By Jason Alexandra, Alexandra & Associates Pty Ltd
In mid-August 2018, I had a couple of the most inspiring days checking out Landcare in the Kapchorwa and Manafwa Districts of Eastern Uganda - a tropical highland region of intensive agriculture. Kapchorwa District has an active landcare network of 35 groups engaged in many dimensions of sustainable landuse. There is great potential to learn from their experience and use it as a model to expand the reach and impact of landcare in the wider Mt. Elgon region.
I was there to deliver training as part of the ACIAR-funded Value Chain Innovation Platforms for Food Security (VIP4FS) project. This project is working with smallholders in Uganda and Zambia. In eastern Uganda, it is working to enhance small farmers’ incomes from coffee, dairy and honey. This project and those that established landcare in the region are transforming livelihoods and landscapes through demonstrating and promoting adoption of sustainable techniques for land management. We met many committed people exploring and adopting better practices for managing the highly fertile but erodible land on the steep slopes of the 4,321 metre high Mount Elgon.
The Uganda Landcare Facilitator Training and field visits were held from Monday 13 to Friday 17 August 2018. The training focused on:
- Building skills of about 45 facilitators involved in the Value Chain Innovation Platform Project
- Facilitating shared learning between the landcare network and the value chains project to build the capacity of Innovation Platform facilitators
- Improving linkages and regional networks to enhance local learning
KAPCHORWA DISTRICT LANDCARE CHAPTER (KADLACC)
After 3 days of training held at the Bubulo Red cross Hall, Manafwa, Uganda we travelled to meet with the Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter (KADLACC) – a network of 35 groups that span Kapchorwa and supports efforts in surrounding districts – and visited two active villages close to Kapchorwa town. KADLACC has been running for 15 years promoting soil conservation and sustainable farming. KADLACC had some initial support from AusAid, ICRAF and others but like many landcare groups it draws resources from multiple sources including the local district administration and its committed volunteers. At this meeting we discussed the history and development of KADLACC and their plans for expanding the reach and impact of the Chapter through the landcare principles.
We toured sites at Tegeres and Arokwo where the value chain and landcare projects have been working to transform the lives and livelihoods of group and platform members. We inspected sites where a wide range of technical and social innovations are being applied and where the people are keen to keep experimenting and developing their sustainable farming systems, including agroforestry and fodder shrubs, soil conservation structures, zero-grazing dairy and biogas and stream bank stabilisation with indigenous plants including bamboos. The groups are also actively sharing their knowledge and process with neighbouring areas, who are forming groups and taking up the practices. Scaling up these innovations could be transformative across the entire region with its hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers. There is a very positive experience of the landcare model, and combined with the value chain work it is being integrated within the production systems and increasing production and incomes, while bolstering socio-cultural and landscape resilience.
In Tegeres village Kapchorwa district, the community danced and sang to welcome us. They showed us examples of how landcare practices are changing their farms and lives, by walking the visiting group through their farms to see:
- Filter strips of bamboo planted for commercial harvest on the steep erodible banks of the headwater streams flowing to the Nile. The bamboo buffers improve water quality and will reduce pressure on the groves in the Mt. Elgon national park further upstream. (MT Elgon is one of the ‘water tower’ catchments for the Nile at 4,321 metres)
- Eucalyptus woodlots for providing building materials, firewood and income
- The use of soil stabilisation techniques including mulching, contour trenches and banks to enhance water infiltration and reduce soil erosion
The landcare practices are an intrinsic part of and complement the value chain and trees for food security projects currently funded by ACIAR. The value chain project is exploring ways to increase incomes for farmers. Options for lifting returns and improving livelihoods include:
- Dairy faming enterprises using zero-grazing dairy units where milking cows are fed crop waste, grasses and agroforestry legume fodder shrubs using a ‘cut and carry’ system, where the waste is exploited for biogas and fertiliser;
- The coffee innovation platform is improving quality and yields and value adding through dedicated marketing of organic, locally branded coffee;
- Honey enterprises that use bee houses to attract hives that forage the adjoining national park and farm lands.
After touring their farms and gardens to see many impressive efforts to build better, more productive and sustainable systems, the farmers put on excellent street theatre to communicate clearly their stories. The drama focused on the importance of soil conservation, and agroforestry. In the best amateur theatre style, they showed us how the training in soil conservation and agroforestry had improved their lands and lives, and enabled them to hand the land to future generations in better shape.
