TORORO – Rice farmers in Tororo district have vowed to disregard the ultimatum issued to them to vacate wetlands, arguing that, they have no land to cultivate on outside the swamps.
Last week, the officer of the chief administrative officer wrote to all the lower local governments in the district instructing them to summon all individuals who have encroached to cultivate onto wetlands and sensitize them on other alternative activities that they can engage in especially fish farming and tree growing.
Mr. Dunstan Balaba the chief administrative officer on his letter to all heads of lower local government said will not bow to pressure to allow the farmers back into the wetland until they agree to the company with laws to protect it from undue depletion.
‘’By copy of this letter, you are therefore directed to convene a meeting with all communities who have encroached into to cultivate on wetlands and inform them that they are required to halt further cultivation of the wetlands but for now they are allowed to harvest already planted crops as they prepare to vacate the wetland latest September 30, 2019 and also sensitize them on alternatives activities they can engage in’’ part of the letter read.
The National Environmental Management Authority requires that farming should be restricted to no closer than 100 meters away from a wetland. However, this law is consistently abused by people struggling for arable land to plant their crops.
The authorities are said to have acted in respect to the president’s recent directive during his state of the nation address where he directed chief administrative officers and sub-county chiefs to hold meetings with all individuals who have encroached into the wetlands and advise them to vacate these areas by September. The president had also threatened to sack any administrator who will fail to implement the directive.
However, a majority of the sub-county chiefs who were delegated duty to implement the directive are facing it rough as farmers have turned hostile against them whereby in some sub-counties, sub-county chiefs have ended up being chased away.
The recent one was on Tuesday at Panoah primary school in Sop Sop sub-county where similar meeting ended up pre-maturely after the charged community under their umbrella Sop Sop development forum chased away the area sub-county chief Mr. David Asangai, insisting that will only vacate the wetlands after the government has shown them alternative sources of survival.
The farmers across the district claim that the directive is part of the government’s plan to rob of their land and allocate it to the investors.
They claim that wetlands to them are the only source of survival they have and forcing them out of would be another way of subjecting them to abject poverty.
Mr. James Obbo, a resident of Namwendya Parish Sop Sop Sub County in West Budama North constituency, says it is from these wetlands that they are educating their children, saying such a decision would force their children out of school.
At the heated up meeting, the sub-county GISO Patrick Odoi pleaded before the charged residents who started pelting stones upon the sub-county chief to forgive them because they are just messengers who are also trying to protect their jobs.
Asuman Mukanga one of the rice farmers said it’s in history that most of them grew up while their parents were cultivating the same land and so they have inherited it then how comes that government has come to evict them.
‘’We wish to categorically state that most of us inherited this from our parents and we don’t have any other alternative land therefore If government is interested in the land let it look for another land that we can settle in otherwise none of us is willing to surrender the land only piece of land we own’’ he said.
He observed that almost 75 per cent of the district wetlands have been degraded rapidly by rice growers, adding that this has led to the disappearance of bird species and vegetation “that the area used to be proud of”.
The National Environment Management Authority officer in charge of Tororo district Ms. Evelyn Aol while addressing farmers cultivating on Ndaiga Wetland along River Malaba in Iyolwa sub-county, said this dependence has adverse environmental effects and it is calling for increased protection of the resources.
“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.
She added that the district will demarcate all its wetlands and those who will defy the orders will be arrested and prosecuted.
Ms. Aol explained that the move will also help fight food insecurity, a situation he said is recurring because farmers have abandoned growing food crops and reverted all their attention to rice.
According to the district veterinary officer Tororo Dr. Boniface Obbo, continuous use of the wetlands is likely to usher in the conflict between crop growers and livestock farmers because livestock will have no access to the grazing fields.
“The trend will in time impact negatively on the lives of cattle keepers because they will not be able to access water points or grazing fields in the swamps,” he said.
He attributes the increased number of rats in the district to be one of the adverse effects of wetland encroachment where farmers have killed some of the animals that live on rats hence giving them room for rapid growth.
Equally a big number of the sub-county leaders have also opposed the decision to stop communities from using the wetlands arguing that the decision will force those who had been earning from rice farming to engage in criminal acts like stealing to sustain their livelihoods.
Mr. William Nyamboro, the LC3 chairperson of Sop Sop Sub County is one of those who are opposing the decision on grounds recently government under different programmes supplied rice haulers and rice seeds to farmer groups and driving them away would still render the inputs idle.
He said most of the groups received the imputs including rice haulers inform of a loan from the Youth Livelihood programme while others under the Uganda Women Enterprise programme of which they have not finalized paying back and he wonders who will pay the loan.
The district works engineer Patrick Andrew Asaya told this newspaper that the effects of wetland encroachment have also impacted negatively to the roads as the farmers sometimes block streams in an attempt to divert water to their rice gardens and sometimes this has been the major cause of eroding of bridges