There were 44 cases involving seizures of pangolin products in a 3-year period, with an increase in pangolin scales trafficking

By Benjamin Jumbe

Uganda is a country greatly endowed with wildlife, flora, and fauna, however, its diversity in wildlife is threatened by both poaching and wildlife trade.

Key among the most targeted species are the pangolins because of their scales.

Pangolins are insect-eating mammals covered in overlapping scales. Their name comes from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for roller.

According to Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring NGO, pangolins have been heavily targeted for poaching and trafficking in Uganda. 

The organization’s data indicates that between 2012 and 2016, over 1,400 pangolins were seized. 

Rebecca Sandoval, a conservationist and the cofounder of the nonprofit organization the Biodiversity Alliance, says indeed pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world and are listed on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

“Sadly it is true; pangolins are still the most trafficked mammals in the world. Lately there have been wildlife seizures in the world and when you compare, there seems to be a shift with more pangolin scales and other pangolin parts than ivory,”

Rebecca Sandoval, cofounder Biodiversity Alliance
C:\Users\ben\Desktop\pangolin project\videos and pix\207CDPFQ\S2070004.JPG
Rebecca Sandoval, the cofounder of Biodiversity Alliance 

In 2019, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) conducted a law enforcement operation targeting a Vietnamese wildlife trafficking network and seized 3.2 tonnes of elephant ivory and 423 kilograms of pangolin scales with an estimated value of USD $2.3 million and $1.2 million, respectively. Customs officials at the Elegu Uganda – South Sudan border crossing discovered and impounded the consignment in three containers concealed in logs of wood and wax in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Asia.

Prosecuted cases involving seizures of pangolin scales increased from 7 cases in FY 2018-2019 to 8 cases in 2019-2020 to 10 cases in 2020-2021, according to Uganda Wildlife Authority prosecution reports tracked on the #WildEye map.

Several reasons have been advanced for the increased interest in trafficking this special unique mammal and its products, including its profitability by the time it gets to the Asian market and the belief that the scales have medicinal powers to heal several diseases.

“If you have lactation problems if you are a woman, it is believed that it helps you. Those dealing in the trafficking of the pangolins believe it has medicinal powers for other types of diseases, and other parts of the pangolin are used for jewelry,” Sandoval said.

According to the #WildEye East Africa data map by InfoNile and Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, two male adults in the names of Bosco Mukasa (34) and Simon Kyakwahuwre were arrested in Kibaale, western Uganda on 6th July 2020 with one live pangolin after a tip-off from local residents that they deal in pangolins.

The duo was charged with unlawful possession of protected species contrary to Section 36 (1) and 71 (1) (b) of the Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019. 

In another case on the 28th of May 2021, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) arrested four people on allegations of wildlife trafficking and poaching with three live pangolins around Kachumbala Sub County in Bukedea district in the east.

Fred Kiiza, the Chief Warden of Mt. Elgon National Park, said the suspects had been arrested around the market in Kachumbala in Bukedea as they took the pangolins to a businessman who was by then yet to be arrested. 

“So far we have arrested four suspects, and three pangolins rescued,” Kiiza said.

“I call on local communities especially in the Teso sub-region to desist from this sale of the pangolins,” he added.

In one of the latest cases in March 2022, police in Amuru District, northern Uganda rescued two pangolins and arrested a dealer who was found in a place called Pabo.

One of the pangolins, however, was injured from being ensnared, and was delivered to the national wildlife hospital and quarantined at Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC), Entebbe, where it has been receiving treatment.

C:\Users\ben\Desktop\pangolin project\videos and pix\wildlife hospital\S2090056.JPG
Dr. Victor Musiime (C), the Zoo veterinary Officer at UWEC, and other staff attending to the injured Pangolin at the wildlife Hospital.

“Upon examination, we found snare wounds on the right hind limb and the snare wounds have been treated,” said Dr. Victor Musiime, the zoo veterinary officer at UWEC. “We can now see a very good prognosis of the case, and very soon after treatment and rehabilitation, we shall consider releasing the pangolin back to the wild,” Dr. Musiime said.

Dr. Mbabazi Racheal, manager of the Animal and Horticulture Department at UWEC, said pangolins are part of the country’s wildlife, and as such must be conserved and protected.

