Peter Okwi, the LC1 Chairperson for Acuma village, Guyaguya sub county sitting on one of the cut trees during the interview. PHOTO BY NOAH OMUYA

“My sub-county is at the border with Karamoja from the east of Katakwi district and we all know how hot that region is. Now the only trees that are guarding this area are being cut down, which means that we are prone to suffer,” said Amos Otim, LC III Chairperson – Guyaguya Sub County.

Uganda is struggling to meet its national commitment towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, with efforts to decisively deal with the challenge being dented by unsustainable human activities – agitating locals in Katakwi District, North Eastern Uganda, given the high rates of deforestation ongoing in the area.

Uganda, in 2018, became the first African country to ratify the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – a plan intended to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and build the country’s resilience to combat negative impacts of climates change;

These negative impacts are currently experienced across the whole country; with changing weather patterns affecting Uganda’s largely subsistence economy that’s heavily reliant on rainfall for agriculture. The country is now faced with prolonged dry spells to its North, hot temperatures in the central, flooding near river banks, lakes and swamps, as well as severe mudslides around the Elgon and Kasese regions, that routinely wash clean farm lands and homesteads.

In adopting the 2018 climate change policy to fulfill commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreements, Uganda sought to address its vulnerabilities to the negative effects of climate change, as government pledged to harmonize and promote actions to encourage a green economy – through embarking on a national forestry program to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in Uganda. Part of these efforts would also be geared towards intensifying and sustaining afforestation, reforestation and efficient production and use of wood and charcoal.

The policy also sought to encourage good agricultural practices like agroforestry in the country, as well as strengthening forestry research, conservation and restoration of natural forest ecosystems, currently critically threatened by the adverse impacts of climate change on the environment in Uganda.

However, three years down the road since the inception of the national climate change and forestry policies; and more than five years after the country committed to the Paris Agreements on the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development; and a month after Uganda renewed its commitments to mitigate climate change by signing the Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use at the Climate Change Conference (COP26): alongside other 120 nations with the collective aim of reversing and halting forest loss and land degradation by 2030, the challenge remains potent for the country to deal with these obligations and commitments.

In Katakwi, locals are bracing for tough times ahead, as the community is bedeviled by heavy deforestation in the region; contributing to high temperatures, prolonged dry spells and changing weather patterns, for a largely agricultural community, with members fearing that some of the trees may soon become extinct.

“We are very worried about the current environmental conditions in this area,” Anthony opus, a father of two intimated to Wizarts Foundation while carrying his four-year-old son. He said in Aujo-Ongaba village, Katakwi district: “Some influential people are illegally cutting down trees, so tomorrow when our children grow up, they may probably not have any idea about some of these tree species.”   

The worry expressed by Opus is far too common, given the fast speed at which Uganda loses its forest cover through illegal logging. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) estimates that Uganda in just 25 years, has lost 63% of its natural forests in search for firewood, timber or charcoal, as well due to poor agroecological practices like clearing farmlands – in ways that meets today’s development needs but without catering for future generations.

Figures further show that Uganda’s forest cover has now been depleted to 8% from 24% of the land cover in 1990, as a result of human encroachment. The Global Forest Watch reveals that Uganda had 6.93 million hectares of tree cover, extending to over 29% of its land area in 2010 but ten years later in 2020, it had lost 73.6 Kilo hectares of tree cover, equating to at least 36.0 metric tons of carbon dioxide polluted into the air, during this period.

“I see lorries passing by our community access roads every day carrying wood and I keep wondering what will happen to our environment tomorrow,” Opus wondered. He said the activity of illegal logging of wood is not just happening in Katakwi sub-county where he lives, but widely spread in the region including Guyaguya sub-county, where all the big trees along the 12-kilometer road connecting from Orungo to Usuk have been razed to the ground.

The looming effects of climate change

Peter Okwi, the LC I Chairperson of Acuma Village in Gayunga sub-county confirmed that his village has lost more than 100 trees to illegal loggers within a very short time frame, arguing that locals voluntarily sell trees as a means of survival due to abject poverty in the area;

“When I tried to raise a voice, I was told that I lacked the authority to stop them. One day they even ganged up against me and laid a roadblock for me. They said I am interfering with their business of selling trees which would help them survive.” 

The traditional tree species under threat in the region range from Emabule (African Teak), Ekungur (Shea nut tree), Ebata (Albiziazygia), Ebobore and Ebyong (Ficusguaphalocarpa), Emiebe (Mango tree) and others because of their big size. Apparently, buyers pay between UGX 20,000 – 30,000, with each tree felled fetching up to two trucks-fulls of wood for cooking, making charcoal or burning bricks.

The area LC III Chairperson, Amos Otim fears that the negative effects of tree logging and mass destruction of forests is already manifested in form of increased heat, temperature and drought that could eventually cause desertification already experienced in the neighboring Karamoja.

“My sub-county is at the border with Karamoja from the east of Katakwi district and we all know how hot that region is. Now the only trees that are guarding this area are being cut down, which means that we are prone to suffer.” 

Some hope through collaboration

Before locals in efforts to save the natural environment, have collaborated with partners like Children Worldwide, Lango Child and Community Federation and Child Fund Uganda to implement livelihood resilience projects. The project officer, Pius Anyumel, said at the inception, they found that widespread poverty and the need for wood fuel for household use, were key drivers of deforestation in the area.

The answer to this, he said, was to introduce energy-saving stoves to the locals. “But another question came up; what type of energy-saving stove? Because the one for charcoal will require at least a basin full per day. So we said, let us design an energy stove that will need very little firewood.” 

Through this initiative, Anyumel said they were able to develop energy-saving stoves, which community members were trained to make from local materials; using clay and grass. It uses 5 twigs for cooking in a day. At the moment, he revealed that 216 households had been trained in the pilot implementation of the project and it is believed that those sampled will be able to train other community members.

Jennifer Alungat from Angobo village, Apolin Parish, Katakwi sub county displaying the energy saving stoves which they make using clay and grass. Photo Credit: Noah Omuya

The pledge to combat climate change

Although there are some initiatives being done to promote climate change adaptation and mitigation in Uganda, including limiting human encroachment on the forest cover, evidence on the ground shows that work is still cut out for the government to do to achieve the global net-zero of zero gas emission by 2050.

Representing the Country at 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) Summit in November 2021, President Museveni expressed Uganda’s commitment towards agenda 2040 to combat Climate Change, calling for urgent measures to avert the current climate crisis.

However, what remains to be seen, is for the country to follow up on national and global commitments to protect and restore forests and avert climate change; where Government of Uganda must play a leading role in mobilizing citizens, to deliver on aspirations to mitigate the impending impacts, given the challenges already being experienced by Uganda as an adverse effect of deforestation.

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