Tororo. Wetland encroachers in Tororo District have vowed not to leave unless government provides an alternative source of livelihood.
Last month, the district authorities gave the residents two months to vacate or face eviction. The ultimatum ends on September 30.
Speaking during a sensitisation meeting in Sopsop Sub-county last week, Mr William Nyamboro, the LC3 chairperson, said the decision to evict the farmers is irrational because government recently supplied them with rice haulers and seeds to grow rice.
“Driving them away would still render the inputs idle as well as the farmers,” he said.
Mr Asuman Mukanga, a rice farmer, said the directive is part of government’s plan to grab their land and allocate it to investors.
“We have been growing rice in this wetland since time immemorial and forcing us out would be another way of subjecting us to abject poverty,” he said.
Mr James Obbo, a resident of Namwendya Parish, said it is through farming in the wetlands that they have been able to sustain their families.
“Most of us inherited this from our parents and we don’t have any alternative land,” he said.
However, Ms Evelyn Aol, the National Environment Management Authority officer-in-charge of Tororo, said 75 per cent of the district wetlands have been degraded by rice growers.
“This has led to the disappearance of bird species and vegetation that the area used to be proud of,” she said, adding that dependence on wetlands has adverse environmental effects on environment.
“The farmers need the money from rice, but to ensure the safety of the coming generations, we ought to protect the swamps now,” she said.
They encroached on wetlands in Sengo in Sopsop, Nawiyo in Paya Sub-county and Ndaiga in Malaba Town Council.
Ms Aol said the district will demarcate all its wetlands and those who will defy the orders will be arrested and prosecuted.
Dr Boniface Obbo, the district veterinary officer, said continued use of the wetlands is likely to spark a conflict between crop growers and livestock farmers because the latter will have no access to grazing fields.
Mr Patrick Andrew Asaya, the district works engineer, also said wetland encroachment has blocked streams in an attempt to divert water to their rice gardens.
Mr Dunstan Balaba, the chief administrative officer, in a June 15 letter addressed to sub-county chiefs said they would not allow farmers back into the wetland until they comply with laws to protect them.
“You are, therefore, directed to convene a meeting with all communities who have encroached into wetlands to cultivate and inform them that they are required to halt further cultivation,” the letter reads in part.
Last month, the rice farmers in Kibuku, Pallisa and Budaka districts also said they would not vacate the wetlands and threatened to sue government if they are evicted.