Women standing up to save the ecosystems as expansion of extractive industries takes shape in the Albertine Rift

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021 | By

The rapid growth of extractive industry in Uganda’s Albertine graben is at the same time rapidly affecting the ecosystems and communities previously intact. The activities of oil companies have displaced the fertile farmlands and green vegetation making agriculture increasingly unviable to the host communities.

In Hoima’s Buseruka Sub County where oil refinery is set to be constructed, it is visibly seen that the community land, rivers and ecosystems are being despoiled by extractive activities at an alarming rate. The green vegetation and farmlands can never return to their original state as they have been covered up for construction of Kabale International Airport, expansion of roads and oil pipeline development.

But ranged against this is a network of small holder farmers who are raising against the destruction of natural environment. By reducing the amount of fertile land and destroying the ecosystems, they heavily depend on the favorable climate for agriculture, the host communities are already envisaging reduction of capacity for food production and denying them hope of food sovereignty; which they are resisting.

A few kilometers from the oil refinery area, women small holder farmers organized under Tugarre Ebyobuhangwa women’s group literally meaning ‘Lets save the environment’ have been battling with the leaders and oil companies over the massive destruction of indigenous trees as a result of oil activities.

They accuse the government of fronting the needs of oil companies at the expense of community needs.

“In 2017, our group petitioned Hoima district local government over massive destruction of our natural resources due to infrastructural development for the oil industry like roads. We demanded that government should replace the indigenous trees that have been cut down due to oil activities, protect the communities’ land by issuing land titles and also protect the buffer zones of water bodies,” said Annet Kasolo the group chairperson.

Kasolo says the petition has yielded results. “After the petition, the government is now distributing indigenous trees to farmers to promote agro ecology. So far, I have already received over 1000 indigenous tree species from Hoima district local government and SBC Company that is working on the airport. The government has also promised to issue land certificates and people are currently being evicted from the buffer zones near major streams in this area and swamps,” said Kasolo.

The women are working to raise awareness, share knowledge, and directly resist the destruction of the environment to steward the larger ecosystems on which agriculture depends.

In Kigaaga village, which is in the outskirts of the refinery area, women under Kigaaga Oil Refinery Women Development Association (KORECWODA) are engaged in establishment of indigenous tree nurseries to reforest the area currently destructed by oil developments.

Penina Ruhindi, the group chairperson says as she was growing up, she loved the way her area was forested with dense canopy and indigenous trees. However, as mining extractives take shape, the forests are disappearing and this has a great impact on small holder farmers.

“We decided to start establishing tree nursery beds of indigenous and fruit trees and distributing among members. We encourage boundary tree planting to protect our land from grabbers as we increase the forest cover,” she says.

“With the training from National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), the members are engaged in alternative livelihoods such as beekeeping to reduce their dependency on unsustainable forest practices,” Ruhindi adds.

According to the farmers, the continued forest destruction has contributed to change in seasons which is already affecting farmers. Jesca Buteraba, a member of Butimba Sustainability Conservation Association (BUSUCA) says the farmers are already affected by the long dry spells and heavy rain fall which has threatened food security. According to Buteraba indigenous seeds still prove to be resistant to climate change effects and promoting them would promote food security.

Women are generally the primary custodians of seed diversity and wild biodiversity and therefore play a critical role in maintaining the health and resilience of local ecosystems. She says they are using traditional approaches of indigenous seed storage and multiplication to ensure that the seeds are protected.