Written by: Rashida Kabanda, Naume Kalinaki and Andrew Adem
Globally, there is increasing worry over desertification, the process through which productive land eventually changes into a desert as a result of causes such as climate change, deforestation, and unsustainable agricultural practices. According to the United Nations, 12 million hectares of productive land are lost to desertification each year. Climate change has accelerated dramatically in the last two centuries due to the increasing development in industrial agriculture and extensive use of fossil fuels that cause emission of heat retaining gasses into the atmosphere. An estimated 55 million people globally are affected by droughts every year, and they are the most serious hazard to livestock and crops in nearly every part of the world. Drought threatens people’s livelihoods, increases the risk of disease and death, and fuels mass migration. Despite having a high proportion of arable land, land degradation is a significant issue in Uganda. Environmental deterioration generally results in losses of 4% to 12% of GNP. 85% of this is attributable to crop changes, nitrogen loss, and soil erosion. Water scarcity impacts 40% of Uganda’s population and dry areas represent 41% of earth's land surface and are home to over two billion people. Of this, Africa occupies the greater proportion at 66%. Uganda's dry lands occupy the cattle corridor where drought conditions are prevalent. The areas, mainly rangelands cover 84,000sq.km of Uganda's total land across the north and eastern parts. This area can expand further if swift action isn't taken.
This calls for awareness creation on the desertification and drought mitigation. 17th June is the world desertification and drought day; this year is celebrated under the theme "Her Land. Her Rights," focusing on women's land rights as a crucial component of achieving the related global goals of gender equality and land degradation neutrality by 2030.
On this day, ESAFF Uganda brought together small-scale farmers from different sub-counties in Apac district at St Mark Church of Uganda in Agenyi Cell to commemorate the World Desertification and Drought Day 2023. During the meeting, it was noted that despite the fact that land is the most important economic resource for the majority of rural poor people, women are less likely than men to own or control land, which puts them at risk of poverty, starvation, gender-based violence, and relocation. As the globe tries to deal with the increasing issues caused by climate change, desertification and drought are key concerns. Small-scale farmers are using the World Desertification and Drought Day to call to action nations, groups, and individuals to address the pressing issue of aridity that imperils ecosystems, way of life, and food security globally.
"As farmers, we always want to see development in our communities but we want the kind of development that won’t destroy our natural resources or have a longer term effect to our health, production systems and livelihoods. Because we know that if such development is accepted, it will escalate poverty levels which pushes farmers to adopt practices like deforestation, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.” – Akello Harriet Oling, Chairperson Oroc Lobo Community Agroecology School, Akere Division, Apac district.
We believe that it is impossible to address land degradation without the women at the discussion tables. Women play a significant role in the global initiatives to slow down and stop land degradation. They take care of the land while also taking care of people. They restore the land, defend the land`, cherish, feed, and care for the land. However, women have uneven and constrained access to and control over land in in most communities hence the need for gender equality. It is a direct investment in both the future of humanity and women's equality of access to land and related assets.
During the meeting, small-scale farmers discussed how climate change is making droughts more common, severe, and widespread, worsening an already catastrophic situation. Water supply, ecosystem health overall, and agriculture are all severely impacted by droughts. They noted that in the most susceptible areas like Karamoja region, climate change even causes famine as a result of the disruption of agricultural production, which causes food shortages, higher food costs, and even starvation affecting mainly the women and children.
To combat desertification and drought effectively, small-scale farmers called on stakeholders to prioritize sustainable land management practices. This includes promoting reforestation and afforestation to restore and expand forest cover, which helps prevent soil erosion and maintain ecological balance. Furthermore, implementing sustainable agriculture practices such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and precision irrigation can enhance soil health, increase water efficiency, and reduce the impact of droughts.