“Every wildlife plays a role in the ecosystem; they are not just there. Pangolins help us eat some insects, control the population, and of course, people come from all over the world to see these animals which fetch money for the country, and so we should preserve wildlife,” Dr. Mbabazi said.

International crime networks threatening the endangered species

Vincent Opyene, the CEO of Natural Resources Conservation Agency, an NGO partnering with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to combat wildlife crime, said the problem of trade in pangolins is increasing worldwide, including in Uganda.

“The problem of illegal trade in pangolins and pangolin scales is increasing every day and if not controlled and managed, can easily lead to the extinction of the specific species that are traded in,” Opyene cautioned.

There are eight species of pangolins in the world, with four found in Asia and four in Africa.

Uganda has three out of the four pangolin species found in Africa, namely Ground Pangolin, Giant Pangolin, and the White Bellied Pangolin, which is also known as the Tree Climbing Pangolin.

C:\Users\ben\Desktop\pangolin project\videos and pix\204CDPFQ\Opyene 1.jpg
CEO Natural Resources Conservation Network(NRCN), Vincent Opyene

Opyene says all these three species have been targeted in Uganda, with dealers and local poachers involved in the business with the hope of making money.

“They are killing this species and taking away the scale in the hope that they are going to get market and will definitely trade and sell it,” Opyene said.

“Every time we arrest poachers who are involved in this they keep telling us it will go for about $150 per kilo, and yet I haven’t come across anyone willing to buy pangolin scales at that amount; it is just a myth they keep believing that that market is there,” he added.

Currently across the world, there is no legal market for internationally traded pangolin scales and meat because of an existing ban on any commercial trade in the same.

Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa for the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (CoP17) in 2016 voted to ban the international commercial trade of all eight species of pangolin.

This saw all eight species of pangolin listed under CITES Appendix I, which represents the highest level of protection available under international law. 

In December 2021, the NRCN together with UWA conducted an operation in which 900 kilograms of pangolin scales, 200 kilograms of ivory, and other species items were recovered in a facility in Nakirama Village in Nsangi, Wakiso district.

Two suspects were arrested and taken to the Central Police Station including Gasama Sikhou,, a 59 -year-old Senegalese national, and his accomplice, Suleiman Katende, a guard.

“The state attorney has given us directives on what to do for the file to be sanctioned, so we are filling in the gaps to take back the file for sanctioning,” Opyene added.

Since 2013, the Natural Resources Conservation Network has assisted in prosecuting more than 5,000 criminals, and their investigations have led to the arrest of more than 8,000 criminals.

The findings and conclusions from the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC)’s Intelligence Development Unit point to organised crime networks operating on an industrial scale that are putting an entire species at risk.

According to the commission, between 2016 and 2019, an estimated 206.4 tonnes of pangolin scales were intercepted and confiscated globally from 52 seizures. 

The WJC believes this is only a fraction of the total being trafficked, as it is likely that a significant proportion of smuggling is not detected.

The organisation’s analysis of the seizure data over the four-year period further shows an increase in trafficking at unprecedented levels with nearly two-thirds of the tonnage seized – 132.1 tonnes – detected between 2018 and 2019. 

It further noted that in 2019, the average weight of a single pangolin scale shipment was 6.2 tonnes, compared with 2.2 tonnes three years earlier.

Poaching of pangolins is mostly taking place in areas around protected areas like Murchison Falls National Park.

Former poachers provide caution

In Nwoya district, which borders Murchison Falls National Park, the Daily Monitor and InfoNile engaged two former poachers to establish what prompted them into the business.

Tales of a Former Poacher; Fighting the illegal trafficking of Pangolins in Uganda

One who preferred anonymity for his personal protection said he started poaching in 2009 because he was looking for school fees.

“During all those years I have been in poaching, I was arrested about 5 times where I was taken to even Masindi; I was convicted for three months in Isima prison, others in Gulu, Logore prison,” he said.

He said by the time he went back home in 2019 after serving his last sentence, he decided to stop poaching, looking at all the money he had lost in securing his freedom.