INNOVATIVE POLICIES FOR NATURAL RESOURCES GOVERNANCE
The communities are engaged and active, looking to adopt further suitable innovations. Their dramas demonstrated a clear story about how they have come from a situation of poverty, degrading their lands with erosion and loss of fertility, to one of improved conditions and increasing prosperity. The combined potential of the landcare networks and the value chain work is enormous.
The communities have developed some innovative policies for natural resources governance. They have developed and applied bylaws to restrict free grazing so that the revegetation and crops can be protected from goats and cows and to protect water sources. In Tegeres village, where they adjoin the national park, they have also signed a community conservation agreement with the Uganda Wildlife Authority which makes the community adjoining the national park its guardian and custodians. They retain some limited harvesting rights for firewood and non-timber resources like mushrooms, bamboo shoots and herbs, but work to protect it from encroachment and poachers. The community is paid a small fee that is recognised as benefit sharing. This is mostly used for community enhancement activities.
On the second day we visited Arokwo village that has adopted soil conservation techniques of terracing and trenching, zero-grazing dairy and agroforestry. Here we toured very steep slopes that had suffered from erosion and loss of fertility, but is now being turned around through integrated landcare practices. Like the day before, we were treated to the drama – this time a three act play. The first act told the story of hardship and poverty – once we were poor and were destroying the land. The second act was the introduction of landcare, soil conservation and agroforestry and the third act was a celebration of increasing prosperity and sustainability in the village.
These two examples of local landcare groups are part of the 35 landcare groups that form the strong Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter (KADLACC), a regional network that has received support from AusAid, ACIAR and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and also has support from the district administration and other partners. The Ugandan Landcare Network also supports Landcare in Uganda nationally and provides national coordination.
NETWORKS OF VALUE CHAIN PROJECTS AND LANDCARE GROUPS
The networks of value chain projects and landcare groups is truly impressive, but these networks and projects are at a critical point where they require further funding to ensure they build on the progress made to date. The VIP project concludes after 4 years in 2019 and would benefit from a second phase. Given their achievements they have the potential to be influential at the regional and national scale in their efforts to link landcare conservation work with tree cropping for food security and the income generation. These projects have been building substantial momentum. There are many local value chain innovation platforms, including the coffee ones that are direct marketing organic speciality coffee and are about to export a 14 tonne consignment to Australia. We floated the idea of certified organic landcare coffee being marketed throughout Australia’s landcare networks.
At the local, regional and national scale, landcare in Uganda is being run by committed and competent people. The ACIAR projects we inspected are run by extremely competent teams including the ICRAF staff from Uganda and Kenya and the project staff from Makerere University and the National Forestry Resources Research Institute in Central Uganda. Dr Prossy ([email protected]) is the Uganda Country Coordinator of the impressive value chain work and is a powerhouse driving change across many networks. Dr Clement Okia ([email protected]) is the ICRAF Ugandan Country Representative providing oversight to the two ACIAR projects in Uganda. Clement is a passionate forester and agroforester who has worked on agroforestry throughout his career and due to a stint teaching at the national forestry college and Makerere University is well connected to professionals throughout the country. They are brilliant team and together they are delivering results in the value chain and trees for food security project.
For example, their work on fodder trees to enhance milk production and therefore crop yields through manure from zero-grazing units, is first rate. The value chain project is using the planned comparison approach which involves hundreds of farmers to experiment on different options and share their results and experiences through innovation platforms. The experimenting farmers are referred to as “citizen scientists” and these have been instrumental in presenting to their colleagues improvements in milk yields as a result of improved animal feeding. We saw evidence of strong uptake in both villages and the benefits were graphically articulated in the dramas. The teams are professional and I am convinced that the ACIAR projects are likely to lead to excellent and sustained results in terms of changed land management and increased income. We saw the benefits of improved social capital delivering on improved land management and the success of innovation platforms for diary, coffee and honey. We were informed that new concepts promoted by the value chain project took some time to be accepted, but have since been embraced by farmers and district governments as viable options for transforming smallholder farmers. In Manafwa, the district Community Development Officer as well the District Natural Resources Officer, who were guest speakers at our land care facilitators’ training, spoke highly of the innovative work being undertaken by ICRAF and partners in mending degraded land and developing more profitable value chains.
