The Murchison-Semliki Landscape
was originally a forest-savannah mosaic with large forest blocks connected by a network of forest along streams with grassland and woodland in between these forests. Over time as the population grew, more and more corridor forest disappeared to give way for low yielding agricultural fields. WCS wants to avoid complete deforestation
as has already occurred further south along the Albertine Rift.
To avoid complete deforestation, WCS started a REDD+ project - REDD+ stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. REDD+ has a triple bottom line:
1) avoid greenhouse gas emissions
2) alleviate poverty
3) conserve and restore biodiversity. Pursuing these three bottom lines requires creating a win-win situation between rural development and natural resource conservation.
Current rural “development” is resulting in a lose-lose situation, where rural communities will become even more vulnerable to climate change as they already are. By converting forest and wetlands to low yielding agricultural fields, farmers continue to contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions – cutting one tree of 30cm in diameter has the same carbon footprint as 10 return flight between Europe and Uganda.
By removing the buffering forests and wetlands, the region warms up even faster, rains become irregular, planting seasons become difficult to predict, and extreme weather events such as flood storms and droughts increase the risks of harvest failure and natural disasters. This can all be avoided.
Small holder farmers are not aware of climate smart agricultural practices. As a result, they either clear more forest to maintain the same volume of crops and/or plant their crops in wetlands to avoid the risk of harvest failure.
In addition, farmers do not have access to rural financial services and cannot get agricultural loans from the formal financial sector. As a result, they remain subsistence farmers depend on middlemen buying their harvest at lower gate prices.
As the forest decreases in size, wildlife living in these forests such chimpanzees are confronted with food shortages which they overcome by raiding crops. As a result, farmers clear all their forest to get rid of this wildlife.
WCS approaches these farmers offering them a deal. We offer them: 1) training in climate smart agriculture to improve their yields and adapt them to climate change and, 2) rural financial services through access to group capital, i.e. business savings groups. In return we ask them to conserve and/or restore native forest on their land. Through the process of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) WCS introduces the project benefits, informs them on the positive and negative aspects, and where possible improves the project based on their feedback and concerns. Participation is completely voluntary and we have a grievance and redress mechanism in place. FPIC is not a one time off event. Therefore, continue our dialogue with the farmers.
To avoid complete deforestation, WCS aims to climate proof the agricultural sector in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape. This requires intensifying land use in combination with forest and wetland conservation and restoration.
After providing initial consent, WCS organizes farmers into producer groups which double as farmer field schools and business savings groups. Each group consists of maximum 30 members.
All members receive training in climate smart agriculture, i.e. conservation farming. Conservation farming entails minimum tillage through creating planting basins (20cm wide, 35cm long and 15cm deep). Spacing between the basins is 35cm and covered with mulch or with a cover crop. In the basin 3 seeds are planted, two at the edge and one in the middle.
Traditionally, farmers would till the entire field and plant three seeds in one small whole.
All members also receive training in financial management. The business saving group is managed by the members themselves. They pool their savings and loan to each other, determine interest rate and response to defaults. The group has a chairman, treasurer, secretary and woman representative.
Slash-and-burn farming is causing deforestation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide) and humane wildlife conflict;
Wetland encroachment is causing wetland destruction, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions (methane is 30 time stronger than carbon dioxide).
In the district of Hoima, WCS trained 956 small holder farmers in conservation farming and an additional 808 small holder farmers copied conservation farming from their neighbors.
Farmers who have adopted conservation farming were able to almost triple their yields for maize to 2000 kg per acre from 700kg; an increase of 185%. The high quality of the maize also fetched them a higher price, leading to a tenfold increase in income from maize.
WCS helped farmers organize themselves in 61 business savings groups. Women were particularly active. Members pool their savings over one year and pay out dividend at the end of their fiscal year. In total all business savings groups pooled together close to $36,000. This is on average close to $600 per business savings group. On average 10 members per group asked for loan, the average loan was $50.
All most all famers (96%) kept their side of the deal and conserved their forest. Only a few cut a few trees and even a smaller number cleared forest less than one acre.
In addition, households have become food secure and the impact of raiding animals has been reduced as well.