“I stopped poaching in 2019 because I had lost a lot of land because whenever I was arrested, they would sell a piece of land to get me out, and secondly, some people were even killed,”

Former poacher

He also said they never got to meet the people who come from abroad to buy the pangolin but would always deal with their collaborators on the ground who would instruct them on what to get.

He says he trapped around five pangolins but did not gain from them as he expected. Instead, he almost lost his life due to the risks, and that is why he decided to eventually quit the trade and now is calling on his colleagues still in the business to drop it for their own safety and the good of the wildlife.

Another ex-poacher, 57-year-old Charles Oryem, a resident of Olwiyo trading centre in Patira east village, Parungo sub-county, who started poaching in 2012, said he also had to abandon the practice in 2016 after several arrests and loss of money.

C:\Users\ben\Desktop\pangolin project\videos and pix\205CDPFQ\Oryem.jpg
Charles Oryem, a former poacher in Nwoya district

Oryem’s turning point was when he was shot by UWA rangers when he was found in the park in 2016 and was severely injured.

He said he was only helped by an NGO that was supporting Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war victims after he registered as one of them.

“They spent 25 million shillings on my treatment,” he said.

Oryem calls on the Uganda Wildlife Authority to target groups in communities around the park and reformed poachers to get a better way of survival.

“This will help save many animals from dying,” he said.

Like it is said that one has to set a thief to catch a thief, he says Uganda Wildlife Authority needs to engage the ex-poachers to help in ending the vice by reaching out to their former colleagues still in the business.

“Uganda Wildlife Authority should come on the ground and talk to us former poachers and we give them advice on what to do to stop poaching,”

Charles Oryem, a former poacher in Nwoya district

“Even if UWA comes to a community and talks to us the hunters, we cannot listen; however a hunter talking to another will be in a better position to convince others to stop hunting,” he said.

Oryem says it is critical that UWA gets the message from the hunters themselves because when some leaders attempt to talk to them, they have no moral authority and integrity because some of them are involved in eating game meat.

“For example when I was arrested, the meat they got us with; it was the LC3 who took it. Now if the leaders are also involved in getting the game meat, then later come to talk to us to stop poaching, we don’t now consider them as trustworthy people, but will believe our own colleagues that they are telling the truth; that is the way we will stop poaching,” he advised.

Legal interventions increasing, though corruption still a challenge

Rebecca Sandoval, the pangolin conservation project lead, said there is still a need to sensitize the public about the new wildlife law in place, arguing that many do not seem to appreciate the importance of conserving wildlife and the heavy penalties in the law. The highest penalty in the new wildlife act 2019 is a maximum fine of Shs20 billion or life imprisonment, or both for an offense related to a wildlife species classified as extinct in the wild, critically endangered.

“I think we need more education; more awareness of how these animals benefit communities, tourism, conservation, and I think we need more awareness on the wildlife law. People need to understand that there is a wildlife law and huge consequences if you are caught,” Sandoval said.

She added that illegal wildlife trade being transnational, there is a need to do more to disrupt the trafficking network.

“We need a network to fight the criminal network. More collaboration and sharing information with the public is needed on the importance of pangolins and the need to protect them,” she said.

However, the penalties in the prosecution cases involving pangolins by the Uganda Wildlife Authority from the fiscal year 2018/2019 to 2020/2021 are generally much more lenient. 

Penalties in the 44 cases involving pangolins generally ranged from fines between 200,000 UGX to 3,000,000 UGX (USD $56-$838), and between 3 to 24 months in jail. There were just two cases involving jail time longer than one year, one of these mandating imprisonment only if the convicted could not pay the fine.

For example, in a case involving one pangolin carcass in FY 2019/2020 was sentenced to a fine of just 300,000 UGX (USD $84). Another case involving one live pangolin in FY 2020/2021 was sentenced to a fine of 1,000,000 UGX (USD $279). A case in the same year involving 3.62 kilograms of pangolin scales was fined 2,000,000 UGX ($559). Another case involving one live pangolin was sentenced to just 3 months in prison.

This data has been tracked and published on the #WildEye East Africa map by InfoNile and Oxpeckers.

Asked about this state of affairs, the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s director of Conservation, John Makombo said the Judiciary is an independent institution that can “make decisions based on what they think but also guided by the law.”

