Researchers in drive to mend degraded landscapes in Eastern Uganda  

Through a collaborative intervention, NaFORRI scientists and the Collaborative Crop Research Programme (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation are working with rural communities in Manafwa and Namisindwa districts of the Mt. Elgon region of Uganda to harness the benefits of collective action in addressing challenges associated with degradation of landscapes.

Severe deforestation and poor farming practices exacerbate soil and water degradation in the fragile highland ecosystems of Mt. Elgon ultimately leading to hunger, severe poverty and water-borne diseases. Individual and scattered efforts to address this issue have not yielded hence the need for collective responsibility.

These efforts come under a two-year project titled “Co-development of Agro-ecological options for Food, Energy and Environment Nexus in the Watersheds of Eastern Uganda.” The “Agroecology Project,” as is popularly referred to brings together project implementers and beneficiaries to work hand-in-hand in creating agroecosystems that sustainably supply food, energy, and clean and safe water.

The project is building the capacity of catchment communities to work together in selecting suitable indicators and developing appropriate data collection tools for monitoring the achievements of the actions undertaken in their respective landscapes. This endeavor which began with 45 Innovation Platform (IP) members being trained on Monitoring Systems Change, is expected to gain momentum over time.

In addition, the project is supporting residents in three catchments of Bugobero, Namuninge, and Bukhaweka to establish community nurseries to revegetate degraded landscapes. About 4,000 assorted tree seedlings have been raised in preparation for the March-May planting season. These seedlings comprise tree species that catchment residents themselves expressed keen interest in growing, mainly for wood (e.g., Eucalyptus, Grevillea, Musizi), soil fertility (e.g., Calliandra, Sesbania, and Tephrosia), as well as fruit species (e.g., Mango, Jackfruit and Guava).

Through methods jointly designed and piloted by the CCRP, NaFORRI and the catchment communities, the project has developed locally adaptable criteria and indicators for measuring changes within the landscapes. According to Dr. Joel Buyinza, a Senior Research Officer at NaFORRI. “Catchment communities have managed to identify system-wide indicators to monitor, and agreed on strategies and plans for generating the necessary data,”

In addition, as part of a riverbank rehabilitation drive, the project has mobilized communities to establish over 500 clumps of bamboo along the banks of Namanza and Namawuruguru streams. According to residents of Bukhaweka catchment, many river banks are degraded as a result of population increase and failure to enforce existing land use and riverbank management policies. The agroecology project is addressing this by increasing access to planting material, promoting collective responsibility over landscapes and popularizing existing legislation on land use management.

The project has also captured critical baseline information about each of the three catchments, against which changes in their respective systems are to be measured. This information, collected at multiple levels (e.g., field, farm household, catchment) is not only a resource that researchers and local communities are using to target soil erosion control interventions, but also a benchmark against which to measure project impact, during and beyond the lifespan of the project.

Working hand in hand with researchers, the catchment communities have organized themselves into innovation platforms (IPs) that now serve as a market place for ideas towards improvement of their landscapes. The platforms bring together residents, landlords, district technical staff, civil society agents, extension staff, local leaders and other stakeholders, to pave ways of making their catchments a better place to live in. The project has gone a long way in instilling agroecology principles into the communities and other stakeholders in the landscapes. Agroecology has moved from being a hazy slogan to a popular practice. For example, the project has supported establishment of soil and water conservation structures using locally available materials. Communities are working together in digging of soil conservation trenches, a task hitherto regarded as insurmountable.


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