MOROTO –Karamoja sub-region is a semi-arid area in north eastern Uganda with a variety of challenges but misconceptions about the people’s conduct take the lead.
The Karamojong – it so believed – have, over the decades destroyed the environment through excessive cutting of trees as a source of energy; bush fires, pastoralism and overgrazing – affecting at least half of the region’s estimated forest cover of over 300, 000 hectares. The situation has led to low agricultural productivity, rendering stunted growth or malnutrition in children as one of the major challenges.
Well, the worries would soon be left in the history books as several development partners including the European Union – EU; the Swedish Embassy in Uganda; and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations –FAO have combined efforts to reverse the situation.
The EU through FAO encourages and provides financial assistance to selected members of the communities; institutions like schools, the army to enable forest restoration in the districts of Abim, Napak, Nakapiripirit and Moroto in Karamoja sub region.
Ms Dorcas Angole is one of the beneficiaries of FAO assistance– specialising in nursery trees of a variety of trees, which she sales to clients from as far as Karamoja region from her farm located in Lira –along Apac road.
“Í also have another farm (of tree) in Karamoja area. Trees are used for different purposes – whereas others can be used as support poles in construction; from 9 years + can be applied as electric poles while matures ones from 15-20+ can serve as timber, depending on the species,” says the forester whose passion for tree-growing started during her S6 vacation.
Dorcas also has seedlings for a variety of fruit trees including ovacados, mangoes, oranges, jack fruits and others. She notes that her harvest has significantly improved since she got a FAO forest certification.
Christine Anyait – the 63-year, retired teacher, concentrates on growing different species of eucalyptus trees at her farm located Iyalayala village in Abim district of Karamoja sub region. The farm seats on 50 hectares but her target is 100 hectares. She also operates another farm in a nearby village as well as a nursery tree.
“My aim is to leave the world as better place. I want revive the past but the biggest challenge are animals as well as community – though some have now started realizing the importance of trees.
“We are also faced with the issue of land-grabbing – there are people who are naturally distracting. Trees in Karamoja means wealthy – so it would be prudent if trees were planted everywhere – along the main roads, on the hills and rocks,” says the former Principal – Bukalasa Agricultural Institute, stressing that in North Korea – vegetation was almost like that of Karamoja but trees are planted everywhere.
She calls on government to embrace the project of tree planting in the area, advising that provision of solar water pumps would the best solution to tackle the issue of water shortage.
Some of the villagers attested that since the forest was planted in the area, the amount of rainfall had slightly increased.
“We used to experience long droughts in this area but now we receive rain quite often…we are able to grow different types crops,” notes Joram Odongo.
Dr Paul Okuru –the Director Nabuin Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute in Nakapiririt district says it is possible for a forest to grow in Karamoja, especially if people adjust their attitude.
“As a scientist I can say that its possible for a forest to grow in Karamoja because we have carried out research and we know which tree species to recommend for planting,” he declares.
Emmanuel Ikilai – the Soil Fertility Technician a Nabuin highlights the different tree species that can grow well in Karamoja.
At Musupo Primary School – the head teacher – Simon Opolot notes that the rate of absenteeism was alarming because pupils dodge the activity of collecting firewood, which is required to prepare their meals.
“Some pupils arrive late at school because they have to evade the exercise of collecting firewood from the mountains. It’s a tedious exercise – for that mountain appears to be near but it’s over five kilometres; then there are dangers like snake or insect bites,” he reveals.
The school has a pupil population of 177 with eight, two girls in candidate class.
A similar project is extended to West Nile – particularly – in the districts of Nebbi, Moyo, Yumbe, Zombo, Arua and Maracha. Other districts include Koboko and Adjuman targeting a total of 52,500 direct beneficiaries organized in 250 Farmer Field Schools – FFS where a biogas pilot project for five years is underway. The project anticipates to assist six females and four males vulnerable –including youth, women living with disabilities; people living with HIV/Aids as well as school dropouts aged between 14-17.
FAO plans to enter partnership with several relevant government departments, research institutes, universities, civil society organisations, and the private sector as the best approach in implementing the project.
The project’s overall goal is to contribute to the economic empowerment of women and eradication of poverty in Karamoja and West Nile sub regions of Uganda.
So, as Uganda commemorates the International Day of Forests under the theme; Forest Restoration; A path to recovery and wellbeing – the message is most suited for the people of Karamoja and West Nile FAO and development partners including the EU and the Swedish Embassy implement a five-year programme to restore hope in these regions.