Uganda: Climate change worsening food insecurity in Karamoja

Karamoja is changing. One thing responsible for this change is rain. It is mostly less or when available, too much. Its pattern no longer predictable. And above all the temperature is rising. MRG’s Africa Regional Information Officer, Mohammed Matovu, analyses how the community is coping.

Akong Morris is a pastoralist and pastoralist life is all he knows. He leaves in a manyata (small homestead) with his father, mother and his wives and eleven children.

Akong’s father used to own over 500 cows and he remembers plying the fields with all the animals as a small boy and his siblings in search of water and pasture.

All this changed in 2009 when a prolonged drought killed many of his family’s animals. “The death of an animal in our tradition is equal to the death of a human being,” Akong says, adding; “This is because we depend on a cow for life; food, medicine, income, and social status.”

Since the death of the animals, Akong’s wife, Angella Adome has supplemented the family’s income through selling firewood and charcoal to get money to buy food in the local market.

In the absence of animals, Angella and family till the land during the rainy season and plant cereals like Sorghum. Not a bad idea were it not that even the rains have become erratic. “Since 2007, the weather has become unpredictable. If it is not too much rain that floods the area, it is no rain at all for long periods which makes the sun to ‘burn’ all our harvest.”

“The little harvest we get,” says Angella, “is sometimes just enough for home use leaving us with nothing to sell.”

Akong Morris acknowledges that unpredictable weather has changed livelihood systems in Karamoja from what he knew while growing up as a little boy.

Akong’s story is symbolic of everyday motions that many a family in Karamoja has to go through due to climate change. Whereas this is something they would wish to see the end of, the Ministry of Disaster preparedness has some bad news for Akong and many Karimojong families; they are yet to see the end of the dry spell.

The Disaster preparedness Unit has issued a famine alert warning that there will be a long period of severe water shortages beginning December 2010 which will be heightened by long periods of severe food shortages in many parts of Uganda with (agro) pastoralists likely to be the hardest hit.

Dry spells normally cause gardens of food and cash crops to dry out. There is competition for scarce water resources which sometimes results in conflicts. And shortage of water and pasture affects livestock.

In their call for action, the Ministry has advised pastoralists along the cattle corridor and people from affected areas to; a) desilt and expand their valley tanks and dams to store more water, b) families in northern and eastern regions to stock long lasting dry foods such as millet and dry vegetables to last at least five months, c) not to sell family food stocks for non-essentials and, d) keep large stocks of dry grass harvest for animals and store more water.

Asked how prepared the community is regarding the ministry’s famine alert, Simon Nangiro, the Executive Director of Karamoja Agro-Pastoralist Development Programme (KADP), local CBO, said the community is not prepared.

“The whole point of a red-alert is that all internal mechanisms have failed hence creating an emergency. The people of Karamoja are especially vulnerable because on top of the natural disasters they still suffer from poor public service delivery and live in a conflict environment. So it’s a double tragedy for them.” said Simon.

Simon says his organisation has intervened at three levels:“We buy cereals from neighbouring unaffected districts and sell to affected families at subsidised fee or in worst scenarios give it out for free. At income generating level, we have introduced cash-for-work, where those who engage in public activities like dam desilting and clearing of roads are paid. For water, we maintain all available water points to ensure they are working at 100% or expand existing dams as well as harvesting as much as we can.”

The biggest challenge, however, is that most interventions require funds which, according to Simon is not readily available.

A new study published by the Danish NGO, DanChurchAid, documents how climate change is a real threat to the already harsh living conditions in the Karamoja Sub-region.

According to the study, “unlike the rest of the country with a bimodal rainfall pattern, Karamoja has a mono-modal rainfall pattern with one planting season. However, this rainfall pattern is not reliable and during the last four years the rains have been sparse.”

In the face of food scarcity the study says majority Karimojong cope by food aid or cutting of trees for charcoal or firewood, while when faced with water scarcity many reported migration as a coping strategy. For rising temperatures, many stay indoors or under shades.

Some of these coping mechanisms, documents the study, have a negative impact on the environment like cutting trees.

The study shows that pastoral as well as agro-pastoral livelihoods remain the best adapted measure to the harsh climate conditions in Karamoja and calls on government and other development actors to support coping initiatives of CBOs towards reducing the risks and vulnerabilities faced by the communities.

Recommendations of the study

• Promotion of agro-pastoralism as opposed to purely agro-livelihood systems

• Promotion of rainwater harvesting

• Development of environmental friendly irrigation infrastructure and community-based irrigation systems

• Development and promotion of mechanisation, where sustainable

• Strengthen agricultural extension services

• Invest in geological surveys and mapping of sustainable water sources

• Promote investment in soil and water conservation

• Support seed improvement programs, including production and distribution as well as other agro-inputs.


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As a coping mechanism to rising temperatures in Karamoja many people, mostly men, prefer to sit under tree shades rendering themselves redundant.
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Competition for water: Due to water scarcity, human beings compete for water with animals
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A vast swathe of land in Karamoja is not arable because its dry and full of gravel. Due to the death of animals, many turn to tree-cutting or charcoal selling as alternative income generating activities.
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In periods of famine/drought, women and children who are the most vulnerable tend to become the providers in their homes through offering cheap labour on farms, selling local brew or firewood/charcoal.
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Date: 22/02/2011




Culture and Tradition
Climate Change
Land Rights

Press Contact Information

Name: Mohamed Matovu

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