Native vegetation clearing blamed for shift in weather patterns

A conservationist, Mr Derrick Kavuma at a section of the Lazurus forest Nandere located in Luweero District.

What you need to know:

  • The Ministry of Water and Environment in partnership with the donor agencies are implementing strategies targeting the reduction in the harmful agricultural practices

While vegetation clearance is part of the known initial practices for purposes of setting up gardens, farms and industrial plants, the fast disappearing native vegetation cover is a big concern in the greater Luweero Districts.

For the greater Luweero areas that include the Districts of Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Kyankwanzi and Kiboga; stakeholders have raised a red flag about the after effects of deliberate activities negatively impacting the native vegetation cover.

The persistent long dry spells and the emergency of non-fodder weed species at the different farm areas have partly been linked to the untamed clearance of the native vegetation cover for forest products, farm set up among other projects.

In Nakasongola District, the emergence of none fodder weeds that are outgrowing the original fodder grasses and the prolonged dry spells that have left a section of the farmers staring at the likely famine among the different household.

Ms Sarah Sseninde Nakamya, the Nakasongola District Production Officer believes that native vegetation clearing for farm establishment and charcoal trade partly explain the harsh climate change conditions in Nakasongola and the neighboring areas.

“The native vegetation has been cleared indiscriminately for different activities without replacement. We are now scared about the emergence of non-fodder grasses that have outgrown the original fodder grasses. It is believed that the harsh climate condition is a result of the loss of the natural vegetation,” she says.

 A section of Livestock farmers in Nabiswera, Nakitoma and Lwampanga Subcounties in Nakasongola District affected by the harsh climate conditions reveal that while the long dry spell greatly affects their respective livestock related projects, the disappearing natural fodder grasses and the emergence of strange weed grasses at their respective farms is a big threat.

Mr Wilson Wasswa, a farmer at Kimaga village in Nabiswera Subcounty, Nakasongola District is among the many farmers greatly affected by the persistent long dry spells and the strange weed grasses that are outgrowing the fodder grasses at his 400 acre farm.

“I have lived at Kimaga village for the last 30 years as a farmer but the recent shift in the climate conditions, disappearing natural fodder vegetation is a big worry. On my farm, we are now struggling to fight the strange weed species that are outgrowing the fodder grasses,” he says in an interview.

While Wasswa had been advised to allow sections of his land to rest for at least two years before re-introduction of the animals for the paddock grazing, the strange weed species have overgrown the fodder grass. He is quick to point out that his area lost the native vegetation when they cleared the land for farm development.

“We had not been sensitized as we cleared the trees and the natural vegetation. It is possible that we destroyed our own environment. We have to fight the war to protect the natural cover,” says.

The invasive weed species that have been identified and replacing the native vegetation as captured by the Nakasongola Production team in a study undertaken in 2022 include the Rivina humilis, Elephantopus Scaber, Sida rhombifolia, Solanum Incanum, Leonotis nepetifolia, Lantana camara, Solanum incanum among other grasses. The weed species reportedly have a bad smell, sharp and pointed leaves that cause animals to lose appetite, weight and low milk production.  Source; the (Nakasongola) District Production Department.

Why the native vegetation clearing trend;

While a bigger section of the land (75) percent in the Districts of Kyankwanzi, Luweero, Nakasongola, Kiboga and Nakaseke were part of the government ranches and forest reserve areas that remained protected until the late 1980s, the areas are now under the control of the private developers with grossly wasted vegetation.

Trees cut from a section of forest area for charcoal burning in Kalongo sub-county, Nakasongola District in 2022. PHOTOs | DAN WANDERA

Mr John Mary Ssebulime, a retired senior forest officer who worked under the Ministry of Water and Environment says that the sudden shift in the land use policy in Uganda in the early 1990s that saw several former government ranches taken over by private developers paved way for the long preserved native vegetation in parts of the Central, North, East and South Western Uganda.

“The greater Luweero areas were not spared by the sudden change in the land use policy when the former government ranches and sections of the former forest reserve areas fell into the hands of the private developers. The native vegetation was destroyed through tree cutting for charcoal burning and farm setting,”

I have always asked the farm owners to tell me why farm owners slip into the act of mass vegetation clearance before introducing the different projects. After some years, the very farmers now struggle to plant trees lost through careless bush clearing, he adds.

At Nkandwa sub-county in Kyankwazi District where more than 80 per cent of the former native vegetation was cleared for farm production, the farmers reveal a sudden shift in the climate conditions to relatively dry conditions in areas that have lost the tree cover.

Mr Mustafa Ssentongo, a livestock farmer at Nkandwa village in Nkandwa sub-county in trying to fight off the soil erosion at his farm located on a hilly area is now trying to plant trees to counter soil erosion.

“When I acquired my 48-acre land at Nkandwa village, my family hired out a bigger section of the land to the charcoal burners. We wanted to clear the vegetation farm infrastructure set up and gardens. This is the reason why the land has few trees. We have started planting some trees to protect the land from soil erosion,” he says.

Stakeholders weigh in;

In Nakasongola District where the area lost more than seventy five percent of the native vegetation, tree planting efforts and mass sensitisation of the population about the effects of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions is ongoing.

“Through partnership with the different donors and government agencies, Nakasongola is now reviewing the land use policies. A deliberate effort to sensitize the public, mass roll out of the tree planting campaign is in place,” Mr Sam Kigula, the Nakasongola District LC5 Chairperson reveals.

We may not recover the native vegetation in a short period but a deliberate campaign to have the residents plant at least ten trees on their respective land every year will help us move in the right direction, adds.

The Ministry of Water and Environment in partnership with the donor agencies are implementing strategies targeting the reduction in the harmful agricultural practices in Nakasongola District under the ‘Strengthen an Innovative System for the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Environmental Impacts for rural transformation (SIRGE) project.

 Elephantopus Scaber one of the invasive weeds.

“It was revealed to us (Nakasongola) that a significant amount of the Methane gas is now released into the atmosphere from the livestock in Nakasongola District. The SIRGE, a three-year project in Nakasongola District is working toward the reduction of this trend. Methane is a great contributor to climate change and Global warming,” Ms Sarah Sseninde Nakamya, the District Production officer reveals in an interview.

In Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Kyankwanzi and Kiboga Districts where livestock projects take more than 75 percent of the land usage mass sensitization on improved farming practices, planting of improved fodder grasses and tree planting are taking shape.

“At least the households in the different areas in Nakasongola are now trying to plant some trees as a result of the ongoing mass sensitization. We continue to rally the residents to embrace the good farming practices,” Mr Richard Andama, the Nakasongola District Natural Resources Officer reveals.

The challenge;

While the different stakeholders try to weigh options targeting preservation and possible strategies in the re-introduction of the native vegetation for sustainable livelihood, most of the wasted land areas are under the private sector with no government control in the land usage processes.

“It is difficult to monitor and implement particular environmental related campaigns in areas where the land is owned privately. But encourage all the stakeholders to own up the environment related campaigns for a brighter future. Mass tree cutting takes place on privately owned farms,” Mr George Abel Nkugwa, the Nakaseke District Natural Resources officer explains.

State of Environment;

While Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets restoration of the lost forest cover from 15% in the year 2010 – 24% by the year 2040, indiscriminate tree cutting for charcoal in areas of Nakaseke, Luweero, Nakasongola , Kyankwanzi and Kiboga are part of the major activity for the respective residents. The respective districts levy forest products taxes as additional local revenue.