19 April 2017

Uganda: Droughts - Why We Should Respect Nature and Biodiversity


This year, I have planted no crops on my land. I decided not to rush into planting when the skies opened up in early March, unleashing torrential downpours and gusty winds that blew off roofs and killed cattle in my village in Kumi District.

My decision came after I read the detailed press release--packaged as a four-page, colour advert in Daily Monitor of March 3, by Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA).

Titled, "March to May 2017 seasonal rainfall outlook over Uganda," the release, complete with maps and charts, gave detailed forecasts for all regions.

For eastern-central Uganda, where I live, it stated: "The onset of seasonal rains over this region is expected around early to mid-March. The peak rains are expected around late April and the cessation around mid-June. Overall, the region is expected to receive near normal rains."

But something at the end of this sanguine press release, signed by Festus Luboyera, the UNMA executive director, caught my eye. Under "explanatory notes to terminology" the bit on accuracy stated: "This forecast is up to 75 percent accurate."

My interpretation of the whole forecast: Largely guesswork!

Our forefathers would tell you, almost to the day, when the long and short rains would come. They knew exactly when to prepare their gardens.

They knew when to start planting. And they knew how to plan for harvesting and subsequent preservation and storage of the harvests. Things worked like clockwork because our ancestors loved nature and nature loved them back.

Sadly, we have destroyed this mutually beneficial relationship with nature. Over the decades, our activities can be liked to those of a serial rapist, to borrow words from Dr Stella Nyanzi. Raping wetlands. Raping forests/trees. Raping swamps. Raping arable land.

Now nature is fighting back, rendering us impotent. April is coming to an end and what UNMA told us would be the peak of the major rain season sounds like major nonsense. For much of April, farmers in my area who rushed to plant at the "onset" of the rains watched helplessly as their crops slowly but surely withered.

To reconnect with nature we must begin to heed the three principles of ecological sustainability.

The first of these principles is holism. We need to know that all living and non-living things on earth are connected in one way or other.

Therefore we must always pay greater attention to the whole than the sum of its parts. Yes, we seek economic sustainability, but let us have the wisdom to look beyond mechanical or industrial processes and recognise the primacy of ecological, social and economic relationships.

The second principle of ecological sustainability is diversity. Nature epitomises diversity.

By now the effects of prolonged drought should tell us that the more plant, insect and animal species there are in an area, the greater the biodiversity and the healthier the ecosystem.

When you cut that tree on your land, encroach on wetlands/swamps, cut forests, and throw a kavera (plastic bag), you are destroying biodiversity to your own chagrin.

The third principle is interdependence. To love someone else is your choice. With nature, you have no choice. We must have interdependent relationships with nature. Only then can we talk about sustainable development--that meets needs of the present generation without compromising ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In this regard, it is heartening that the people of Karamoja recently resisted plans by National Forestry Authority to cut more than 5,000 trees on Mt Moroto.

Local governments should make by-laws outlawing unregulated cutting of trees for charcoal, brick-making and firewood. Farming/building on wetlands/swamps should be outlawed.

These tough times are also excellent for making tough decisions such as re-introducing graduated tax to expand revenue generation. Does it make sense for people to clamour for relief food from the government when they spend thousands of shillings on sachet waragi?

Dr Okodan is a lecturer at Kampala International University.


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