By Jessica Chen
This past February I had the opportunity to travel to the Western region of Uganda to a village near the district of Mbarara. It was past midnight when I arrived the first night and after getting off the bus my fellow traveller and I had to take a boda boda through the bush, on a rough and rugged terrain in almost total darkness. In the morning, I awoke to the sounds of cows “mooing,” something I had never experienced before and found to be much more pleasant than the sounds of roosters crowing which I had grown accustomed to in the city. As I opened my eyes, I was able to see for the first time the beautiful landscape of the countryside, the rolling hills and lush terrain.
It is here in this village where I met a farmer called Robert, who has bred cattle and lived in the village his whole life. Robert and other farmers lead a simple life but are extremely diligent and hard-working. They wake up just before the sunrise to tend to the cows and perform other duties in the village such as fetching water using jerry cans which can total over 10 kms in walking distance.
Robert raised many concerns he and farmers have had due to the lack of rain in Uganda. Because there is a high dependency on rain to water the grass for grazing, the drought has meant that the cattle have had less to eat and drink and as a result many are dying due to starvation. This is a huge issue that over the years has caused considerable stress on farmers and their villages who rely on cattle for their income and livelihoods.
The cattle here Robert explains are of an indigenous species, known for their distinct horns, and are quite hardy to adverse conditions. Despite this he has lost some cows and fears that many others will not survive. Robert has had to guide his herd long distances (and sometimes into other districts) in search of water and pasture as transporting water and food from other sources can prove to be quite costly. There are times when Robert has been left with no choice but to sell his cattle at extremely low prices. He notes that in Uganda, farmers are fighting for the limited amount of pasture and water available which has caused considerable strain and tension between groups and tribes.
Increased aid and better preparation for weather conditions are important he notes but in addition to this a more long term sustainable option must be implemented. There is hope as farmers across Uganda have proven to be very innovative and resilient to harsh conditions. For example, cattle farmers have tried to cross-breed their indigenous cattle with other more disease and drought resistant cattle. As well, other districts in Uganda such as Nakaseke and Nakasongola have begun to grow drought resistant grass and crops in attempts to tackle the challenges brought about by climate change.
Jessica Chen was working as an Intern in Rural Livelihoods with South and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in Kampala, Uganda.