catastrophe and the subsequent related conflicts. In all this equation it the poorest that suffer. In Uganda when we talk of the poorest we mean farmers. Farmers in Uganda need capacity in terms of knowledge and resources to confront climate change adjuncts. It not until then that farmer’s commitment to feed the world can be pulled to fruition.
We at Uganda National Farmers Federation in partnership with all those actors that wish farmers well call for, is effective implementation and monitoring and evaluation of existing policies and laws without fear or favor, sensitization of farmers on conservation and restoration of environmental resources and promotion of sustainable natural resources management in agriculture. We also call for meticulous review of the existing environmental policy regime in Uganda with the view of tailoring, customizing, localizing and genderizing it for practical purposes. With the changing climate at a time when farmers still depend on nature mercies and goodwill farmers options for productivity enhancement seem to dwindle. Unless farmers adopt technologies that accommodate climate change, unless farmers learn to adapt to the changing climate, farmers in Uganda and Africa generally will perish. To the farmers and governments I say- Adopt Adapt or Perish!!!!!!!!!
Resident Consultant and Manager for Policy Research and Advocacy.
Uganda National Farmers Federation