The Government has embarked on boundary demarcation of 20km of Nakwasi wetlands in Butaleja district amid protests from rice farmers and leaders of the district.
The boundary demarcation is aimed at conserving the marshlands, which are disappearing due to encroachment.
Nakwasi is a trans-border wetland covering the districts of Butaleja, Budaka and Tororo.
Senior wetland officer in the water and environment ministry Deo Kabaaru has said the threat being imposed by human activities on the wetland has forced them to demarcate its boundaries.
He said the demarcation exercise involves retracing the wetland boundaries and placing mark stones. This exercise has already started in the villages of Leresi, Himutu, Hisega, Namulo and that it is expected to cross to Nagongera in Tororo.
“A large chunk of the wetland has been converted into rice fields and we had given the encroachers enough time to harvest their rice. We started sensitising them in 2017 and in that time, we have been engaging them and urging them to vacate the wetlands,” Kabaaru said.
Records from Butaleja district environment department indicate that over 70% of the wetlands in the district have been degraded through human activities, such as farming, house construction and papyrus harvest.
Kabaaru said after getting the backing of President Yoweri Museveni, the water and environment ministry is determined to restore the depleted wetlands in Uganda.
“Our environmental patrol police unit has been empowered to enforce all laws governing the environment and we promise to leave no stone unturned. All green vegetable and other eco system have been depleted at the cost of growing rice,” he added.
Devastating potential According to Kabaaru, wetland degradation has devastated the potential of storing water and filtering pollutants. This has caused natural calamities, such as floods, pollution of water bodies on lakes and other big wetlands hence declining fish stocks.
Joseph Engoru, the commissioner in charge of wetlands in the water and environment ministry, who led the team, said the banks of the Mpologoma water catchment area have been depleted and that some areas of the river have started drying up.
“We have already demarcated boundaries of wetlands within the region, but people have started reoccupying the wetlands. We have decided to sensitise residents and local leaders on the urgent need to restore the river,” Engoru said.
Appeal to the Government
Butaleja district LC5 chairperson Michael Higenyi pledged support to the boundary demarcation exercise, adding that government took long to start the demarcation exercise, which had led to depletion of the wetland.
“We are also appealing to the Government to expedite the process of giving families which have been evicted from the wetlands, an alternative for survival outside the wetland,” Higenyi said.
“Our people have for tens of years been depending on wetlands for survival. A total of 46% of Butaleja district is a wetland, therefore, there is no way they can survive without another alternative source of livelihood, such as fish farming, dairy farming or bee keeping,” he said.
However, some rice farmers have opposed a proposal by the Government to ban rice farming in swamps saying that there must be alternatives put in place before people are evicted from the swamps.
They also said the Government should have consulted both the leaders and farmers in the rice-growing districts before coming up with such directives, arguing that the decision will cripple their livelihood and drive people into poverty.
Reduced wetland coverage
Records indicate that Uganda’s wetland coverage has dropped from 17.5% in the early 1990s to 8.5%, while forest coverage has dropped from 24% to 12.4% due to farming, especially in wetlands.
Appeal to Delay decision
Musa Mugasi, a rice farmer, said the Government should delay its decision for the next 10 years to prepare the affected farmers for another source of livelihood.
He said the people of Butaleja have lived and survived on rice growing and that the ban by the Government on the use of wetlands (for rice growing) is unfair since they have not been given any alternatives.
End of school for children
John Hasakya, another farmer, said the residents of Butaleja have not taken the government decision positively because it affects their source of livelihood.
He noted that the Government should work with the leaders in the area to teach and sensitise the people on how to safely use the wetlands, but not evicting them.
Hasakya added that the takeover of the wetlands may mean putting an end to the education of his four children, as well as failing to feed his family.
He said the Government should set up factories in the rural areas so that people can get jobs. Butaleja district has Nakwasi, Hijjinji, wampala, Namatala, Mpologoma, Nakwiga, Nahinghande, Doho-hibira, Namatala and Hisega swamps. Doho rice scheme and Lwoba irrigation scheme are also in wetlands.
Solution to flooding
Butaleja district natural resources officer Lamula Were said once people stop encroaching on wetlands, the challenge of flooding will be solved.
She added that the Government would register all the affected families so that they can be supported.
“Government is not trying to frustrate or fail rice farmers, but it is trying to restore wetlands. We all know rice is good, but let’s use the wetland in friendly way,” Were said.