He however says as one of the strategies to improve this, the authority is doing a lot of sensitization of the Judiciary.

“In fact, that is one of the strategies we are using to ensure that criminals get the right sentence for crimes they commit,” Makombo said.

The illegal trade in wildlife and trafficking of animals is often made possible by the failure of some individuals within law enforcement circles to operate professionally. One of these key challenges is corruption.

Meanwhile, Opyene from the Natural Resources Conservation Network (NRCN) said corruption can manifest at any stage, in the investigations, police, judiciary, or at the directorate of public prosecution, and as such it has to be investigated, detected, and stopped before it happens.

“One thing we have noticed is that the issue why investigations have failed is because of corruption. When people who are supposed to be supporting turn around and start working for the traffickers, the wrong guys, then investigations cannot succeed,” he said.

Opyene from the Natural Resources Conservation Network (NRCN) .

He adds that they have informants who help them to identify corruption and failings within enforcement agencies and ensure that these are reported and justice is carried out. 

To improve prosecution, Opyene said they have engaged the prosecutors and discussed how best to improve. “The only way to do it effectively is to have a prosecution-led investigation whereby the prosecution is brought on board from the start of the investigations so that when concluded, the suspect is produced before a court,” he said. 

This is to prevent the issue of suspects getting off the hook due to lack of evidence, as the prosecution asks for more time to investigate the case. 

George Owoyesigire, the acting director for wildlife conservation in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, said the ministry is concerned about poaching in general and specifically the illegal harvesting of pangolin.

“We saw some considerable poaching around 2015 when we confiscated about 2,000 kilograms of pangolin scales. But because of concerted efforts put in place to address the issue, poaching has since been scaled down,” Owoyesigire said.

He says some of the cases of seizures and confiscations today reflect the level of effort the government of Uganda has put in place to fight the vice and not an increase in poaching per se.

“We have deployed different mechanisms and interventions to capture and arrest these criminals, so you will see an increase in confiscations of ivory, pangolin scales, and hippo teeth, but this is as a result of intense surveillance, law enforcement, and intelligence as well,” he added.

C:\Users\ben\Desktop\pangolin project\videos and pix\206CDPFQ\Mr O.G.jpg
Mr. George Owoyesigire, Ag Commissioner of Wildlife Conservation in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities

Owoyesigire said that while initially there were challenges in handling the wildlife cases, the establishment of the Utilities, Standard, and Wildlife Court in May 2017 has helped bring to the fore the profile of wildlife crimes, which has also seen increased prosecution and successful handling of these cases.

Owoyesigire says at continental, regional, and national levels there are strategies for combating illegal wildlife trade, expressing optimism that with increased collaboration among partner states, this practice will be effectively eliminated.

“Provisions under this treaty compel us as member states to work together to conserve natural resources and also fight illegal wildlife and cross border trade. So, we have several mechanisms to make sure we curtail this growing threat,” Owoyesigire added.

Under Article 116 of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community in 1999, the Partner States undertook to develop a collective and coordinated policy for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wildlife and other tourist sites.

It states that in particular, the Partner States ;

(a) harmonise their policies for the conservation of wildlife, within and outside protected areas;
(b) exchange information and adopt common policies on wildlife management and development;
(c) co-ordinate efforts in controlling and monitoring encroachment and
poaching activities;
d) encourage the joint use of training and research facilities and develop
common management plans for trans-border protected areas; and
(e) take measures to ratify or accede to, and, implement relevant international conventions

In March, state prosecutors from 11 countries in eastern Africa formally pledged to coordinate efforts to combat cross-border wildlife trafficking and money laundering. 

To further strengthen efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has kickstarted the development of a curriculum for wildlife crime, intelligence, investigations and law enforcement.  

The curriculum will help UWA have its own standard to train its force right from the initial stages of entry into the organisation. The other training component being considered is the professional angle, which will look at how an ordinary ranger becomes an intelligence and investigations staff/officer.

UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha expressed optimism that in years to come, the Authority will have the best workforce in wildlife protection and fighting wildlife crime in the region. 

