Masindi farmers lose crops to floods

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Floods destroy corn field.

Masindi district has been hit by floods that have destroyed several acres of crops leaving hundreds of homesteads languishing in Kimengo sub-county.

A recently released assessment report indicates that 1,824 acres of crop fields have been sunk in the water with 471 homesteads affected, according to the district authorities.  

The District Agriculture Officer, Mr Job Byaruhanga, says the floods that started in August this year have disastrously destroyed maize, cassava, beans, groundnuts and sweet potatoes among other crops that are a staple food and also an income earner in the area.

He attributes the catastrophe to farmers who encroached on wetlands for arable farming.

Mr Byaruhanga says the assessment was conducted after the affected farmers called for the authorities’ intervention adding that a report will soon be made and submitted to higher authorities for action.

Audio: Byaruhanga on crops (Runyoro/Rutooro)

For donkey years, farmers growing crops in wetlands in Kimengo sub-county have been hit by floods, according to the agriculture officer, advising them to use the upland for their agricultural practices which is always free from floods.  

Mr Byaruhanga also advises farmers to plant their crops timely for higher yields saying that farmers who planted upland in Kimengo sub-county will produce plenty of maize since it was not destroyed by floods and also timed the season.

Audio: Byaruhanga on advice (Runyoro/Rutooro)

Mr Francis Tugume, one of the affected farmers in Myeba village of Kimengo sub-county, revealed that he has lost 1,500 acres of maize crop to the floods. He called upon the government to come to their aid saying famine looms in their area.

Audio: Tugume on relief (Runyankole/Rukiga)

Addressing the affected farmers, the Masindi District LC 5 Vice Chairman cum area coucillor who led the team that assessed the destruction, Mr Kassim Kabagonza, said he was overwhelmed by the destruction promising that district leaders will lobby for relief from the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness.

“Both the farmers and government have incurred a big loss since the agro output is used for home consumption, fetching household income and even sold to other countries. The district will liaise with the ministry of disaster preparedness for relief aid,” he promised.

Audio: Kabagonza on floods (Runyoro/Rutooro)

What experts say

Experts stress that the flooding being experienced in all parts of the country is largely due to human encroachment on wetlands warning of serious consequences, if the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Policy is not revised and a new one approved immediately to suit the current environment dynamics.

“Since 1995, Uganda has lost more than 6% of its total wetland area from about 13% to currently 8.4% (205,212 square kilometres),” says Mr Anthony Wolimbwa, the Head of Programmes at Christian Ecological Organisation (ECO), an indigenous, Organisation working towards realisation of sustained livelihoods.

Mr Wolimbwa notes that a population bulge and the resultant scarcity of land for agriculture has led to a huge loss of wetlands and their benefits.

Experts from Care International in Uganda, Partners for Resilience, Wetlands International and Cordaid who have been reviewing Uganda’s existing policies and laws on wetlands, predict that Uganda’s wetlands will be completely lost by the year 2100 and the country will be highly vulnerable to climate change induced disasters affecting the poorest and rolling back any gained development efforts.

“It should be noted that a functioning economy depends on strong biodiversity and ecosystem services. Loss of wetlands has been attributed to lack of a strong legal regime on wetlands, weak policy environment, expansion of urban developments, rapid industrialisation, expansion of agricultural land, invasive species, mining operations especially sand and clay, air and water pollution, climate change, land ownership, and tenure challenges,” Mr Wolimbwa argues.

The imminent danger of floods has become worse in the past three months, prompting NEMA and Ministry of Disaster Preparedness to issue a warning to Ugandans living near rivers to move.

If policy and legislative action are not urgently taken to conserve wetlands, these experts warn that dire consequences are likely to occur from accelerated loss and damage to wetlands ecosystems.

Ms Rachael Kyozira Kaleebi, the Cordaid Uganda Programme Manager Resilience says wetlands are amongst the most productive of the world’s ecosystems providing essential services such as food, water, construction materials, transport, and coastline protection, as well as important opportunities for tourism and recreation, which are also defined as ecosystem services.

“The current rate of wetland degradation in Uganda calls for fast-tracking the wetlands policy, paying attention to; climate change adaptation, ecosystem management,  restoration, and disaster risk reduction while putting people at the centre,” she notes.

If left undisturbed, however, wetlands are able to clean rain water when it runs downstream, contribute significantly to offsetting impacts of climate change through flood control, water retention and recharge and store more soil carbon than forests.

The experts now want government to key among others urgently pass a new law that will enable the Wetlands Department to carry out enforcement and compliance in the conservation and management of wetlands.

They also want the authorities to build capacity for integrated risk management as an adaptive management approach that promotes co-existence between wetlands and development and addresses emerging challenges of climate change and industrialisation but also promote private sector investment along the green growth, pathway and social equity mainstreaming in wetland management.

Other demands include incentives (carbon credits, payment for ecosystem services, polluter pay principle) for sustainable wetland management activities in Uganda, review the 200 metres buffer around wetlands based on on-site bio-physical characteristics, prioritize and consider wetlands as a key natural resource in the fight against climate change and key ingredient in the industrialisation drive.      

Sustainable Development Goal

Uganda will not meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets especially climate action but also risks increased vulnerability of poor small holder farm households due to climate change impacts and disasters.

Others are increased food insecurity as a result of degraded ecosystem, increased cost of water and sewerage treatment, degradation and complete loss of wetlands ecosystems with dire ecological consequences such as disasters and loss of medicinal sources as much of the traditional medicines are from wetlands and forests.

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