Thursday, 24 May 2012

Climate change worries Uganda farmers

I spent 14 days of my annual leave in my late mother’s village, Kitumba B, in Kibaale district, some 230 km west of Kampala. Subsistence farming is the dominant economic activity in this part of Uganda. Perhaps the discovery of oil in the districts that neighbour Kibaale will change the economics of the land.  During my stay, I listened to and heard many farmers’ cries about the delayed rains and complaints that when the rains did come, they were too destructive.

According to these smallholder farmers, the traditional farming calendar they have followed for decades has been changing. Previously, they’d excitedly prepare the land between January and February to get ready for the mid March planting season  every year. March marked the first planting season and the second season would start in September. However, this year, as it has been a repeated case in the last 5years, there were no rains in March. In this community rains signal the commencement of the planting season.

 “We waited for the rains but they didn’t come throughout April,” says Deborah Katusiime, one of the farmers in this village. Famrers who closed their eyes and planted crops during that time in anticipation of rains, lost those seeds. Too bad! The rains started in May. This means a complete change in season and delayed harvest.

But as the crops had begun germinating and needed no more sunshine, the rains have not ceased and are pouring heavily. “We are worried the heavy rains will rot away the beans we have just weeded,” says Deborah.

Just like any other rural community in Uganda, most of the people in this village did not access weather and climate-related information that would help them plan their agricultural activities and adapt to the changing climate. Without such information at the disposal of farmers, they are unable to know when to plant which crops that would adapt to the changing climate. But even then their adaptation is limited by low levels of technology.

The situation gets worrisome where available studies show that climate change threatens livelihoods and food security. “Higher temperatures, reduced rainfall and increased rainfall variability reduce crop yield and threaten food security in low income and agriculture-based economies. Thus, the impact of climate change is detrimental to countries that depend on agriculture as the main livelihood, many located in Tropical Africa,” reads part of a 2010 report by the Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa at the University of Pretoria.    

One of the explanations in the shift in the farmers’ previously known agricultural seasons in Kibaale lies in the indiscriminate cutting of trees. There are startling statistics from Uganda’s National Forestry Authority (NFA) that show the country continues to lose a big chunk of its forest cover due to deforestation. An audit by the Auditor General’s office shows that Uganda’s forest cover has reduced from the 2005 reduction figure of 24% to now 18%. Uganda loses 90,000 hectares of its 3.7 million hectares of forest cover annually. Kibaale district leads the pack. In 1990, Kibaale had about 114,000 hectares of forest cover with a population of about 220,300 people. But by 2005, its forest cover had fallen to about 58,300 hectares (48.8%) with a population of about 413, 000 people due to migration.

Every Ugandan needs to play their part to restore and conserve the forestry sector since NFA says the biggest loss of forest cover is on private land.
By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

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