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  1. 1. By Richard Wetaya If there is a place in Uganda which has bore the brunt of this year’s harsh and hot weather, it is Nakasongola. Nakasongola is perennially hot, but this year, the district seems to have gotten more than it bargained for. Commonly refered to as the dry belt or the cattle corridor, Nakasongola is a semi arid area, dominated by pastoral graze lands. Of late however, the grazing lands have been on the wane. As a consequence, most of the district’s pastoralists have been hard pressed in getting pasture and water for their livestock. Fred Kwagala has like many other mobile pastoralists in the district resorted to day and night movements in a quest to find pasture and water. “The chances of finding pasture and water for cattle in these dry periods are ten to one. During the prolonged dry spells, the pastures just like the small rainwater catchment areas dry up. Iam often forced to trek long distances with my cattle in the search for water and pasture,” Kwagala says. Fred Luyima, an environmental researcher in Nakasongola says livestock mobility is often used as a copying strategy by many of the district’s farmers when pastures are dwindling and when water stress is hitting hard. Felix Kunobere, the Nakasongola district Environment officer says the district’s livestock farmers are being encouraged to have their own water sources at individual level. “Every individual livestock farmer in Nakasongola with over 50 animals is
  2. 2. being encouraged to have their own water sources. That is an adaption strategy we are encouraging. We are also encouraging livestock farmers to move away from the traditional ways of feeding their animals. Animals feeds can be harvested, stored and preserved. In the event of pasture shortage, the feeds stashed away can be used,”Kunobere says. Weather experts have for long labeled Nakasongola, a climate change hot pot. In many respects, the experts have been proven right. The district has through the years become a byword for prolonged dry spells, rainfall unpredictability, deforestation, water scarcity and food insecurity. The above factors have all impacted negatively on the livelihoods of people, principally in the villages. “Nakasongola district’s climate variability is manifested in the prolonged dry spells that afflict it, year in, year out and the intermittent and unreliable rainfall, it receives, even in seasons thought of as rainy seasons. These chequered weather conditions have continually affected the district’s biodiversity and people’s livelihoods. Deforestation has caused intermittent rainfall, thereby affecting farming. The Drought and other extreme weather events have caused food insecurity and water scarcity, despite the district being endowed with Water resources such as Lake Kyoga, Rivers, Sezibwa, Kafu and Lugogo,” David Okwalinga, an environment scientist states. Notwithstanding the challenges, Kunobere says the district has drawn up priority interventions to deal with the problem. “The district environment office has been encouraging farmers to be timely especially with preparations on crop planting. They have to make sure they
  3. 3. adequately make do with the little rains we receive. The environment office has also been encouraging conservation agriculture which promotes minimal disturbance of soils amongst farmers. We have also been dissuading people against burning bushes and cutting down trees,”Kunobere says. This year’s heat has in many people’s estimations been unprecedented and hard to bear with. Beatrice Nankula, a business woman in Sasira trading center says this year’s dry spell has been one of the toughest to deal with. “The humid weather has led to a scarcity of water in this area as most of the water catchment areas have either dried up or have been contaminated. The demand for water in Sasira and other areas around Nakasongola exceeds the amount available. It explains the rush by people to buy water from truck bowsers, despite the high prices,” Nankula says. I bore witness to the harsh humidity and its effects as I moved on the stretch between Nakasongola town and Sasira trading center. The harsh weather seemingly has spawned abiotic stressors, which have visibly affected the district’s plant life growth and productivity. As it seems, the plant life and its foliage have been wilting under the unwavering humid conditions. For me the first time visitor, the heat was unbearable and my attempts to get drinking water from the few households I made stopovers at yielded nothing as the people there said they had no drinking water. “Each year, Nakasongola has a chequered weather trajectory. This year, like previous years, the district has experienced prolonged dry spells, droughts, unpredictable rainfall onsets and other climate inconsistency related
  4. 4. phenomena. March was supposed to be a rainfall season but there no rain. April is here and so far the rains look promising but more needs to be done to teach people about rain water harvesting. The district receives rainfall of between 700 mm and 1000 mm per annum, with a five- 6 month long dry season. This season has been one of the hottest on record. The district’s grasslands and water sources such as fresh water wells and lakes have also taken a heavy hit,” Luyima explains. As a means of dealing with water stress, Kunobere says the district has been encouraging water harvesting at household level. “We are promoting water catchment management and also lobbying the government to help us expand piped water in areas that lack. A feasibility study was done and there is a five year plan to expand piped water supply in the district. Presently, there are two lower governmental areas that have water reservoirs- Kakooge and Wabigalo,” Kunobere says. Climate data from the district’s environment office shows that the number of dry spells within an anticipated rainfall season in the district had increased with the most significant increase observed in the past three months, January, February and March. “The rainfall has been erratic rainfall since the beginning of March. This has brought forth crop failures, reductions in the yields of crops such as cassava, coffee, maize, simsim, sweet potato, sorghum, banana, millet and reductions in plant varieties in the district. Small holder agriculture and pastoralism have been the most heavily affected,” Luyima says.
  5. 5. The other problem the district has been grappling with has been soil degradation which has according to experts has been brought to pass by ill advised and improper farmer cultivation practices, over grazing and the adverse heat. “Huge stretches of Nakasongola’s land is uncultivable because of soil degradation. Areas with pasture land are severely degraded. Overgrazing there has led to a disappearance of vegetation. As a result of soil degradation, there has been a reduction in crop yields in the affected areas in the district. These counterproductive human activities play into the bigger climate change problem in the district. The pastoralists need to be guided,” Okwalinga says. Whilst the district receives rainfall later on in the year, principally between September and November, the rains have been known to leave a trail of destruction, manifested in water scarcity, floods, landslides and soil erosion. As April dawns, many of the district’s farmers are hoping for rain. “With rainfall, there is hope for better agricultural yields. Last season was not the best of seasons in terms of crop production but Iam upbeat this season. All that hope however will make no sense when there are no rains,” Okwalinga says the district environment officials need to up the up the ante in terms of environmental mainstreaming.
  6. 6. “That will not only go a long way in countering the effects of long drawn out climate unpredictability but will also ensure the proper conservation, preservation and restoration of the district’s fragile ecosystems. The officials as well need to provide solutions in terms of increasing the community’s abilities to adapt to the vulnerabilities associated with climate change,”Okwalinga says. Kunobere says as a means of further mitigating on the harsh effects of climate change, the district is encouraging tree growing and dissuading livestock farmers from clearing vegetation and trees. “Livestock farmers with many cows have been inclined to clearing vegetation and trees supposedly to see their animals when they wander off. The district environment office is trying to make sure that ill advised practice stops. The district is also promoting sustainable charcoal production technologies in tandem with UNDP and the ministry of agriculture. The project is distributing improved kilns,” Kunobere says.