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July 29, 2011

Ugandan farmers battle uncertain weather conditions

Having spent years uprooted by conflict, farmers in northern Uganda are again facing tough times — this time caused by the weather.

... many rural farmers' in livelihoods have been affected by increasingly erratic rainfall and high temperatures. Most were displaced by the years of conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and remain poor and unable to acquire farm inputs.

Jackson Odong, a research assistant with the Uganda Refugee Law Project, said helping these farmers was critical to restoring some normality in that part of the country. “We no longer have enough food harvested compared to 30 years ago; these days when it rains, it sometimes falls too much, making the crops over-grow... [and not] germinate, and when the sun shines, sometimes it goes on for a long time, withering the crops.” Growing crops such as beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, sesame and millet had become difficult, he added.

For the past 20 years, the population in northern Uganda has depended on food aid because of the LRA conflict that forced about 1.2 million people into camps. The region, comprising savannah grass land and forests, is potentially very productive.

However, between May and June 2010, several farmers in the Acholi and Teso region in the north lost land to torrential rains that left fields water-logged, causing crops to rot. In 2009, heavy rains in the first quarter and prolonged sunshine also left several farmers counting losses, undermining food reserves. “In the past, our grandfather could predict rain through cloud formations, direction of the wind and when certain trees begin to grow leaves,” Lacung said.

Given the unpredictable weather, a group of 600 rural farmers in the districts of Amuru, Gulu, Nwoya, Pader, Kitgum and Lamwo are adapting to alternative farming methods.

The farmers, supported by the Catholic Relief Agency in the Acholi sub-region through a community managed disaster risk reduction programme, are adapting by planting early and using quick maturing seeds.

Lacung said they also practised crop rotation, irrigation, inter-cropping and use of manure to help the soil regenerate.

Jackson Lakor, an agricultural officer in Gulu, said farmers needed information on climate change to guide them in their daily farming activities. He said the only way to minimise losses was to engage in activities that would help restore the environment, such as re-forestation and inter-cropping with perennial crops.


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