In Summary

The issue: Wetlands degradation
Our view: Still, it will be difficult for government to end encroachment on wetlands unless it first establishes why, especially farmers, continue to degrade wetlands today than ever before.

It appears the government has more work to do to convince citizens about the need to conserve wetlands in particular and the environment in general. Consider the story, ‘Encroachers defy government on Tororo wetlands order’ (Daily Monitor, Wednesday, July 3).

Wetland encroachers in the district have reportedly vowed not to vacate unless government gives them alternative sources of income and food. This follows a two-month ultimatum ending on September 30 the district authorities gave the residents to vacate wetlands or face eviction.

Farmers, however, say they are confused that while on one hand, the district authorities want to evict them from wetlands, on the other hand, the same government just recently supplied them with rice haulers and seeds to grow rice.

The residents construe this as an endorsement by government that they should continue to grow rice, which they can only do in wetlands. Otherwise, what are they expected to do with the seeds and equipment that was distributed to them?

Besides, the government seems to have an uphill task convincing the residents that the call on them to vacate is all about conserving wetlands. How will the authorities assure the residents that the directive is not government’s plan to grab their land? The residents are suspicious that like it has happened in other parts of the country, the district authorities may be eyeing their wetlands not for conservation, but for handing them to developers.

Most importantly, while in the past cotton constituted the main cash crop in eastern Uganda, Tororo inclusive, residents today live off growing rice in wetlands. Therefore, directing them to vacate wetlands is like telling them to stop growing rice, yet the crop is where they derive both income and food. Without growing cotton and rice and no clear alternative to earn a living, how else will residents live a hopeful life?

It is not enough for the authorities to say the continued use of wetlands in the district is likely to spark a conflict between crop growers and livestock farmers because the latter will have no access to grazing fields. Big question is, where is the win-win solution the authorities are offering?

Still, it will be difficult for government to end encroachment on wetlands unless it first establishes why, especially farmers, continue to degrade wetlands today than before. This is important because it will enable the authorities to look backwards, analyse the current state of wetlands, and plan for effective future conservation of wetlands.

Mere issuance of “vacate wetlands” directive to farmers without first addressing the push factors of encroachment, will always face resistance.