- An essay on climate change in Tooro, yesterday and today
- Achieving food security through the use of ecological sanitation
- Vulnerability of food systems due to climate change in the Rwenzori region
- Environment and education
An essay on climate change in Tooro, yesterday and today
Edward B. Rugumayo (email@example.com)
Climate change is an on-going process. Over millions of years, the earth’s climate has been changing. Geological studies reveal that such changes have been spread over millions of years. Take the example of the Albertine Rift or Graben, which is a continuation of the Great Eastern Rift Valley starting from the Red Sea. It took millions of years to form and stabilize, forming the Rwenzori Mountains at its border, not a volcanic but a fold (push up) block mountain range.
The composition of air gases has been stable for many centuries until after the Industrial Revolution (Box 1) in the late 18th century when Western industries started to pump CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. Other industrial gases such as CO2, HFCs and methane have increased to such as extent until today that they have affected the composition of the Ozone (O3) layer which filters harmful rays from entering the atmosphere. During the 1960s and early 70s, it became apparent that there were signs of environmental change caused by increasing human activities. This culminated in the 1972 historic Stockholm Conference that resulted in the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. UNEP established the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which researches and keeps the world informed about the state of global climate. In 2006, Davis Guggenheim produced a documentary film about former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about global warming, titled An Inconvenient Truth which has jolted some of the industrialised countries from their comfort zones of denial about climate change.
Box 1: The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology in Western Europe had a profound effect on the socioeconomic conditions of the times. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas, Jr. (2002), “For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth… Nothing remotely like this economic behaviour has happened before”.
As individuals we live in societies with which we share the fruits and challenges of our surroundings. Any changes in our local environment affect us directly. However, our activities, as local as they might be, affect the environment beyond our local borders. In short, we are interconnected. This is why environmentalists coined the motto:
 Prof. Edward B. Rugumayo is the Chancellor of Mountains of the Moon University
Think globally, act locally. At the same time, we all inherit the natural resources we have found. The challenge is how to use them. Environmentalists again have another motto which states thus: We have not inherited the earth from our grand parents but have borrowed it from our grand children.
- The recent past
During 1943-47 droughts killed many cattle in Mwenge, which is now Kyenjojo District. Before then, Mwenge County was teeming with herds of cattle. In fact the entire countryside had exceeded its carrying capacity and was over grazed. Following the death of cattle, there was a rapid regeneration of vegetation, followed by the appearance of many interesting crop and animal pests. There were locust invasions which devastated crops; these were followed by army worm invasions, red ant invasions and grass cutters (emisu) and snakes and rats. The entire environment changed. Between 1945 and 1948, Oruha plantation (Eastern side) was planted, amid protests that the Colonial government was alienating Tooro Kingdom land. Throughout the mid-50s and 60s, Kyehara and Kagorra plantations were planted by Tooro Kingdom government. In what is Kasese today, the Colonial government established Queen Elizabeth National Park amid protests that grazing land was being alienated from the pastoralists. Competition between people and nature had been intensified.
On the side of natural regeneration, there was the emergence of valley forests and recharging of their streams right across the Mwenge countryside. It also witnessed the emigration of Banyamwenge to Bunyangabu in search of better soils and future of their families. This brought relief to the Mwenge soils and vegetation. A combination of vegetation regeneration, especially in the valleys, the planted forest on the hills of Oruha, Kyehara and Kagorra, and a reduction of cattle grazing, appeared to result in a milder climate throughout Mwenge. In fact it resulted in increased rainfall.
Thus, many people applied for land titles. This led to some extent of land consolidation, which resulted in better management of freehold and leased land. In fact, Mwenge’s environment is better than it was 60 years ago; however, it is now degrading. In Fort Portal and its surroundings, including Nyakasura, mist and fog were common, and rains predictable.
Beyond Kibale Forest, in Bundibugyo, Burahya and Kasese, the situation changed in such a way that there was increased pressure from population on land, resulting in cutting down of forests and bushes, especially in Burahya, Bunyangabu, Kasese and Kamwenge. In these counties, the management of land and soils was haphazard. The introduction of Musa, a variety of banana, which was treated like a natural forest, with little husbandry, resulted in serious depletion of soil nutrients and the spread of banana diseases. Many more people live up on the steep ranges of the Rwenzori, resulting in the cutting down of the mountainous tropical rain forest and even moving closer to the bamboo zone, which in turn increases soil erosion. They are in search of land to settle, to grow crops and to produce charcoal from the trees around them, leading to severe deforestation.
- Current situation
The upstream areas of river basins of Nyamugasani, Nyamwamba, Rwimi, Mubuku, Mpanga, Mahoma and other smaller rivers, have been denuded of their vegetation; while sand and rock mining have impacted negatively on the river basins. Recently, an 18MW hydropower dam has been constructed and commissioned on Mpanga Falls before it joins Lake George. Its integrity will depend very much on the health of River Mpanga. As a priority, prudent management of River Mpanga catchment basin is of critical importance. The concerned authorities should not simply look on; they must take action.
The draining of wetlands by planting eucalyptus and crops such as bwaise and sugar, maize and even tea, has given rise to rapid disappearance of wetlands with unpleasant micro climatic consequences. The wetlands absorb and retain water like a sponge and release it at intervals when needed in the environment. These agricultural activities have affected adversely the surrounding microclimates.
In absence of a national land use policy the arrival of immigrants in search of land with little or no knowledge of the ecology and soils of their new environments have given rise to poor management of some of the marginal soils. For instance, orumbugu (couch grass) requires deep digging to ensure that the rhizomes are brought to the surface. In fact the belief among locals is that orumbugu is associated with fertility. The simple explanation of this belief is that each time orumbugu is dug up, the soil is upturned and more mineral nutrient elements are brought to the surface, thus making them available for the crops. The other belief of immigrants is that forests are fertile. The locals know that forest soils are marginal; they seldom cultivate them. Forest nutrients are derived mostly from leaf litter, called mychorrhiza. A cleared forest soil will give only two good crops after which the law of diminishing returns will apply very rapidly. This is exacerbated further if the forest clearing is burned.
