Uganda’s Livestock Farmers Struggle to Tackle Climate Change

Uganda’s Livestock Farmers Struggle to Tackle Climate Change                                               

Kiruhura, UGANDA- Kezekia Rwabuhenda, Yonasani Kashaija and William Kesiga are livestock farmers in Uganda’s cattle corridor district of Nyabushozi, Kiruhura district.

       They are practising dairy and beef farming. The hostile dry environment and low annual rainfall conditions have forced the farmers to become innovative and creative that has enabled them manage their rain-fed pastures to ensure the productivity of their animals.

       Shortage of and change in the quality of natural pasture land has meant that the farmers have had to increasingly adapt to expensive livestock feed.

        They have learnt quickly how to marry scientific research with the traditional knowledge passed down by their forefathers.

       In places like Kiruhura signs of climate change may be there but are not so obvious even to farmers like Rwabuhenda, who has 1,000 cross-breed cows on his 500 hectare Farm.

            “Water shortage is a serious issue we are facing. On top of that there has been increasing temperatures that have led into water wells drying up,” he explains.

       “The weather has considerably changed over the years with rains becoming unpredictable and sometimes resulting in droughts that can last longer.”

       Yonasani Kashaija confirms: “I have noticed a lot of thorn scrub coming up where there should be grass. So we are conserving water as much as we can.”

       Water scarcity is obvious; browning pastures with dusty patches in places. Kashaija dug a water valley dam which has improved the micro-climate of the surrounding area.

       He is able to fetch water from nearby and also water his livestock easily without traveling longer distances.

       Kashaija utilizes naturally occurring grasslands and the water source as the inputs of animal production while various forms of livestock production are linked to some manner of production.

       The relationship has been complimentary with animals closely integrated into crop production activity. Crop product not directly edible by humans such as banana peels, leaves and stalk can be fed to livestock.

       Animal manure is returned to the fields as fertilizers thus promoting the success of the needs for agricultural crops.

       Climate change, referred to as long term changes in average weather conditions, is a global phenomenon.

        Scientists and researchers warn that climate change affects plants, animals, people and agriculture. It already affects the basic needs of people around the world – access to water, food and livestock production, health and the environment.

            The most vulnerable people will suffer earliest and most, even though they have contributed least to the causes of climate change. That applies also to pastoralist communities in Uganda.

Recently released State of Environmental Report for Uganda 2008 states that: “Where climatic factors are unfavourable and natural disasters strike regularly, livelihoods are increasingly at risk especially due to the inadequate local capacities and limited access to various livelihood assets and services.”

       “Regardless of its underlying causes, climate change is changing disaster risk profiles, environmental and socio-economic vulnerabilities and induces new environmental harzards that further impact development processes,” the report states.

       Although future climate change seems to be marginally important when compared to other development issues, it is clear that climate change, climate variability, and associated disaster risks, will seriously hamper future development.

       “On an annual basis, for example, developing countries have already absorbed $35 billion in direct losses from natural disasters,” the report notes.

       “However, these figures do not include livelihood assets and losses and overall emotional and other stresses that are often more difficult to assess.”

       In Uganda, climate related disasters are estimated to contribute to over 70% of natural disasters and destroy average of 800,000 hectares of crops annually making economic losses in excess of $57 million, according to the State of Environmental Report for Uganda 2008.

       Economic losses resulting from destruction of civil works, transport accidents, epidemic outbreaks and climate related conflict outbreaks as well as other climate related disasters are estimated to cost over $24 million annually.

       Droughts have resulted in lowering of water table, and drying of boreholes. For example, the cattle corridor is a fragile ecosystem that depends on rainwater for human consumption and production.

       The prolonged and severe drought of 1999/2000 caused severe water shortage leading to loss of animals, low production of milk, food insecurity, increased food prices and generally had negative impact on the economy.

       The rural poor depend on streams and swamps, which dry up during droughts. Therefore climate change will exacerbate water scarcity and pollution problems, particularly in the semi-arid areas, urban centres and rural communities.

       The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat and it demands an urgent global response.

       There is a need to improve the country’s disaster risk reduction and management strategy by upgrading preparedness, resilience and disaster prevention capability.

 Livestock farmers should be given information about crop agriculture diversification and prevention of human and animal diseases through better hygiene and investing in water treatment.