KWEEN – Waking up is never a pleasant experience, especially when confronted with reality and forced to leave the comfort of make-believe dreams.
For years, Kween, part of Mt Elgon National Park remained grassy, with various trees that lay unperturbed by activities man – the trees stood out and the hills remained green.
According to Mr Peter Kamuron, the former Council Member of Parliament for Bukwo/Kween, in all directions from Kwosir to Bennet trees, imposingly stood out in every garden and the land was all veiled in green.
“But it is sad today that we can only have nostalgic images of this past where trees stood out in the gardens close to the hills of Mt Elgon,” said Mr Kamuron.
It is clear that for decades the Sabiny-those living in Kween slept as loggers, charcoal tycoons, poachers and farmers raped the hills and they pretended that it didn’t matter or that nature would renew itself-they ignored the pillage and destruction of the environment.
I know that God and maybe your neighbours may forgive you but Mother Nature does not forgive as Ms Gorette Kitutu, the state minister for environment usually reminds us.
About 36 years ago wheat, Barley and Maize also growing activities began devouring the trees from this natural environment and one can now stand and see as far as Benet sub-county, about 12 Km away because forests have completely vanished through deforestation, everything is now visible.
Now Kween faces an ecological and environmental crisis of catastrophic proportions.
Wheat, Barley, Maize growing
The massive wheat, Barley and Maize growing campaign both as food and for business has caused big environmental fears among environmentalists, local politicians and the agricultural extension staff in Kween district.
Mr Patrick Araptuwet, the Kween Vice LCV chairman said Barley and Wheat growing has caused a lot of deforestation in the district and warned the farmers engaged in the indiscriminate felling of trees on hills to stop the habit immediately.
Mr Araptuwet said a good number of trees have been cut to establish the gardens mainly in for Barley, Maize and for settlement at Mt Elgon hills in Kween district.
Although there are better management options for the farmers to make Barley and wheat farming more productive, eco-friendly, and resilient to climatic extremes and other challenges, most rural farmers are yet to adapt to this.
Mr Peter Kamuron says that the trees in this area formed part of the Barley and Wheat gardens, have over the years been cut down as people struggle to get land for growing the crops, the land has been stripped of their vegetative cover for subsistence rice farming.
Mr Moses Muwanga, an elder and a local resident of Kween district in Benet sub-county says when they were growing up, they saw a number of trees in Kween and that it would rain from morning to morning because of the trees that were in the area.
“And now because trees have been cut, our children are growing up without seeing any tree, they only see gardens of Wheat and Barley throughout the year,” said Mr Muwanga.
The Kween District Council (2012) Kween District Development Plan notes that due to the removal of vegetation and cultivation without fallow in most of the parishes, there is soil erosion and leaching of nutrients.
“The soil fertility decline is observable through evidence of declining crop and pasture yields. Soil analysis reports indicate low organic matter, below 6.8 per cent which is the critical level,” the report says in part.
Ms Judith Chepkot, the headmistress Kwosir secondary school says Kween district inherited a poor forestry management regime with a significant number of trees in the district harvested and that there is a clear shortage of trees.
And this has been worsened by farmers who are clearing the land for Wheat, Barley, Irish Potatoes, Maize, Cabbage and onion growing.
“We need to focus on reforestation to redeem our area and there is need to build capacity of the local people to plant trees at their homes, in their gardens,” said Ms Chepkot.
“If our people don’t replant trees in this land, we have an environmental catastrophe in the waiting, “added Ms Chepkot.
Sebei region has been known for warm and temperate climate of average temperature of 18.5 °C with significant rainfall of about 1576 mm falling throughout the year.
Mr Sam Chemisto, the district natural resources officer noted a great change in the climate of the area due to destruction of the forest cover in Kween.
Mr Chemisto said environmental degradation dates as far back as 1983 and early 1990s, when the government the gazetted Mt Elgon national park to create land for the local landless people.
“And do you know that the local people cut down trees for settlement and cultivation and have since then continued to cut down trees to plant wheat, Barley, Maize, Onions and Irish potatoes,” said Mr Chemisto.
He revealed that the exploding population, desertification, climate change, drought and land conflicts are a dangerous combination unless the government responds urgently and effectively.
“We are aware of this as a district and that is why our district Development plan has integrated environment issues into it, we are also sensitizing the people besides giving them tree seedlings to replant,” Mr Chemisto said.
Agriculture and human settlement are the drivers of deforestation
Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land.
Mr Kamuron says that the biggest driver of deforestation in Kween is agriculture where farmers cut forests to provide more room for planting crops.
“Often many small farmers will each clear a few acres to feed their families by cutting down trees and burning them in a process known as “slash and burn” agriculture,” Mr Kamuron explained.
He added that not all deforestation is intentional; some is caused by a combination of human and natural factors like wildfires and subsequent overgrazing, which may prevent the growth of young trees.
Mr Chemisto who doubles as the district environment officer said that the increasing population drives people to clear more trees to obtain alternative sources of livelihood as they begin to experience effects of climatic change like longer and hotter dry seasons and increase in tropical diseases.
“The International Union of Conservation of Nature [IUCN] on ground especially in Benet sub-county that is giving out tree seedlings to farmers to plant however some are not planting which is the challenge we have,” said Mr Chemisto.
Mr Chebet Maikut, the Commissioner at the Climate Change Department at Ministry of Water and Environment and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] National Focal Point for Uganda says deforestation is disastrous because it tilts the ecological balance in the environment.
He explained that trees give out oxygen, even because of them we have rains, in short they maintain the ecological balance and that the trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapour back into the atmosphere.
“And without trees to fill these roles, Kween District like other former forest lands risk becoming barren deserts,” Mr Chebet said.