SUSTAINING, BUILDING AND EXPANDING THE NETWORKS
At both Kapchorwa and Manafwa districts, we discussed the prospect of building and expanding the networks to cover the greater Mt Elgon region. The idea of expanding to include both the Kenyan and Uganda sides of the border was floated. The idea of formulating a ‘prospectus’ as an umbrella concept for linking local projects, building on local successes to date, and attracting funds was proposed (maybe something like Gondwana Link). At various times in our meetings, we discussed initial ideas about how to initiate an ambitious multi-country project – tentatively entitled the Greater Rift Valley and Upper Nile Bio-links Projects (GRUNBP). The prospects of developing such a project as an umbrella for attracting funds and linking existing initiatives were welcomed subject to a participatory planning process.
David Curry (one of the Australian trainers) has been liaising with local groups involved in remnant forest protection in Kenya and Uganda, and he sees the merit of linking these with the landcare, reafforestation and agroforestry efforts around Mt Elgon.
The initial ideas that we discussed with the GRUNBP would assist local groups and regional networks operating across four related thematic areas including:
- Protecting and linking remnant forests and woodlands
- Expand forests and woodland cover through targeted reafforestation and conservation of corridors (mostly on degraded lands, steeper slopes and on key biolinks) and through agroforestry within the intensively farmed landscapes
- Protecting key watersheds, stream networks, wetlands and water quality through reducing erosion, sedimentation and through stream bank stabilisation
- Developing and promoting sustainable and more profitable, intensive farming systems for food security on the more fertile and suitable lands, including through integrating a range of innovative, land conservation techniques, like those being adopted in the villages we visited (including trees for food security, zero-grazing systems etc)
In the long car ride back to Kampala, this idea was further discussed. We could see many large areas of steeper and degraded slopes on the Mt Elgon range, completely de-afforested through generations of firewood and charcoal gathering and unrestricted grazing. With the pressing need for increasing employment and delivering the expanding population with forest and food resources, the potential for expanding the work we saw to the wider regions seems not only imminently sensible but also feasible.
David Curry has been thinking about the "Great Rift Valley and Nile Catchment Biolinks" project for some time. He sees it as offering a bold visionary umbrella connecting many projects already in operation, with the potential to attract larger funding and policy contributions from donors and governments. It has the potential to connect all the major water towers in Kenya and Uganda - all are under threat from charcoal burners, timber harvesters and cropping and all are critical watersheds for the Nile and Rift Valley.
Uganda has committed to a Bonn agreement target of 2.5 million hectares by 2030. By combining the enthusiasm and technical and social innovations we witnessed with right programs for catalysing further change we saw no reason why a major program of work would not provide substantial help in meetings Uganda ambitious targets for reafforestation
Having visited the two villages where the people are adding value to landcare we could see no reason why these initiatives cant be scaled up and scaled out. There is magic in boldness and bold initiatives need to build on small successes by attracting resources to sustain and expand their modest programs. The next steps will be to keep the existing projects running into subsequent phases while developing participatory planning processes that engage local and regional networks in articulating their visions for how to build out from their pockets of success.
It is clear to me from this trip that Australia’s modest investment in international landcare diplomacy and ACIAR sustainable farming projects are contributing to catalysing major changes in the landscapes and livelihoods in eastern Uganda (and beyond). Despite these successes in isolated pockets abroad, and the immense potential, it is starkly apparent that Australia has not yet delivered a coherent program of international landcare support. However the arguments are mounting for scaling out landcare innovations, with the growing pressure for effective ways of meeting sustainable development goals - addressing food and water security, whilst also achieving landscape conservation and climate resilience. The Uganda experience demonstrates that with further relatively modest investments Australia could further contribute to meeting these challenges, using proven models that are based on local empowerment.
APPENDIX 1 - UGANDA LANDCARE FACILITATOR TRAINING ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES OF THE LANDCARE TRAINING
- To meet the learning needs of Innovation Platforms in order to have a significant impact upon the development of these programs over the short and long term.
- Provide a platform to facilitate shared learning’s between participants with existing Landcare experience from Kapchorwa to those in Manafwa, so as to build the capacity of Innovation Platform facilitators.
- Build linkages and networks across facilitators and innovation platforms and between Uganda Landcare chapters and Manafwa for ongoing advice and support.
- Develop links with landcare in Kenya and promote the benefit of its associated social capital, in conjunction with sustainable land management and the retention of remnant forests, for optimal agricultural production. Utilise this and an example for the international community.
Three Australians participated in this training: Jason Alexandra; Belinda Brennan of West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority; and David Curry of Otway Agroforestry Network. All are members of Australian Landcare International (ALI), which organised Jason and David’s expenses through Crawford Fund, an Australian institution that supports international agricultural research. Crawford and ALI have been associated with ACIAR's Value Chain Innovation Platforms for Food Security (VIP4FS) project for the past three years.