Climate Change – Uganda

Coffee is Xavier Baluku’s favourite cash crop. And it is not just Baluku’s favourite crop but Uganda’s primary foreign exchange earner. Most of the coffee grown in Uganda’s mountainous Rwenzoris is drunk in Europe and North America. The people on this mountain have special connection to coffee as it is their main source of household income. With proceeds from coffee they are sending their children to school.

However, the warming weather on the Mountains of the Moon due to rising temperatures and receding glaciers on the Rwenzoris is reducing the coffee yields; effectively putting millions of people benefiting from coffee at risk. Farmers like Baluku say the drier and warmer weather conditions have greatly reduced coffee yields when compared to those of 20 years ago. Oxfam GB feels that action should be taken “if we are to ensure that coffee can continue to be produced in the area”.

Forty-four year-old Regina Mbambu, a single mother of 6, farms coffee on an acre of her land, grows spinach, mangoes, avocados, bananas, beans and maize in Kasese. She says last year all her crops died out and most of the coffee trees dried up due to severe drought.

 When it started raining in July this year Mbambu was supposed to celebrate but that was not the case. “The rains came heavily. The amount of rains that we receive in a two months poured in one week. They swept away my entire maize and beans garden. The erratic rains let me down because I had spent my energy, money investing in farming but I now expect no harvest. Mangoes are rotting on the trees and coffee trees are no longer yielding as before. In a good season I would get 6 bags of coffee (276kg) but this season I am harvesting 2 bags (96kg). This is unfair,” says Mbambu. She says the variation in weather and climate has negatively affected her income flows. “My son who is supposed to be starting university education will have to wait for a good season.” But she is unsure when the good season will come.

It’s clear that coffee farmers are finding it harder to grow the same amount of coffee and to sustain the quality of the beans as a result of the warmer weather. In 2008/9 the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) reports that 2.07 million of 60kilo bags of coffee were exported, the exports reduced to 1.78 million bags in 2009/10 and 1.75 million bags in 2010/11. UCDA says the high prices at market helped keep the farmers’ income afloat. Coffee is Uganda’s primary cash crop export and action needs to be taken on threats induced by variations in climate experienced in coffee growing areas if the country is to ensure that coffee can continues its lead as a chief cash crop. Farmers are also worried of the variations in the rainfall patterns given that 80% of Ugandans depend on rain-fed subsistence agriculture.

Previously farmers intuitively cleared the fields and planted crops basing on a seasonal cycle where rains were until recently fairly defined. The farmers worked on an imaginary timetable tin which March to early June was a wet season. June and July – dry season; August to mid December – wet season; December to February – dry season. The farmers plant their crops during the wet season, tend to the fields and harvest during the dry season.

 In recent years, however, the seasons have become less predictable, “with false starts to the rainy seasons and rains happening when the farmers are expecting dry periods”. This has left farmers uncertain when to or not to plant crops because when the rains come they are much heavier and more destructive. And farmers have very little or no mitigation and adaptation measures.

The metrological department that would be giving early warning information to farmers is not making easier for them. The department is handicapped. Consistent meteorological records in Uganda are scarce. Those who would wish to study climate trends in Uganda are limited by absence of long-term meteorological data. The available meteorological data is unreliable due poorly equipped facilities, lack of investment in infrastructure and personnel from a fragile network of 15 weather stations. Gulu weather station is not working; Bundibugyo has none but depends on a weather station in Kasese to determine its weather. So the metrological department which is supposed to be guiding farmers on weather or climatic trends is letting them down.

Uganda’s Minister for Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba says the impact of climate change is manifesting in the prolonged drought periods in parts of the country and intensity in floods in areas that never used to experience flooding. “These climatic changes are mainly caused by the industrialized nations whose carbon emissions are very destructive to the atmosphere. They need to take responsibility and pay the suffering poor countries,” Mutagamba said. The minister’s remarks come days before the UN climate talks under the COP17 in Durban, South Africa. She said Africa deserves climate justice, and support from industrial nations as compensation for global warming.

The Durban COP17 can make world leaders commit to reducing carbon emissions and increase funding to poor countries that are bearing the brunt of climatic variations for which they have little contribution. If this is done, farmers like Baluku and Mbambu can regain the fading smile in their household income resulting from coffee.

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