Peter Labeja in Kampala
The Uganda government is highly concerned about the prevailing food security situation in the country as effects of Climate Change take toll on Agriculture and Trade.
This as the country’s delegation gathers in Warsaw Poland for the annual discussions on Climate Change. It says there is increased water logging challenges in flat plains that often result into flooding.
Musa Eweru, the State Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Management says Teso and Lango regions in East and mid northern Uganda have been worst hit and are staring hunger in the face as crop tubers rot away under water logging.
“This phenomenon called water logging is dangerous for communities that depend on tubers like Cassava and Sweet Potatoes because the moment a garden of cassava gets waterlogged for just a week, the entire garden rots away. And that is very dangerous for food security among those communities. That is actually what is happening now” Ecweru said adding that reports from different districts have pointed to the disaster.
Many of the communities the minister is referring to are small holder farmers with single source of livelihood – agriculture. Just a handful is engaged in small scale businesses for additional income. They invest a lot of time and energy in tilting the land using manual labour in order to feed their families.
Ecwero says many families lost the first harvests to drought that ushered in the year. “They had hoped, the second harvests were going to rescue them but it is also going to be a bit of a problem considering the heavy rains”.
The situation is not unique to Lango and Teso only. In Acholi and West Nile, it has been rivers bursting their banks and water forcing their ways through human settlements while the central part of the country faces several bouts of hailstorms that pound Matooke and Coffee crop fields.
The Minister says the situation has presented with very unpredictable severe weather conditions. Central and Western Uganda has received a lot of hailstorms that stayed on the ground for days. The storms struck off premature coffee beans and vandalized Matooke fields, the region’s staple food. The disaster is widespread. Ecwero says it went as far as in districts neighbouring capital Kampala. The farmers might be quite about the predicament. But the situation is silently biting as they look to charities for relief.
Scientists in Uganda Wildlife Authority say conservation is feeling the effects of the global phenomenon as well. George Owoyesigire, the Acting Principal Wildlife Officer says “Climate Change has affected the fruiting season of wild berries in Mburo National Park forcing monkeys and other herbivores that predominantly relied on the fruits for their diets to turn to grains grown for human consumption in neighbouring communities”.
Owoyesigire explained that trees are prematurely shedding off their leaves in unreliable rainfall. This has only helped to spur conflicts between wildlife and neighbouring communities bordering national parks. Communities around the country’s largest national park, Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda can attest to this more than any other in Uganda.
Beatrice Akuch is a Rice Farmer in Lagazi Village in Purongo Sub County of Nwoya District. Living at the edge of the Murchison Falls National parks has never been any easy since she returned from internationally displaced persons camps in 2009. “We were forced out by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Since we returned, atrocities of wildlife have filled the void left by the LRA. Elephants that stray from the parks leave us with nothing but tears”, she explained as she plucked the ears of her rice heads two days after the elephants trampled through the field.
Some people in this community feel conditions in the park are not conducive any longer for the wildlife but cannot adequately tell what is driving them into the communities. “Why would food or water be scarce in the park now when they have lived there since time immemorial?”, Patrick Okello Oryema, the Nowya District chairperson pondered stopping sort of mentioning climate change.
According to Owoyesigire, Uganda Wildlife Authority is conducting a research to ascertain where Climate Change has a hand in marauding wildlife. In the meantime, the authority is concentrating resources in preventing the animals from leaving the park areas.
“We have employed a number of strategies including replanting some of the wild berries in hopes that they will flower and fruit in season. The other is to construct a two meter wide and four meter deep pit all around the park to prevent the elephants from crossing over into the communities.”, he explained.
The authority is also empowering farmers to grow chili and keep bees around park boundaries to prevent the beasts from devouring their livelihoods. These have all proven temporal since the beasts still cross from rocky areas.
Government Response to Climate Change.
