By Nakanwagi Olivier Mukaaya
THE Ministry of Water and Environment has embarked on demarcation of Mpologoma wetlands in Kibuku district.
The move is intended to restore the wide loss of water and massive wetland destruction that has been exhibited by rice farmers.
The wetland demarcation exercise was officially launched at Kitantalo Zone, Tirinyi Town Council, near Mpologoma River along Mbale-Tirinyi road on Monday, 5th October 2020.
While officiating at the launch, the Commissioner in the Ministry of Water and environment, Mr. Joseph Ongol said that the demarcation is meant to protect the wetlands that have massively been encroached on by rice farmers.
“We decided to proceed with marking the borders of the Mpologoma wetlands following massive encroachment. This will pave way for the eviction of wetland abusers despite giving them several reminders but they continued to defy these directives,”Mr. Ongol said.
He added that that, “The Ministry was following the ecological border of the wetland, which could be traced by clay, water and vegetation, the features that, according to residents, give the wetland its character.”
The village leaders joined the water ministry officials and others from the wetland management department as they undertook the demarcation exercise.
The experts were armed with a global positioning system [GPS], which uses a satellite to mark the boundaries of wetlands on a map. The anxious residents stood by their shacks waiting for the ministry officials to decide their fate.
Mr. Ongol urged the people of Kibuku to abandon rice growing activity in the wetland and consider other viable activities towards fighting poverty.
On May 9 2019, the Ministry of water and environment, backed by the Environment Protection Police Unit [EPPU] destroyed hundreds of crop gardens which farmers had cultivated on R. Mpologoma water belt.
Mr Nicholas Magala, the regional Wetland officer in the Ministry of Water and Environment, said the destruction of crops was because the famers had adamantly refused to vacate these wetlands
“The levels of wetland destruction by farmers is extremely too high to the extent that the wetlands are totally drying up. The Ministry estimates that 10% of R. Mpologoma has been degraded by farmers for human activities,” Magala noted with great concern.
Mr. Magala said that the major part of R. Mpologoma has been cleared for cultivation and yet it is the only surviving river in the region.
The Tirinyi Town Council LC3 chairman, Mr. Yosiya Wampula urged all environmental activities and other political leaders at different levels to embrace the demarcation exercise in order to protect the diminishing wetlands in the district.
“We need to protect and redeem and restore these disappearing wetlands,” Wampula said.
The affected farmers however will soon benefit from the government proposed irrigation scheme that is soon to be established on R. Mpologoma at a cost of shs1.28bn funded by government of Uganda and Korea Rural Community Corporation.
The Mpologoma river basin Integrated Agriculture Development project [MRB-IADP] is being spear-headed by the ministry of Agriculture.
Mr. Deo Kabali, the Eastern Uganda Regional Wetland Coordinator, revealed that the planting of boundary pillars will soon start because they have secured funds towards the exercise.
“Nobody should tamper with these pillars because it’s criminal to uproot them and if anybody dares, he/she will face the law. We shall soon kick start with the demarcation of these wetlands to establish the rightful boundaries to deter further encroachment,” he warned.
Mr. Kabali however, challenged the communities [residents]who have been entirely depending on the wetlands for their livelihood to respect the exercise by observing the demarcation stones [pillars] and also added that the demarcation will extend to other neighboring districts like Budaka, Pallisa and Butebo and others in Eastern sub-region.
He, however, encouraged the affected families to embrace the directive to vacate these wetlands, arguing that the government was considering mooting alternative income generating activities like fishing, and Poultry.
The Kibuku district natural resources officer, Mr. David Okurut, said this exercise will cover all the wetlands dotted across the district with the prime objective of mitigating the climatic changes caused by wetland destruction by farmers.
NEMA, the body is mandated to oversee environmental issues noted with great concern that the rate at which both trees and the destruction of wetlands for various reasons including population pressure and human activities is extremely high.
Mr. David Okurut said that the, “Operation save Mpologoma wetland” is intended to address the worrying trend of massive encroachment [degradation] on the wetland.
“The high level of degradation by these farmers despite warning is just enough justification to clear these crops and forcibly evict them,” he said.
He explained that the buffer zone was so-clear that people could not dare to cross and cultivate inside the wetland but surprisingly they [farmers] have stubbornly passed the red-line.
Both Mpologoma and Limoto swamp is a bee-hive for farmers from the two districts of Pallisa and Kibuku for cultivation of rice. More than 10,000 farmers entirely depend on this wetland for both income and food.
President Museveni has occasionally issued a directive demanding wetland encroachers to be evicted in order to restore back these forests and wetlands.
Limoto and Mpologoma wetlands are the major link between Pallisa and Kibuku districts which serves water into R-Mpologoma and stretches for about 35sq kilometers whereas Namatala wetland serves more than 10.000 farmers in Budaka and neighboring districts. It has been the main source of livelihood for farmers to cultivate rice.
“These evictions and demarcations follow President Museveni’s concerns over the worsening degradation of wetlands and is the reasons the ministry has taken the lead to enforce the directive and this was launched in Kibuku district before turning to other wetlands across the country,” Sam Cheptoris, the Minister of water and environment, had told the farmers before.
Adding that, “We need to protect these wetlands because the current trend of massive destruction has caused them [wetlands] to dry up and animals have nowhere to drink water but because this government is for the people that is why we agreed and gave them ample time to harvest their rice and vacate. So they shouldn’t turn the blame on government because we had warned them before”.
Both the police and NEMA have on several occasions carried out operations to evict these farmers from these wetlands.
“The MP’s request [Petition] was granted with condition that no fresh cultivation and whoever defies the directive will definitely be forced out from the wetland without further notice and this meeting is just a follow up to see that people have vacated these wetlands” Mr. Cheptoris said.
He however, commended people for accepting to vacate the wetland in order to restore back the lost ecosystem and increase the water levels that would be used during the irrigation that is to be established on R. Mpologoma.
The National Environment Management Authority [NEMA] representative, Ms. Christine Achokit, however urged the leaders at all levels to be united and continue sensitizing communities on the dangers of encroachment of these wetlands.
“The wetland agency has been carrying out community sensitization on the dangers of wetland destruction and warned them [farmers] to desist. This is why we had to enforce the law to begin evicting people from these wetlands as a stringent measure to deter others” she said
Adding that, “We need to protect these wetlands in order to avert possible looming desertification and caused harsh environment-climatic changes coupled with long dry spell in the country”. We are aware that majority of our people entirely depend on these wetlands for survival but we have nothing to do but to enforce the law”.