Northern Uganda to bear brunt of climate change

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Northern Uganda to bear brunt of climate change

Increase in temperatures and unpredictable changes in rainy and dry seasons are some of the signs of climate change in Uganda. Different crops will be affected differently, for instance, maize (above) will have an increase in aflatoxins but banana (below) will be less vulnerable. File Photo. 

By David Livingstone Okumu

Posted  Wednesday, December 4  2013 at  00:00

In Summary

The climate change effects are already being felt and agriculture is a sector that has to adapt to the impacts of this phenomenon. Findings of a study carried out in six districts provide a picture of likely scenarios.


Northern Uganda has the highest proportion of households most vulnerable to climate change as more than 80 per cent of them rely heavily on low-productivity subsistence crops, particularly beans, seasame, sorghum, millet and groundnut.

Also, in general, Ugandan farmers will continue to face significant challenges, including a deteriorating natural resource base and ecosystem, reduced access to land due to a rising population in addition to threats of conflict and economic crisis. These are the findings of an assessment of Uganda’s vulnerability to climate change.

While addressing Gulu District officials at the launch of the research report, Ms Rita Laker Ojok, a consultant on the project, disclosed that field research focused on Gulu, Lira, Luweero, Mbale, Isingiro and Kasese districts. Supported by the US Agency for International Development (Usaid), it was conducted as part of the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) project.

The districts covered include an important cropping system, represent differences in agro-ecological zones, and are near weather stations that have collected consistent rainfall and temperature data.

“The study involved a climate analysis based on 60 years of data and projections for 2030 plus a review of eight key crops and how climate change affects their growth cycle,” Ms Ojok explained. To understand how climate change affects the value chain and growth cycle of each crop, there was a livelihood survey of 800 households, 80 focus group discussions, key informant interviews with representatives at district and national levels, and a desktop assessment of water use for agriculture.

Along with the results, this report includes recommendations enriched with input provided by key stakeholders from the government, donor agencies, research organisations and civil society, as well as farmers.

The crops considered in this assessment are those most widely grown in Uganda, and many are vulnerable to the projected rising temperatures and increasingly long dry seasons with less rainfall. There is a potential for the frequency of extreme events like heavy rainstorms, which lead to flooding and landslides.

There were a number of key findings. One of them was that high temperatures and more variable rainy seasons, in terms of onset and duration, threaten to reduce the productivity of beans and maize. Households in Gulu will most likely continue to grow small grains (sorghum and millet) on a subsistence basis in comparison to the other districts studied.

The other districts will allow agriculture to expand, however, off-farm activities will continue to be attractive. Overall, a large percentage of farms will be highly sensitive to climate pressures with little capacity to adapt built into the livelihood system.

As noted by the project’s lead consultant, the focus for change in Gulu was strong. Higher temperatures will reduce the suitability of the area for coffee. “Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall increase the risk of disease and pest infestation in coffee,” she notes.

On the other hand, cassava is likely to be less affected relative to other crops. But this will depend on the availability of virus-free disease-resistance varieties.

Along with sweet potato, both crops grow well at temperatures much higher than current ones but are also vulnerable to pests and diseases. While Arabica coffee is the most vulnerable and cassava is the least, overall from the most to least sensitive, millet is one of the crops that can withstand climate change. But, it should be noted that coffee can easily grow in northern Uganda with inter cropping to provide shade for the crop.

For rice, two major disease (blast and bacteria leaf blight) affect the yields and are significantly aggravated by weather conditions such as higher temperature and air humidity, or soil moisture.

In maize, aflatoxin contamination represents a serious threat to the marketing of maize and will likely worsen as Kenya and Tanzania shun Uganda’s maize because of its poor quality

The East African banana (matooke) is less vulnerable to increasing temperatures than coffee, but the potential impact of pests and diseases on the crop is significant. Beans are vulnerable to fungal and viral diseases when there is excessive rainfall during the critical growth period.

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