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Residents reap big from Rwizi catchment conservation scheme

Ministry of water and environment officials at Nyakambu swamp which had been turned into farmland but now is being restored back. (PHOTO BY BOB AINE)

SHEEMA/BUHWEJU – In 2013, the ministry of water and environment with sister agencies the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and Victoria Water Management Zone embarked on serious restoration programme to save river Rwizi.

But this has not been an easy exercise especially facing stiff resistance from encroachers who opposed the move right from the start.

Partly the residents reasoned these catchment areas they had encroached had become a source of their livelihood with plantations and farms and this exercise will confine them to begging and lack of food in their homes.

Despite resistance, as years passed, the locals that had previously opposed the restoration are now appreciating and reap enormously from these restoration efforts. In the upper catchment, there are visible restoration results of increasing water levels, vegetation recovering, farms in wetlands now being abandoned due to flooding and some bird species coming back

He said the ministry constructed galleons, earth and stone bands to hold water movements at a smooth pace from top down the hill.

In Sheema the once depleted Nyakambu wetland in Sheema district is now a source of joy and sustainable livelihood after its restoration over seven years ago.

“We were opposed to this restoration, it was done by force and we went cursing but now we are celebrating. I earn over 400,000 shillings alone from mudfish which I sell locally and those who want to use it to catch fish in Lake Victoria,” says Elias Bwengye.

Edith Kakye another resident says she earns between Shs 150,000-200,000 from selling mats and baskets as a result of rejuvenated papyrus.

“My mother used to make mats and baskets with materials from this wetland but as I grew up it got destroyed and it was eventually no more but some years back it was restored and I can now earn from the skills I got from my mother,” said Kakye.

In Buhweju, Fred Nayebare, a resident of Kamakanda in Kalungu Sub County who was found washing at a water point he has turned into a washing bay says it of recent that water returned to this point.

“The area used to have lot water but it was drained as farmland, but since last when NEMA diverted the waters to its originals course and covered the drainage channels that were dug here, the area has flooded again,” says Nayebare.

His colleague Azario Tusasirwe says the new papyrus and other vegetation that was no more is now beginning to come back.

“There whole of this farm was papyrus and other wetland vegetation but when the area was drained, new grass was planted but as you can see after the water flooding the area again the papyrus and other vegetation has come back again, “says Tusasirwe.

Esteri Kamuza of Kiirungu in Rwengwe Sub County expressed joy of the new vegetation that is growing up and implored NEMA to move and see all wetlands are restored.

“We I got married here, this Kiirugu wetland was intact we used to get grass to make mats, mad fish for food (sauce) and as years went on there were no more, people drained the wetland as farms and crop plantations but with this restoration efforts, the old vegetation coming back and water levels increasing we happy we will enjoy these benefits again,” says Ms Kamuza.

Pascal Kishaija says several birds that had migrated like the crested crane are beginning to come back.

In Kyangyenyi and Masyoro, Sheema district farmers are celebrating increased production. Residents living down the hills said they were frustrated by floods and production has gone down beside floods washing people’s homes.

Juliet Kamukama, the parish councilor for Kamukaki, in Kalungu Sub Country says the intervention by the ministry besides targeting increase to water volumes in river Rwizi, the efforts  has benefited communities in increasing production

“These areas, especially in the uplands, had become unproductive, I had actually given up on banana growing but two years back NEMA came and sensitized us on how we can retain water in the soil, by digging trenches, constructing gabions, sand and stone bands, these stopped runoffs and now the banana plantations here begin to breathe life again,” said Kamukama.

She adds a branch of matooke at his plantation now fetches between Shs 10,000 and 15,000 unlike previously when she had reached the extent of not earning a shilling from her harvest because the yields were very small.

Joshua Bwire another resident says they were a lot of flooding but when conservation efforts were done in the upper catchment floods were stopped and soil fertility improved.

“These lands were very bare even wet season because they could be washed away by floods, besides washing away our gardens, we could not get pastures to feed our animals but now floods are no more, the vegetation cover improved and we are reaping big in terms of production,” said Bwire.

Herbert Nabasa, the NEMA Coordinator management of fragile eco-system says what is being witnessed is part of a major exercise to see River Rwizi and catchment areas restored.

He says whereas river Rwizi is a major source of water to millions of people in southwestern Uganda, its encroachment and that of the catchment area has seen water levels recede now and again threatening both human and animal survival.

Nabasa adds the prolonged drought that has always hit hard this area is because of encroachment on the fragile-ecosystems especially wetlands.

“In the upper catchment (Buhweju) the challenge has been individual farmers who have tried to take away the rights of other people reclaiming the wetlands as farmlands but we are flooding back these farmlands and this is the old vegetation you are seeing recovering and water levels increasing,” revealed Nabasa.

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