“This process will result in us having a highly skilled workforce in the East African region, which will help the country fight wildlife crime. Once we have a highly skilled force, criminals will hate their trade and wildlife numbers will increase,” said Mr. Mwandha.

According to the Investigations Manager – UWA Major Joshua Karamagi, this is the start of a long journey of ensuring that adequate capacity is built for the intelligence, investigations and law enforcement cadres in the institution. 

“We are moving towards ensuring that we have a professional force capable of handling wildlife crime intelligence gathering to persecution; this will enhance our fight against wildlife crime,” he said.

This was during a training exercise in March that drew participants from Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda People’s Defense Force, and Uganda Police. Others were local and international facilitators from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Support for development and production of this story came from InfoNile, in partnership with Oxpeckers, with funding from the Earth Journalism Network. Additional reporting and editing by Ruth Mwizeere and Annika McGinnis at InfoNile. Data visualizations by Ruth Mwizeere.

By: Hannington Tumuhimnise Katehangwa and Annitah Matsika

In Kyarugaju cell, Rwamurunga parish, Kabingo subcounty in Isingiro district at the farm of Francis Mbagaya, a renowned cattle farmer in the area, construction of a new dam is ongoing after a test on the wrath of water scarcity in the area.

Isingiro district is a water-stressed area and cattle farmers have been the worst affected over the years. 

Located in south western Uganda, Isingiro has two main water bodies; Lake Nakivale and river Kagera also known as Alexandra Nile which originates from Lake Rweru in Rwanda.

In a bid to mitigate water scarcity challenges in the area, the majority of cattle keepers are now tirelessly expanding their small water dams while others are constructing fresh ones.

Mbagaya, initially had a dam that sits on one acre of land, he explains that it is not enough, a reason why he is constructing a bigger one worth two and a half hectares of land.

“Once I finish constructing this new dam,  plus the other old one, my cows will have enough water” he explains.

Mbagaya explains how water scarcity has affected his current dam.

Much as the district has two main water bodies, cattle keepers and other people in the district still have a predicament water scarcity especially those who are far away from lake Nakivale and Kagera river respectively.

Some cattle farmers used to graze across the border in Tanzania.  After the outbreak of coronavirus, Uganda in March 2020 instituted a raft of measures that included total lockdown, closure of all borders and a ban on cross border movements. This exacerbated the suffering of hundreds of cattle farmers who relied on Tanzania territory for pasture and water.

Mbagaya’s new dam under construction to join the older one

According to Mbagaya, little has been done to extend piped water to people in the area. “Though we have river Kagera and Lake Nakivale, our leaders are reluctant to help us bring water closer to us to help us and save our animals from dying,” he laments.

Mbagaya inspecting his cows on the farm

 The Government of Uganda has already borrowed funds from the Agency Francise (AFD) to establish the Isingiro District Water Supply and Sanitation Project. This aims to improve water supply and sanitation services in the district. This is now raising hopes among the cattle keepers in the area

Cows drinking from Kagera River (Uganda side)

According to the area Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Herbert Muhangi, the project will benefit close to half a million people (132,000 refugees and 208,000 non-refugee inhabitants).The water will be extracted from the Kagera River that forms the southern border of Isingiro District and simultaneously the international border between Uganda and neighboring Tanzania. The raw water will be pumped to a location where a new water purification plant will be constructed.

RDC Muhangi is optimistic that the Kagera River water extraction project will contribute to addressing water scarcity challenge that has been affecting masses in the district especially the cattle keepers who have been walking long distances to Tanzania to get water for their animals.

Isingiro district has 190,000 cows and 255,000 goats, according to the data from Isingiro veterinary office. 

Apparently, herdsmen are relying on three government dams and a few individual dams which are not enough to cater for the number of animals in the district.

Kagango earth dam found in Kashumba Sub County in Isingiro district that was constructed by the ministry of water and environment

Much as these dams are in place, they benefit from a few individuals especially those in the proximity, leaving others stranded with no water for animals

Once Kagera river project is completed, the water collected will be able to serve for sixty years in covered areas.

Over 90 Million Euros will be spent on the project.  

Reuben Arineitwe Kaneete is also a cattle keeper in Kakamba village in Nyakago Sub County. This is one of the sub counties at the border with Tanzania.

