Climate change is a word that has been used severally and has come up in several ‘global’ and academic debates, but the truest impact, the most sever and damaging aspects have been felt by rural farming communities in Africa – in my case within the local community where I currently work in Uganda.
Photo credit: ilri.org
The old generation of livestock farmers who have only taken on settled farming don’t know that climate change has happened; but they agree that weather patterns have become increasing erratic in the last 15 years more than ever before.
Livestock farming makes up about 40% of all agriculture whereas most homesteads keep livestock, the livelihoods may not necessarily depend on livestock particularly and contributed 3.2% to the total national GDP of 2009.
Before the farmers settled, carried out nomadism and a sort of transhumance, this way of life had given them an edge, when pasture and water was diminished in on place, they could pack their belongings and drive their livestock mostly cattle to places that had those resources. However, with increasing population, land pressure also increased, forcing people to adapt to settled farming and it has not been rosy.
The direct impacts seen today apart from the altered weather patterns been increased temperatures which have directly affected the rangelands where the animals graze with water reservoirs drying to quickly, animals eating less and less because they seek shade instead of grazing resulting in reduced production, even the consumable crops cultivated to supplement the animal based diets have continued to fail because the rains are infrequent, when it rains, it is for a short time and very heavy. The farmers lack a capacity to construct large capacity water collection reservoirs or sometimes, it just does not rain. Even the fish in the lakes and rivers have reduced because warmer waters are unfavorable for fish as they contain less and less oxygen.
Ugandan communities have depended on the ideal location and great climatic conditions available as well as the natural environment. The natural environment has slowly been destroyed with the country losing about an estimated two-thirds of her forest cover in the last 20 years partly to cater for expanding human settlements and agriculture. Without adequate investment into agricultural technologies that are more efficient for production, the future remain very uncertain.
Indirectly, climate change has altered the host-pathogen-environment interactions which has resulted in unpredictable disease epidemics which are a nightmare to plan for as the changing patterns of outbreak are not yet been established. In addition, climate changes has led to a labour flight to other sectors of the economy i.e rural-urban migrations with you people moving away from livestock and crop agriculture because the costs of practicing agriculture have become so high that they don’t find it tenable or profitable enough to remain attractive. This will likely make Uganda less food secure.
Since agricultural production systems in Uganda are low-input family based systems, the future is very uncertain. In the face of these extreme weather events, adaptation will be key and more conceited efforts and responsibility need to be taken by offending industrialized countries of the world to protect these vulnerable communities suffering consequences of something they’re not largely responsible for causing.