Written by: Ronald Bagaga and Rashida Kabanda.
Every year on June 5, the globe celebrates globe Environment Day as a potent forum for accelerating, amplifying, and mobilising individuals, groups, and governments to take action on the most pressing environmental issues confronting the planet. On World Environment Day 2023, the emphasis will be on reducing plastic pollution and highlighting its solutions. Every year, World Environment Day events are planned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which promotes environmental protection awareness and action throughout the world.
Uganda suffers a number of environmental problems, including soil deterioration, deforestation, biodiversity loss, rising pollution, and diseases associated with the environment, according to the National Environment Management Policy. Poverty, a lack of environmental consciousness, and outdated equipment for recycling and disposing of plastics all contribute to these issues. To track the effects of various policies on the environment, population, and economy, as well as to try to promote a new sustainable conservation culture, the government agreed to establish a National Environment Management Authority, a legal framework, an effective monitoring and evaluation system, and, finally, to coordinate local and national policy efforts on environmental issues. The possibility of doing so remains a distant dream, despite the fact that reducing plastic pollution would be a practical approach for Uganda and the East African countries to lessen the negative effects of plastics on water, soil, and food chains.
The theme for this year's World Environment Day celebration, Solution to Plastic Pollution, includes small-scale farmers. It's time to alter the ways in which we make, use, and discard plastic. Although there are numerous useful applications for plastic, humans have developed an addiction to single-use plastic products, which has negative effects on the environment, society, economy, and health. To stop the flow of plastic waste entering the environment, systemic reform is required. Plastic garbage can linger in the ecosystem for generations, whether it is in a river, the ocean, or on land. Data compiled by FAO experts show that 12.5 million metric tonnes of plastic are used annually in agricultural value chains, and another 37.3 million are used in food packaging. Since soils are one of the primary receivers for agricultural plastics, plastic contamination has grown prevalent in agricultural soils.
“There have been several calls for action as a result of the scope and effects of plastic pollution on Uganda's ecosystems. Regulation, reduction, and eventual eradication of all plastic pollution are urgently required. But political will is required here, not just empty rhetoric.” – Nancy Mugimba
Under Uganda's Physical Planning (Amendment) Act, those who litter plastic waste face fines of up to 540 dollars or imprisonment for up to a year, or both. However, Uganda is the EAC region's hotspot for improperly managed single-use plastic waste because environmental laws are not strictly enforced and polythene producers appear to be above the law. In order to demonstrate its commitment to lowering the quantity of trash and plastic debris entering lakes and rivers, Uganda further joined the Clean Seas Campaign in 2021. However, the National Environment Management Authority estimates that more than 600 tonnes of plastic are produced daily. Fish breeding grounds, fish stocks, and food chains are all under risk due to microplastic contamination in Lake Victoria.
Conventional agriculture is also largely responsible for the usage of plastic materials in energy and water inputs, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides. Because agroecological farming practises primarily make use of ecosystem-based resources, they sustainably limit exposure to plastics. Agroecology has become high on the global agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals since it contributes directly to multiple Sustainable Development Goals. The approach has a great potential to support farming system resilience to the effects of climate change, biodiversity preservation, and reversing trends in land degradation. Agroecology is sustainable farming that works with nature. Agroecology focuses on sustainable farming methods on a wide scale to encourage eco-friendly, self-sustaining farming methods, so helping to lower the use of plastics in the agriculture industry.
“Agroecology is transforming agriculture by utilising ecologically friendly production and farming practises that enhance nutrition while also protecting the environment.” – Okello Moses
Small-scale farmers think that better waste management practises, community education, recycling, and better product design based on agroecological principles for environmental justice might stop plastic waste, dumping, and contamination of vulnerable ecosystems. Given that they include poisonous substances and chemicals that destroy aquatic life, birds, fish reproduction, and food chains, microplastics or minute particles of plastic commonly pollute our water bodies, posing a threat to human life. This jeopardises the advancement of 80% of the assessed Sustainable Development Goals targets related to water, cities, climate, oceans, land, poverty, hunger, health, and sustainable consumption and production.
The UN Declaration on Peasants Rights and People Working in Rural Areas, which supports agroecological farming, has gained support from ESAFF Uganda. To provide small-scale farmers a voice in influencing laws and policies at the local, national, and regional levels, ESAFF Uganda has conducted several policy discussions, media appearances, and educational visits, among other things.
Small-scale farmers add their voices to the call for coordinated action among EAC member states to help achieve the goal of reducing plastic pollution so the region can reduce its carbon footprint as the world observes Environmental Day at a time when it is ostensibly producing a record amount of single-use plastic waste. Calling for the entire ban on single-use plastics to be enforced because they are not biodegradable. Small-scale farmers further call for increased financing to the agriculture sector especially towards agroecology. Small-scale farmers pledge to continue the Tree Planting Campaign in the various member districts, where over 50,000 trees have been planted by small-scale farmers nationwide to support environmental protection. This is made possible by small-scale farmers' recognition of the significant contribution that trees provide to environmental protection through their provision of oxygen, enhancement of air quality, amelioration of climate, conservation of water, preservation of soil, and support of wildlife.
In order to create a unified front in the promotion of environmentally friendly policies, ESAFF Uganda further pledges to improve collaboration across a variety of stakeholders, including farmers' associations, civil society organisations, and governmental organisations. By exploiting their networks and expertise, ESAFF Uganda raises the voices of small-scale farmers and addresses their issues at all levels of decision-making.
Small-scale farmers' tireless efforts to protect the environment and support rural communities have significantly impacted Uganda's sustainable development. Through promoting sustainable agriculture, influencing policy, empowering people, and raising awareness, small-scale farmers have emerged as crucial figures in environmental conservation.