The issue of many farmers in most parts of the country, complaining of shortage of land arising from development of infrastructure has not escaped the pastoralists and farmers in Karamoja.
They feel it has become increasing difficult for them to use their rangelands for grazing the different types of animals that they are rearing.
The Karimojong community is known for treasuring their pastoralist way of life and keeping animals such as cattle, goats and sheep. This is their main farming activity although they are now trying to incorporate crop production into their farming system.
The pastoralists, such as those in Kadilakeny village, Rupa Sub-county in Moroto District, are so involved in their form of rearing livestock that they walk with their cattle about 50km from their village to Kobebe where there is a dam.
Ms Esther Kayinda, a Village Health Team (VHT) leader, explains that in 2009, the government held discussions with communities in Matheniko to ask for their views about provision of dams to ensure water availablity for their animals which idea was embraced by farmers living in this community.
This project was initially part of the poverty reduction strategy in the Karamoja region. The initial efforts were directed to constructing seven dams between 1997 and 2009 namely Kailong in Kotido, Kawomeri and Kulodwong in Abim, Kobebe and Nakicumet in Moroto. These are also major grazing sites.
This was a collaboration of a number of development partners with the government. The main aim was addressing issues related to the establishment of water sources .
This project is now being run with funding from the European Union (EU) and UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).
It is for a five-year period effective 2014 and will be implemented with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).
ECHO is also involved in another project in Karamoja where the pastoralists are trained on how to collect data on the weather patterns and how it is affecting their agricultural activities.
In the current project, the focus is mainly on the component of water consumption for the livestock and mobility.
According to Ms Kayinda, there is now conflict of interest between the farmers and the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) who are giving the cattle keepers conditions to graze their animals as well as avail them with water at Kobebe dam for a limited time.
This is because the dam is in Matheniko game reserve, where there is also some wildlife that also needs to be protected.
She adds that when the government was negotiating for the construction of the dam with the district leadership, UWA team was left out leading to this kind of conflict of interest.
Kayinda elaborates: “The community who are settled in Kadilakeny village were former occupants in the land at Kabebe but were pushed towards Moroto town to allow development of infrastructures and now the pastoralists feel they should be given access to the place because it still has good pasture for grazing their livestock.”
And adds: “Secondly where we are now settled is close to Mount Moroto, where mining of minerals such as gold and marble is taking place. We are now left with no land to graze the animals as well as grow crops which could be saved as food security during the prolonged dry spell.”
Albino Moru , LCI chairman of Kadilakeny village, is of the view that the district leadership should communicate to the people at the grassroots whenever some development activities are to be conducted in the villages.
This is to avoid confusion and conflict of interest because the pastoralists have a point when graze their cattle where there is pasture and water.
“For instance, companies that are mining minerals in Karamoja should be aware that they are supposed to co-exist with members of the community but due to ignorance of the people, they are being told that the land belongs to the people but the minerals and dams belong to government,” he observed. How can these resources be separated from land?”
However, Cosmas Ayepa, chairperson, Moroto District, says that usually the district officials supported by representatives of development partners sensitise the pastoralists over such issues.
In this case, they tell them to try and coexist with the natural resources especially those in the game reserves including Matheniko game reserve, where Kobebe dam is constructed.
He said there is an ongoing negotiation between the pastoralist communities in Karamoja region and government representatives including UWA.
This is for harmonisation of how the communities can continue grazing their cattle in the game reserves without affecting the wildlife there.
“It is not true the cattle keepers are denied access for water at Kobebe dam, they are allowed to graze their cattle but they are being told not to cultivate the land and construct houses for settlement in the reserve,” he said.
“We also sensitise them not to kill birds such as ostrich, animals such as buffaloes, elephants and antelopes that keep moving between Kidepo National Game Park and the Matheniko game reserve including the reserve in Napak District,”
This negotiation will also handle the conflicting interest about the land use by the mineral miners in the region.