I once asked a farmer what his major challenges were. His response was that he was finding it hard to adapt to the new weather patterns, his second was finding market for his produce at the right price. This was in the Teso region of Eastern Uganda, a region once known for cattle rearing but which is now the go-to place for citrus fruits.. For the first challenge, the farmer was satisfied that they had come together and agreed to have their fruits sold at a central administrative office and no middleman would be able to buy from them unless they had approval from the local administration. This generally gave them the advantage in price terms and they were pretty satisfied with their labor. in addition he remarked, they would be able to sell off their fruits to a fruit processing factory that would be constructed at a site 15 minutes from his village. He was satisfied with his living. His last child was about to graduate from university and his labour on his citrus plantation, was all not in vain. he had in fact sponsored his child through selling Washington variety oranges.This was all good , however, Teso is in the part of Uganda that receives one long rainy season, traditionally, that is. The staple foods produced are mainly dry region crops like millet from which millet bread or atapa, kwen, karo, kwon, or kaalo (depending on which region you come from) is produced. These would not do well with extended rains and despite the successes with citrus farming, it would have a big impact on food security. The meteorological department is working with other stakeholders to have accurate predictions that would enable the farmers adapt to the changes. It is early days but the effort is tangible.
Climate change to everyone in Uganda is real. Early this year as the United States was receiving record snowstorms, we were facing unprecedented heat and a significant dry spell. Food shortages were expected and in some parts drought was already affecting the population. However, three months on, we are receiving welcome rains and for the farmers, their hope is that it stops at the right time so they can be set to reap. In some areas the rain is unrelenting but crops are getting ready for the harvest.
My ultimate favorite part of climate change through is that at this point in time, it offers us the opportunity to do things right. From the most basic yet necessary mechanisms like the use of improved cookstoves instead of 3-stone fires, I like the fact that there is an incentive for us the make the right choices. It should go without saying that instead of burning fossil fuel for 1MW of power in Africa, we should be taking advantage of the opportunities at hand to propone renewable energy with the incentives and subsidies at hand. The ideal is romantic and gives us all a good feel however the reality points to the fact that we need to work at being better because there is always going to be a “way we have always done things”.
A child fetches water from an open well due to a shortage of safe water sources
The hold of the past is often a challenge because over time it has developed into the norm, the comfort zone. For my farmer friend, this was a luxury he was no longer able to afford. He explained to me his third challenge, the severe shortage of firewood in his village. His environs had been depleted of firewood and in order to collect some, his family had to move a very long distance. He had to adapt a new way of doing things. His lifestyle and that of his family had to evolve. In many ways we all have to evolve, people and systems adapt to the times. The world is constantly moving and we have to find ways of “catching up”.
Talking to that man , it was possible to make a friend and move on but it spurred me to get involved more and the images i saw of the firewood depletion are images I have carried from time to time. Almost 4 years later, I still meet more people whose challenges are ever more evident, but when we see the solutions bear fruit, it is always a spur to take on the next.
Children at a recently repaired borehole