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Coffee, bananas and malaria: Uganda’s farmers battle to survive in the face of climate change

A woman shops at a grocery store in Hoima town, Uganda, 27 April, 2015.
A woman shops at a grocery store in Hoima town, Uganda, 27 April, 2015. Copyright REUTERS/James Akena
Copyright REUTERS/James Akena
By Raziah Athman
Published on
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There are few parts of life in Uganda that have not been affected by rising temperatures.

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As I embarked on my journey to Nakapiripirit recently, a scorching hot town in the northeastern part of Uganda, I was ill-prepared for the relentless heat that awaited me.

The people of Karamoja, who call this region home, have long adapted to the extreme weather conditions by donning loose and light traditional attire, seeking relief from the oppressive heat.

Karamoja is in the northeastern part of the country, not far from the country’s hottest town, Kitgum, which has registered temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius.

Unpredictable weather coupled with cattle theft

Karamoja is a land of contrasts. Many people here still live the pastoralist lifestyle, a type of livestock farming that can involve lots of moving around. They have to battle with cattle rustling, or stealing, poverty and the unforgiving weather.

Despite the challenges, the pastoralist way of life persisted until recently when the tides of development began to pave the way for change.

As cattle theft escalates, communities are becoming more vulnerable to not only local rustlers but also those from neighbouring countries. Both are driven by the pressures of climate change.

Insecurity and inequalities have grown as the pastoralist lifestyle collapses, and the arid region is facing the brunt of unpredictable weather patterns. The once reliable rains have turned erratic, leading to crop failures due to the sandy soil's inability to absorb water effectively.

Owing to climate change, Karamoja is experiencing more dry days than expected, leaving the population largely insecure and facing the consequences of prolonged extreme weather events, such as El Niño.

Coffee farmers have to move to higher ground

Another significant impact of climate change is on coffee cultivation, a vital cash crop for Uganda's economy. Arabica coffee, which thrives in mountainous areas, faces challenges as lower altitudes warm up rapidly. This is forcing the farmers to seek higher ground, where the upper parts of mountains, protected by the government, provide some respite.

Another significant pattern due to extreme weather is the shift of bananas, a staple that was largely grown in the central region of western Uganda. Farmers must adapt their cultivation practices to survive.

Hotter temperatures lead to more malaria

I also often travel through Kigezi and Rwenzori regions. Environmental degradation and changing weather patterns are causing unexpected consequences here, too.

Hotter temperatures favour mosquitoes, leading to an alarming rise in malaria cases in areas like Kabale, which once enjoyed relative immunity due to its cold weather. With more regions being exposed to malaria, it underscores the urgency for communities to access adequate healthcare and respond to the pressures of climate change.

Low-lying areas face increased challenges from extreme weather events, yet only a privileged few can afford to live in safer, greener locations. Settlement planning becomes crucial to protect vulnerable populations and alleviate the burden of climate-induced hardships, especially considering that 60% of the population resides in slums.

Strong policies are key to fighting climate change

To address the implications of climate change, our government here in Uganda must implement strong policies aimed at sustainable development and conservation of natural resources.

As global temperatures rise, protecting the lungs of the earth becomes paramount.

The protection of the green belt across the Global South can play a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

International efforts such as carbon trading can support preservation of ecosystems. That that will only be successful if it is fair. Entities must pay the true worth of conservation efforts, to prevent communities from opting out and bearing the brunt of climate change caused by emissions primarily driven from the North.

My journey to Nakapiripirit has reminded me that we must act swiftly to tackle the challenges posed by extreme weather. The future of not only Karamoja but also the entire country depends on proactive measures, sustainable practices, and global cooperation to safeguard our environment, livelihoods, and well-being from the ever-changing climate. Only then can we pave the way for a more resilient and prosperous future for all.

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