Fighting climate change TOGETHER in Uganda

Sara Bedford | September 2, 2015

Longorok Lolen Photo: Sara Bedford / CWS

Longorok Lolen Photo: Sara Bedford / CWS

Longorok Lolen looks down with a frown and adjusts the red Karamojong woven cloth hanging over his shoulder. “All of the old men say that it didn’t used to be like that.” He is talking about changes in the weather cycles essential for his livestock, farms and his own health. He is talking about climate change. Lolen lives in a remote region of Uganda, about an hour’s walk off the nearest sub-county road that can barely be meandered by car, through a rough dirt road across a sizeable river.

On the walk to our destination: a micro-watershed site that is part of the TOGETHER program implemented by CWS, MAP International and ECHO and supported by the St. Mary’s Methodist Church Foundation. Lolen passes two cows that lie dead from a tick-borne disease on the road. For the Karamojong, their cattle are the lifeblood of culture: a source of livelihood, assets, pride and a centerpiece to any community activity. Families are already dangerously short on food with crops not due until this later this month. The community chooses to deal with diseases that may result from eating the meat instead of facing continued hunger.

Once we reach the field below the micro watershed site, he stands tall with a stick used to corral his cattle, looking past the rolling hills with few trees, little grass and dark red soil. A storm is coming in, dark against the hills, and Lolen tells me about the changing climate.

In 2011, severe flooding in Karamoja ruined crops and spread malaria, typhoid and yellow fever and forced Lolen to take his children to a health clinic hours away. The rain destroyed the crops and killed livestock. After the flooding, in 2012 came a drought, which forced the community to abandon their crops and migrate in search of food and water for their cattle. Early on in the drought, when the nearby borehole broke down, women and girls had to travel an extra six hours each day to gather water for their families. The women, weak from lack of food, could not help in the fields and the children withdrew from school to search for wild fruits and vegetables so that their families could eat. Neither Lolen nor the village elders know what is causing the weather to change, but he clearly identifies the impact it has on his family and his livelihood.

We now stand together in the middle of the CWS-supported micro-watershed site, a project aimed at reducing the effect of climate change for Lolen and his community. Constructed within agricultural fields, a micro-watershed uses contour and graded bunds, terrace building and other soil-moisture conservation techniques to protect the land from degradation, improve soil health and increase soil-moisture availability and groundwater recharge.

Behind us is a line of large rocks with planted shrubs and seedlings, aimed at stopping the erosion that Lolen notices are affecting the soil quality and the health of his cattle. He planted the small seedlings below the rock wall, he tells me, to restore the soil as well as increase milk production in his cattle, and he has plans for the future. “I want to plant groundnuts here,” he says as he motions to the rich soil below the micro-watershed site.

He looks toward the approaching rain storm, talking more about the past floods and droughts, wishing for rain enough for his crops and cattle – but not so much that it might cause disease, decimate his crops or further erode the soil. Although this micro-watershed is an important step both to curb erosion and educate the community on disasters due to climate change, Lolen looks doubtful that the erratic weather patterns will go back to the steady cycles his elders recall.

Sara Bedford is a former CWS Program Development Intern.