March 25, 2012

From the airport at Entebbe, through Kampala to Mbale in Central Eastern Uganda and Kotido in the north, we have been shocked by the environmental degradation, especially the destruction of forests, denuded hillsides and resulting loss of topsoil.

From left:

1. Sipi Falls in eastern  Uganda: The upper part of the photo shows how much of the soil is left bare. When the rains come, very little of the water will soak in and be captured by the local ecosystem. Instead, it will run off, carrying away the topsoil and causing floods downstream.

2. One of many hills in northern Uganda. As recently as 5 years ago, it supported trees, shrubs and grass. These have now been removed, most of the soil has washed downstream to clog waterways and silt up dams and the surface of the hill is largely rock, unable to absorb water or support life. 

3. Regular burning of hills and pastures to stimulate new growth of grass and flush out small animals for hunting is reducing biodiversity, hindering the survival of trees and destroying soil microflora/fauna and soil structure. This affects the long –term food security of the region as each year the capacity of the land to produce is reduced.

We arrived in Kotido, north east Uganda, hot and dusty after a 7 hour drive. After lunch, the World Vision staff presented the challenges facing them and Tony shared a presentation on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). The arid conditions, history of dependence on food aid, environmental degradation and need for pasture, fodder trees, firewood and other forest products are exactly the conditions which can be addressed by FMNR but this region presents some extra challenges.

There is a history of conflict in the area. Close to the borders of Sudan and Kenya, there has been extensive cross-border raiding and, even within the region, subgroups rustle each other’s animals on a regular basis. Efforts to disarm local groups have been only partially successful.

World Vision called a stakeholder meeting including government officials, UN agencies, NGOS etc to understand what is already being done, what is working/not working and what is possible for the future. After Chris Shore presented on World Vision’s ‘Secure the Future’ program for the Horn of Africa, Tony presented on ‘Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration’ and groups worked on how to face the challenges, there was a sense of hope that agencies, governments and communities could work together to find and implement answers. That afternoon, we visited a Karamajong Community, listened to their challenges, hopes and aspirations. Assefa Tofu from Ethiopia and Tony explained FMNR and demonstrated the pruning of regrowth from tree stumps. There was considerable interest and a sense of hope that with facilitation from World Vision and in collaboration with local authorities, their hills and rangelands might return to productivity.

The 12 hour drive back to Kampala was a real test of our physical stamina. Two flat tyres contributed to the length of the journey. We drove parallel to the Sudan border and heard first hand stories from our driver of the abductions and destruction of towns by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

We crossed the Nile via a bridge which the Ugandan army keeps closely guarded to prevent the LRA from crossing. Whole towns have been relocated the the south of the river to keep their inhabitants safe.

Until next time,


Liz is travelling in Africa with her husband Tony Rinaudo, a natural resource management advisor with World Vision Australia, encouraging communities, non-government organisations, governments, research organisations and others to scale up reforestation over large areas.