In a recent development, the government is taking steps to restore the Kayepei – Kamolototo wetlands in Butebo District. The project aims to safeguard critical ecosystems and address the negative impacts of wetland degradation.
The restoration efforts have commenced, but they have faced opposition from a portion of the local population who rely on the wetlands for their livelihoods. These farmers primarily use the wetlands for rice cultivation, with over 6,000 individuals participating in farming activities in this region, which spans across Butebo and Pallisa in Bukedi Sub-region.
John Bosco Tekko, a resident of Akisim Village, explained that changing climate conditions have led to soil nutrient depletion in upland areas, resulting in poor crop yields. Consequently, many locals have turned to encroaching upon wetlands for rice farming during extended dry spells.
Tekko voiced concerns, stating, “The eviction will be a significant setback for us, as we have long depended on the wetlands for our livelihoods. We urge the government to provide us with alternative projects.”
The restoration initiative, titled “Building resilient communities, wetland ecosystems, and associated catchments in Uganda,” was launched in Kanyum Sub-county, Butebo District. Several areas, including Kanyum, Butebo rural, Butebo Town Council Petete, Petete Town Council, Kapunyasi, Kanginima, Kaderuna, and Kibale, have been identified as the most affected by wetland degradation.
Annet Naula, another resident, expressed concerns that the restoration could lead to food shortages, particularly affecting household incomes in the district, especially among the youth.
Data from the Ministry of Water and Environment indicates that wetland coverage in the country has decreased from 13 percent to eight percent of the total land surface, contributing to prolonged dry periods in specific regions.
John Okia, the Kanyum Sub-county chairperson, emphasized the government’s commitment to curbing wetland destruction, stating that dialogues with local communities had taken place.
However, Max Ogwapeti, the Akisim Parish chairperson, encouraged those affected to explore alternative projects under programs like PDM and Emyooga to sustain their livelihoods.
Nonetheless, John Kirya, an opinion leader, expressed concerns that the eviction could lead to increased insecurity and school dropouts. He pointed out that rice cultivation was the primary source of income for many in the area.
Lawrence Opolot, a clan leader, supported the restoration exercise, highlighting the deteriorating productivity of the wetlands and diminishing rice yields.
Michael Natulya, the vice-chairperson of Butebo, urged affected communities to support the initiative, citing the connection between wetland destruction and unreliable rainfall patterns.
Mohammed Galya, the district environment officer, stated that the pending eviction followed a series of sensitization meetings by the Ministry of Water and district leaders. He highlighted that the national wetland policy permits only non-destructive human activities, such as fish farming, in wetlands.
Butebo District encompasses 7,096.6 hectares of land, with 80 percent of it covered by degraded wetlands.
Henry Kisubi, the Butebo District Police commander, urged communities to cooperate and vacate the wetlands, warning of potential minimal force usage by the police if necessary.
Lucy Iyango, Assistant Commissioner for Wetlands, clarified that the exercise aimed to protect wetlands and, while the government offered alternative livelihood opportunities, no compensation would be provided.
President Museveni had previously expressed concerns about the destruction of wetlands and forests during his State of the Nation Address on June 6, emphasizing the need to halt these activities to mitigate erratic rainfall.