Field visits to highlight community-based adaptation in Uganda

Guest blog by
25 April 2017

Participants at CBA11 will have chance to see first-hand how communities in Uganda are adapting to the impacts of climate change. David Nkwanga highlights some of the types of schemes that will be on show.

"A masterpiece of the world's intangible heritage", bark cloth is processed to be used in fashion, accessories, house wares, interior design, and other forms of art (Photo: David Nkwanga)

In Uganda, where the 11th Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA11) will be held from 26-29 June 2017, the population is greatly exposed to the impacts of climate change. Most people depend on rain-fed agriculture, which is greatly affected by increasing variation in weather conditions due to climate change. In response, people have devised various ways to adapt and improve their resilience.

Ahead of CBA11, participants will be able to join field visits to sites that demonstrate some of the ways in which communities are adapting to these changes. 

Key determinants of community resilience

To cope, communities need access to food, water, energy and healthcare (see the diagram below). The field visits will highlight community efforts around these key determinants of community resilience in rural populations in Uganda.

A diagram showing the key determinants of community resilience: food, water, energy and healthcare (Image: David Nkwanga)

Community-based adaptation for food security

While small-scale farmers are responsible for more than 80 per cent of agricultural production in Uganda, this vital activity is under threat because poor agricultural practices, combined with the effects of climate change, have left the soil exhausted.

This has resulted in food insecurity and poverty for many households, leading to increased deforestation as farmers search for productive land. This leaves small-scale farmers increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and causes increasing rates of environmental degradation.

Mimicking nature by increasing diversity on the farm, such as having various plants including tree species, creepers/vines, roots and tubers, and so on on the same plot, is a simple but effective method that farmers in Wakiso and some other parts of the country use.

This method works by both providing alternatives – in case some crops fail, but also by increasing overall capacity of the farm to withstand harsh conditions like long dry spells.

Biochar is ready to apply to the soil (Photo: David Nkwanga)Other methods include soil and water conservation using mulching and use of biochar to rejuvenate exhausted soils.

Recycling for sustainable energy for cooking 

According to Uganda's National Environment Management Authority (PDF), by 2007 Uganda was using more firewood and charcoal than it produced, with a deficit of 2.7 million cubic metres.  

The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development recorded a wood deficit of 4.9 million tonnes in 1995 (PDF). Yet these fuels remain the main sources of cooking energy available for most Ugandans, providing about 93 per cent of the country's total cooking energy needs.

In Kasanje, central Uganda, communities are now recycling bio-waste into fuel briquettes, helping to address the deforestation problem and environmental degradation in general, while also improving their resilience to the impacts of climate change. Fuel briquettes are burned as an alternative to wood or charcoal for cooking and heating. They have a higher heating value than wood or charcoal, are smokeless and give off intense and steady heat

Conserving medicinal plants and using indigenous knowledge

In Uganda, plant resources play a central role in the livelihoods of rural communities that have traditionally relied on plants to meet their healthcare needs. Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that traditional medicines (largely comprised of medicinal plants) provide up to 80 per cent of the primary healthcare needs in rural Africa.

The destruction of habitats and the impacts of climate change are leading to the loss of important medicinal plants. As a result, communities are losing both medicine and a wealth of knowledge.

The Nature Palace Foundation, about 30 km from Kampala, has created a community botanic garden and home-herbal gardens to help to fill these gaps.

Conserving water aquifers through eco-tourism

The Mabamba wetland system is an extensive marsh of 2,424 ha, that was protected under the Ramsar Convention in 2006 because of its ecological value. The ecosystem was under serious threat from human extractive activities such as sand mining, hunting (involving burning), and poaching for birds, eggs and animals, especially the marsh-dwelling sitatunga (a kind of antelope).

Unsustainable methods of wetland agriculture were a problem, and neighbouring communities generally had a negative attitude towards conserving the ecosystem, making the problems worse.

But when these communities were trained as tourist guides, allowing them to earn from the booming tourism activities, these former enemies of the wetland started to protect it. This more positive attitude from the community members has led to a reduction in extractive activities, conserving this important resource.

Benefiting from a unique fabric

Bark cloth is a unique fabric produced from the bark of Ficus natalensis commonly called the 'mutuba' tree. The craftsmanship involved in making this cloth is steeped in ancient culture and tradition dating back to the 13th century and it has played significant cultural, financial, social and environmental roles.  

Bark cloth has been proclaimed "a masterpiece of the world's intangible heritage" and recognised as a unique indigenous textile production craft by UNESCO.

Bark is harvested from a 'mutuba' tree to be fashioned by a skilled artisan (Photo: David Nkwanga)To make bark cloth, the bark of the tree is harvested, without harming the tree. This means bark cloth is an environmentally-friendly, renewable material. Skilled artisans incorporate this unique fabric into many modern uses, including fashion, accessories, house wares, interior design, and other forms of art.

Conserving the bark cloth trees on farm land brings farmers other ecological benefits including improved resilience and cooking energy – as branches can be sustainably harvested for firewood and leaves can provide fodder for domestic animals. The Nature Palace Foundation, through the Naturesmart programme is reviving this ancient craftsmanship as one way to promote community-based adaptation.

These are some of the simple actions that can have a big impact in promoting community-based adaptation.

The CBA11 field visits will provide an opportunity to interact with some of the communities involved in these activities and learn more from them, as well as helping them to improve their efforts. Whatever your action, it matters.

David Nkwanga (naturepaldn@gmail.com) works with the Nature Palace Foundation in Uganda.

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