In the recent past, rivers originating in the Rwenzori Mountains had plenty of good clean water. The snow and glaciers on the mountain fed them regularly and predictably. Between 1955 and 1990, more than 40% of snow and ice on the Rwenzori Mountains had disappeared. Annual mean temperatures of the areas around the mountain have risen by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius. In Fort Portal, the annual minimum mean rose from 18 to 20 degrees. This means that when temperatures hit 21 degrees and above, mosquitoes thrive. This is one of the reasons why malaria is rampant in Fort Portal, and is a major killer of people. Furthermore, the mean maximum has risen from 28 to 30 degrees Celsius.
All these changes are likely to have been brought about by global warming, to which Uganda as a country has contributed very little. Most of the green house gases are produced by industrialised and the large emerging countries (China, Brazil and India).
The current climate is characterized by unpredictability, irregularity and extremes. We now have extreme winds and hail storms, heavy floods and long severe droughts. The rains appear in an unpredictable pattern, which influences adversely the time for planting crops. Landslides, causing heavy loss of life and property, are common place in Mt Elgon, and potentially will be in Rwenzori and Kabale and other highlands. Mitigation measures must be put in place to avert looming disasters. However, many of these weather extremes are caused more by local activities than by global ones. Deforestation removes vegetation cover and increases run off resulting in floods. Deforestation activities in both Mwenge and Kyaka are on the increase and are reaching alarming levels. The Kampala floods are caused by settlements and cultivation in wetlands and water channels and general indiscipline of Ugandans who throw every thing anywhere. Wetland draining is also competing with deforestation for agriculture use and charcoal production. Soon we could have less rain, and droughts may set in, accompanied by raging fires and loss of life and property.
Our population is growing by 3.2% per annum, thus doubling every twenty years. By 2030, we could exceed a population of 60 millions if the current maternal fertility continues unchecked. All these people will need food, housing, clothes, schools, hospitals, and all the other good things of life. They will have a huge impact on climate through accelerated deforestation and wetland invasion. On the other hand, our agricultural production is increasing at only 0.9% annually. The equations don’t balance. We have to take drastic action to balance these equations, in order not to face a kind of Malthusian Trap.
Thus, in order to balance the equations it agriculture productivity needs to take centre stage and experience a Green Revolution (Box 2). Moreover, in order to increase agricultural productivity above population growth requires change of policy and infusion of large volumes of resources. The hoe and panga alone can not bring about an agricultural revolution, which must precede industrialisation, the very programme which the Government is planning to launch. New technologies must be introduced, e.g. irrigation, organic manure and fertilizer, large and small tractors and draught animals, mixed farming, agricultural extension work and more agricultural vocational and
 The Malthusian Trap by Thomas Robert Malthus’s (1798) refers to a scenario in which population growth tends to outpace the growth of food supply in the long run, making sustained economic growth impossible. However, the onset of the Industrial Revolution broke through Malthusian constraints through a rise in agricultural output and productivity, allowing more and more labourers to substitute rural for urban activities. Thus, from the early 19th century onwards, the world saw an unprecedented growth of population.
technical training, etc. There is an urgent need for a land use policy to guide small-scale farmers, industrialists, housing and construction companies and the general public. Population numbers potentially will go down if education of the girl child is accelerated so that she stays longer at school and begins having fewer children in her late twenties.
More daunting is the fact that with rising temperatures, there will be outbreaks of more diseases caused by poor feeding, over-crowding and generalised poverty. Such situations can cause civil conflict. This is why there is an urgent need for a proper population policy which should be popularised and implemented as soon as possible. Quality of life should be our guiding principle, not just human numbers.
Box 2: The Green Revolution
|The Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1970s that increased agriculture production worldwide. The initiatives involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.
In order to prevent food insecurities and chronic famines and stimulate agricultural yields, in 2005 Malawi (equally densely populated as Uganda) launched the ‘Agricultural Input Subsidy Program’ by which subsidized vouchers were distributed among smallholder farmers to buy subsidized nitrogen fertilizer and maize seeds. Within its first year, the program was reported with extreme success, producing the largest maize harvest of the country’s history.
- Conclusion: A call for action
It is imperative that climate change is taken seriously, by each one of us, but principally starting with policy makers and decision makers, at all levels, from LC1 through to LC5, parliament, and to the highest authority in the land, the President. Let every individual, wherever he/she is, act locally to improve the environment. Let each district put in place by-laws and ordinances to protect the environment. These laws should be enforced without fear or favour. In the end this generation will have repaid the loan borrowed from our grand children, who will reap the fruits of a good environment.
Let every school, church, mosque and temple and other public institutions be assigned specific tasks to protect the environment. NEMA should be facilitated and not be interfered with when enforcing environmental laws. Breaches of environmental laws should have specific penalties which are enforced. Recognition of good/best environmental practices should be encouraged and rewarded. Through the protection of our environment, we can contribute to mitigating effects of climate change, both locally and globally. A good and healthy environment is a human right; all of us should strive to ensure that this right is observed and protected.
Lucas, R., Jr. (2002): Lectures on Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp. 109-110.
Malthus, T. R. (1798): An Essay on the Principle of Population, J. Johnson, London.
Kabarole Research & Resource Centre, et al (2011): Smallholder farmers’ knowledge and adaptation to climate change in the Rwenzori region, Research Report No. 1, March 2011. [see also box in Kabaseke, 2011, in this volume]