If you don’t embrace change, change will change you goes an adage. For the Ugandan government, different ministries have employed different measures to try and adapt to the prevailing change. The disaster Ministry is more into relief in responds to emerging humanitarian needs. The Ministry of Agriculture is charged with providing agricultural inputs such as fast maturing seeds to farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed. Ecwero says the biggest task lies with the ministry of health to ensure that drugs are stocked in plenty and nearby as the country registers increased cases of Malaria and other sanitation ailments.
This is not misplaced as climate scientists warn that climate change will make conditions conducive for multiplication and survival of disease causing vectors. Perhaps, this is why the country has launched an all out war against malaria through indoor residual spray of mosquitoes.
Minister Ecwero is advising the ministry of health to employ multi faceted weapons against the vector in addition to providing insecticide treated mosquito nets. The question is; can treated mosquito nets be used in the sitting room as the family enjoys the evening meal or follow soaps on television? “When anti malarial drugs are kept near to the people at the grassroots, response becomes easy in situations of impassable maurram roads. We think the local government will carry the bigger burden because water ponds are now contaminated”, Ecweru divulged.
True to his words, Uganda has very few all weather roads. And when roads are cut off, trade suffers. Losses in revenue spur. Inflation climbs. More functional government ambulances are grounded. Humanitarian needs grow with emerging emergencies. More wetlands will be encroached on for commercial flower growing fields. We will see more legal and running battles between Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority and encroachers. Never the less, the situation is not all hopeless.
District Agricultural officers are up in arms for food security. They are going east, west, central, north and south sounding alarms against this global enemy well knowing that without a united front and without access to Climate Finance, frustrations will be widespread.
Jackson Lakor, Gulu District Agricultural Officer says they are under government instruction to help farmers achieve food security despite the changing climate. “We are telling them to plant crops that are early maturing so that they can harvests within the shortest possible time for food security and nutrition. For farmers in river fringes, we are asking them to move upstream on the river banks”, Lakor exclaimed. It is widely believed that human activities are responsible for the change.
In some communities, sand mining and horticultural farming in wetlands are the rays of hope at the end of the tunnel. Civil Society Organizations and politicians across Africa have joined forces to try and motivate them to stay on. As a result, new technologies and adaptation innovations are springing up among small holder farmers as adverse weather conditions become more prevalent.
For example, the drought in the fall of 2011 compelled 68 year old Getrude Latim, a coffee farmer in Koch Tochi in Gulu district to use the ordinary for an extra ordinary cause. She gathered together used 500 milliliter plastic mineral water bottles and filled them with water each morning for irrigating her shamba. Ccourageously, she went to a nearby swamp every morning to carry water on her head until she got frustrated and exhausted. The drought won the war as she took the battle realizing up to Fifteen kilograms of coffee beans from a single stem she zeroed down on. For elderly Latim, with little income, this is a perfect drip irrigation technology at a time of distress. Two other farmers have used the same technology afterwards with a ‘yes we can mentality’. Sure enough, the kids must attend school. Good health must be restored. People have got to eat every day.
Focus turns to COP19 in Warsaw.
As World delegates gather in Warsaw, Poland, some people feel the creditors will be negotiating with the borrowers as talks pit the developed nations (annex 1 countries) against the least developed countries.
Samuel Samson Ogallah is the Program Officer of Nairobi based Pan African Climate Justice Alliance. He feels the least developed nations have been handed unfair deals in previous Conference of Party Meetings similar to the one in Warsaw.
“What have we achieved from moving from one COP to another? In 2013, we are heading for Warsaw in 2013, is it going to help Africa adapt? Are we going to have our issues attended to by the so called annex 1 country – the developed country?”, Ogallah asked.
It has been shifting of goal posts from one COP to another. Ogallah wants the developed nations to own up to their historical responsibilities and pay the Climate debt. When the ship is sinking, it will sink on all sides. And in the absence of equity, deadly typhoons, Tsunamis, floods and droughts will be the order of the day. Same bed, different dreams. The continent without proper adaptation measures will present the most victims. So, it is time for the World to appreciate that your actions are our survivals.
The Writer is an Pan African Climate Change and Environmental Reporting Award Winner 2013.