“It is important to empower women in farming communities to participate in the restoration of their land through the adoption of more sustainable farming practices as well as proper land use management. Land is a shared resource hence everyone has a role to play to ensure long term success and sustainability in order to increase food and nutrition security especially among the rural farming communities that are vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change.” – Ebu Martin, farmer leader, Apac district.
ESAFF Uganda also shared actions that the organization is taking to strengthen small-scale farmers' (especially women and girls) access to, control of, and ownership of land as a useful resource based on gender justice. Different models being used include the Gender Action Learning System (GALS), Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism and the Community Engagement Tool (CET). These models are empowering and strengthening women in local communities to meaningfully participate in Large Scale Land Based Investments, addressing community-level land rights issues and creating win-win methods that support economic and social developments. This has contributed to enhancing livelihoods, gender equality, relationships, and decision-making power in households and communities hence putting women in a position to support the fight against desertification and drought in Uganda.
"As local government, we are working tirelessly to support small-scale farmers to revive forests and other natural resources. We are distributing tree seedlings to farmers with enough land and are willing to venture into afforestation, these are closely monitored to offer on ground support especially on the management of man-made forests. Several natural resources are under threat due to human activities, we are doing our best to ensure that farmers protect the natural resources including water resources and forests." – Okullu Haron, Environment Officer, Apac district.
Small-scale farmers observed that in addition to land-based actions, effective management of water resources is vital to lessen the effects of droughts. In order to guarantee access to clean water for both human consumption and irrigation needs, this includes encouraging effective water use in agriculture, putting in place rainwater harvesting systems, and making investments in water infrastructure. Communities can adapt to shifting climatic circumstances by supporting sustainable livestock methods and investing in crops resistant to drought.
"Wetlands are being destroyed at the watch of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). As the poor are evacuated from these wetlands, the investors who create more negative impacts on the environment are protected to occupy the wetlands. We need more stringent measures in place to protect our wetlands." – Hon. Adongo Molly Area Councilor, Central ward Apac Municipal.
“To effectively combat the problems of desertification and drought, international coordination and cooperation are essential. Sharing information, best agricultural practices, and technical advancements can speed up progress in water and land conservation and sustainable land management. Furthermore, financial assistance from wealthier nations to the most impacted regions can aid in the implementation of long-term remedies and offer support in emergency situations.” – Moses Okello, Farmer Leader, Apac district.
“This World Desertification and Drought Day, let us renew our commitment to protect women land rights and also restore our lands. Together, we can create a sustainable future where land remains a valuable asset for generations to come”. – Janet Abwot, small-scale farmer, Apac district.
On this World Desertification and Drought Day commemoration held in Apac district, small-scale farmers call upon stakeholders to:
Strengthen capacity of women in understanding their land rights and encourage access to statutory and customary land management institutions and conflict settlement processes for women small-scale farmers so they can own their own land.
Encourage the adoption of agroecology as a more sustainable way of farming increasing farmers yields through rejuvenating the farm lands and protecting the ecosystem.
Sensitize clan and traditional leaders on the land rights of women and vulnerable groups and the responsibilities of family heads holding land in trust as referred to in the National Land Policy and support in establishing efficient mechanism to resolve conflict and maintain records in cooperation with relevant government institutions as stipulated in the National Land Policy.
Document customary land tenure rules including the Principles, Practices, Rights and Responsibilities (PPRR) for the various ethnic groups across the country in cooperation with relevant government institutions as stipulated in the National Land Policy.
Afforestation, this is one-way land that has lost forest cover can be rejuvenated helping to protect the bare ground from soil erosion, flooding and combat greenhouse gas emissions. This however needs to be regulated to ensure that farmers plant trees that are environmental friendly.
Review and enforce the implement the laws governing land use and management. Government should increase funding to natural resource protection.
World Desertification and Drought Day presents a good opportunity for small-scale farmers and other stakeholders to reflect and build strategies to mitigate the foreseen danger of desertification and drought in Uganda. Funding is key in addressing challenges associated with desertification and drought.