Pallisa rice farmers ask govt for alternative sources of livelihood
PALLISA – Rice farmers in Pallisa district have warned that unless government secures them an alternative sources of livelihood, they will never vacate the wetlands they have been using for generations.
In July 2021, Cabinet banned the growing of rice and other crops in wetlands across the country in a move to restore the depleted ecosystem as one of adapting to climate change.
This follows the high rate at which many wetlands across the country are drying up because of rice growing among other bad human activities.
Statistics from the National Environment Management Authority [NEMA] indicate a sharp decline in wetland coverage from 15.5 percent in 1994 to 8.9 percent by last year, due to encroachment.
In September last year, the Ministry of Local Government instructed all chief administrative officers, town clerks in cities, and municipal councils to enforce a presidential directive on the protection of wetlands.
However, the enforcement of the directive in Pallisa district has met resistance from the local farmers who want government to provide alternative sources of income so that they are able to sustain their families.
For instance, George Opio, a farmer from Kaukura Sub-county and a father of 10 said that many people in the district depend on wetlands as their major source of livelihood.
He told this reporter that he bought the wetland he is currently using to grow rice and other crops at Shs10 million, 10 years ago, adding that it is his only source of livelihood.
According to Opio, it is through growing rice in the wetlands that he is able to feed and educate his children.
“The decision by government to ban rice growing in wetlands will force my children out of school as well as making me unable to feed my family,” Opio said
Another rice farmer in the area, Ketty Agwang, says the ban on using wetlands is intended to marginalise, them since they have nowhere to go and have been using the wetlands for generations.
She explained that wetlands are the only source of survival they have and evicting them would be another way of subjecting them to abject poverty.
John Ogwang, also a rice farmer in the same Pallisa district said most of them grew up watching their parents cultivating rice in the same wetland that they inherited to continue growing rice.
He argued that government identifies them with suitable land to settle on before they leave wetlands as demanded by President Museveni.
The LCIII chairperson Kaukura Sub-county, John Solomon Okanya welcomed the ban on cultivation in the wetlands, urging but government to provide the affected people with alternative incoming-generating projects.
However, he urged government to also target those establishing hotels, houses, and factories in a number of wetlands across the country.
Meanwhile, Patrick Duchu the Pallisa district LCV chairperson asked government to go slow on its directive on wetlands, warning that the ban, if hurriedly implemented, is likely to spark an uproar among the people.
He also called on government to teach and sensitise the people on how to use the wetlands sustainably.
“In fact what we should be talking about is the sustainable use of wetlands, and not evicting people. So when we talk about people vacating wetlands, I am not a proponent of that,” said Duchu.
However, Emmanuel Smith Enwaku, the social development expert in the Water and Environment Ministry said, government already has a project in place called Enhancing Resilience of Communities to Climate Change through Catchment Based Integrated Management of Water and Related Resources in Uganda’ [EURECCA] meant to support the people evicted from wetlands by providing alternative projects.
The project funded by Adaptation Fund through Sahara and Sahel Observatory [OSS] is being implemented in three catchments of Awoja found in Kyoga Water Management Zone, Aswa found in Upper Nile Water Management Zone and Maziba found in Victoria Water Management Zone,” said Enwaku.
Enwaku added that through EURECCA project, over 1,500 wetland evictees have been put under cooperative societies and given financial support by the Ministry of Water and Environment to start alternative livelihood projects like; piggery, apiculture, fish rearing, sheep and goat rearing among others.
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