Uganda being destroyed by unsustainable policies

the start of the 20th century,
Uganda boasted of fertile soils, abundant water bodies,
mighty rivers and regular, adequate rainfall, mild climate, and abundant fauna
and flora. The abundance of these natural resources and indigenous skilled
labor enabled the production of a wide range of agricultural and manufactured
products that satisfied food requirements and other basic needs with surplus
for exchange in the neighboring countries of
Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. This natural abundance was confirmed by European
travelers, missionaries and explorers.

came colonial policies based on comparative advantage which required
Uganda to specialize in the production of coffee, cotton,
tea and tobacco for populations and industries in
Britain in exchange for manufactured products. The first to
disappear were the indigenous industries – iron implements, cloth from bark,
hides and skins, wooden products, clay pots and dishes, baskets and mats and
the related indigenous human skills.

new agricultural production methods had two major adverse effects. The growing
of export crops resulted in large areas being cleared of vegetation except the
wetlands and areas on steep slopes which were prohibited by law. This massive
de-vegetation adversely affected thermal and hydrological regimes. The growing
of export crops replaced food crops from fertile and well watered soils which
shifted to marginal lands where productivity was very low. Subsequently, the
nutritious crops of millet and sorghum were replaced by less nutritious crops
such as cassava which grows well in poor and dry soils. This shift set in
motion a process of poor feeding that resulted in high levels of
under-nutrition in the late 1930s. Worried
about this negative development, colonial authorities launched a massive
campaign to restore food security. The fisheries including fish farming in
ponds were developed to provide an affordable source of protein to low income
families. Nutrition clinics including Mwanamugimu at
Mulago Hospital in Kampala were established throughout the country to treat
under-nutrition cases and train women in preparing balanced and safe diets.
Home economics was also introduced in schools to train the young on food and
nutrition matters.

economic terms apart from the expulsion of Asians, Amin’s regime was marked by
the economic war with instructions that all land must be brought under
cultivation to boost the economy. The colonial conservation measures such as
those related to wetlands/swamps and fragile ecological zones were ignored with
serious environmental consequences. In Kabale district a twelve mile wetland
was drained to graze exotic cows. This resulted in climate change from a cool
and foggy weather to a warm one that created ideal conditions for mosquitoes
whose attack especially on children without immunity has been described as an
emergency. The inhabitants also lost access to materials for handicrafts, wood
fuel and thatch which undermined their welfare in contrast to the original
intention of economic growth with equity. Inequality and impoverishment were clear
manifestations as the few owners of exotic herds became rich while the unlucky
ones were weakened by malaria, lack of income and inadequate food intake. Other
areas such as in Rukungiri and Bushenyi districts experienced similar adverse

1986 the National Resistance Movement (NRM) formed a government with an agenda
to reverse economic, social and environmental distortions that characterized
the once ‘Pearl of Africa’. It adopted a
Ten-Point Program which was subsequently expanded to fifteen points. Point
number 15 on environmental protection and management stressed the importance of
environmental management for sustainable development. To this end the
government established for the first time a full fledged Ministry of
Environmental Protection followed by the enactment of an Environmental Law.

the government’s commitment to environmental protection and management remains
unshaken, actions on the ground do not support such commitment.

the 1990s, in response to the requirements of the Washington Consensus or
structural adjustment, the government has emphasized the diversification of the
export sector based on its agricultural, fishery and forestry comparative
advantage. The increased production of traditional commodities of coffee,
cotton, tea and tobacco, the expansion of non-traditional exports of crops that
were traditionally grown for domestic consumption such as beans, sesame and
maize and the introduction of non-traditional crops such as cut flowers have
resulted in more land being brought under cultivation losing the vegetative
cover in the process. The extensive rather than intensive methods of farming
have made matters worse. The increased exports of timber and fish have resulted
in massive exploitation of the two resources to the extent that if quick
corrective measures are not taken the two resources could become extinct in the
not too distant future. The rising prices of electricity and kerosene have
forced many households in rural and urban areas to resort to charcoal and wood
fuel with serious environmental consequences.

adverse outcomes can be felt in the changing climate. The temperatures have
become hotter and the duration of the dry season longer. The rainfall has
become variable and unpredictable in amount, duration and timing. These thermal
and hydrological changes have affected agricultural seasons that in some areas where
two growing seasons were guaranteed with good harvests, this is no longer the
case. The water tables are dropping very fast and the once mighty rivers such
as Kiborogota that marked the boundary between Ntungamo and Rukungiri in south
Uganda is no more. The boundary is now a dry river bed.
Spring wells are disappearing causing women to travel longer distances to
collect water and lakes are shrinking. The increasing scarcity of water has led
to an increase in conflict among herders, cultivators and game park warders. The
environmental changes have also resulted in increased drought and increasingly
flood periods both of which undermine economic growth. A glimpse at budget
speeches gives the frequency of droughts and magnitude on agricultural growth
and overall economic performance.

a rush to meet the water Millennium Development Goal by 2015, the authorities
embarked on diverting river water to urban areas by gravity technique. This has
resulted in two unanticipated developments. Downstream communities have lost
water supply either completely or seasonally with serious negative consequences
on economic and other sectors where water is essential. Some farmers are
abandoning their agricultural and herding activities or cultivating the land
seasonally with all the implications such as in lost production. The water
table in the upstream areas has dropped causing spring wells and vegetation
with short roots to disappear during the dry season.

area that calls for careful study is the encouragement of commercial goat
herding. Goats are known for destroying vegetation especially in fragile
ecosystems. We therefore need to weigh short-term benefits against long-term
losses especially for future generations.

is recommended that the current development arrangement needs to be reviewed to
strike a balance between the needs of present and future generations. The land,
forests and fisheries need to be rehabilitated without further delay. Adopting
policies, establishing institutions and passing enabling legislation while
necessary are not a sufficient condition.
Uganda has enough laudable policies, laws and institutions.
What is required is the will to implement and use them with maximum efficiency
and effectiveness.

Uganda also needs to take bold steps and introduce
non-agricultural activities in the manufacturing and service industries. As
natural resources dwindle against the backdrop of rising population and
declining foreign aid,
Uganda will have to burn the candle at both ends to find
sustainable development alternatives. There is nowhere to hide. The natural
cover is disappearing fast.