Cattle keepers in Kakamba Sub County have been benefiting from cross border pastoralism. 

Kaneete pouring water in a water trough from his seasonal dam

Since the Covid-19 lockdown when cattle keepers were barred from crossing to Tanzania, Kaneete has so far lost eight cows on top of selling ten due to lack of water.

According to Kaneete, the boarders were closed abruptly without prior warning to enable cattle keepers at the boarder think through how they will take care of their animals. “This was a challenging development to the majority in the area,” he explains.

Some of Kaneete’s cows in a drying farm

Kakamba, Masha, Bukanga, Endinzi and Kamwema are the most water-stressed sub counties in the district. These have traditionally been hit by drought in Isingiro district, Dr. Bruhan Kasozi, the Isingiro veterinary officer, says the scarcity of water in the area and the closure of boarders greatly affected herdsmen in the district. He notes that some farmers registered losses on their farms due to either complete lack of water for cows to drink or animals drinking dirty water.

Cattle keeping and other agricultural ventures in the district are in peril because Isingiro district has not received substantial rain fall in years and thisis threatening livelihoods..

Dr. Kasozi is optimistic that once government successfully draws water from Kagera river, cattle keepers will have a reason to smile

Isingiro DVO Bruhan Kasozi in his office explaining how cattle keepers have been affected

Between 2016 and 2020 before covid19 struck the country, between 4,500 and 5500 cattle had been relocated to neighboring Tanzania in search of pasture and water. This is now history because this grazing practice is no more and the majority have registered losses since it was stopped by Tanzanian authorities especially after the outbreak of covid -19,

explains Kasozi.

The Isingiro district Chairman Aaron Turahi explains that “It’s difficult for the cattle farmers to sustain their animals without cross border pastoralism that has been a practice for generations.”

However, Turahi notes that the closure of boarders is temporary and after the Covid-19 pandemic, , cattle farmers will return to their normal ways of grazing.

In 2016, Isingiro district suffered the worst of the dry spell in decades. Water in eight government dams was consumed and dams dried up, according to a story by one of the online news outlets – Chimp Reports.

The drought that lasted for a month left nine people dead as well as over 250 cows, before many non-government organizations and individuals intervened to offer food relief and other items to help people.

Following this calamity, a cross section of Isingiro residents relocated to other neighboring district for safety.

This story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme.

InfoNile journalists bring award-winning photos back to their subjects, sparking an engagement on how climate change is impacting lakeside communities

23rd March 2021
Ripon Landing Site, Jinja, Eastern Uganda

“Chairman Musa! Agnes the Nurse! Hassan the cook!” Smiling children chant the names of the subjects of photographs as the InfoNile team and community members of Ripon Landing Site set up in preparation for the first-ever community photo exhibition on the site.

Ripon is the closest landing site to the actual source of the Nile River within Lake Victoria, Uganda. Floating in the water, apart from plastic waste and the invasive weed, water hyacinth, are fishing boats loaded with some nets parked after a night of fishing. Egrets swoop in and wade on the shores, as black and white kingfishers can be seen in the distance.

Ripon Landing Site. Image by Miriam Watsemba

Three years ago, land covered all the area where the boats dock now and the birds perch. However, due to the rising levels of Lake Victoria waters, the landing site has gotten smaller, forcing the fishing community further back on the land. Before the water rose in 2020, the landing site was 100 meters from the lakeshore. The water has since covered more than 50 meters of that land.

#EverydayNile

In 2021, InfoNile with funding from IHE Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme supported 10 journalists from nine countries to document everyday water stories around the Nile River and its tributaries. Published under the hashtag #EverydayNile,  the photojournalism outreach project is meant to capture everyday life in the Nile Basin countries and aims at promoting cooperation and understanding of the water issues around the Nile River as a shared natural resource. 

Amongst the photographers was Ugandan photojournalist Miriam Watsemba. Miriam documented the impacts of the rising water levels at Ripon landing site and how the community was adapting to the adverse effects including floods. As she produced her story, she went through a 6-month photojournalism training and mentorship program with InfoNile.
“When I first came to Ripon to document this story, before I even took out my camera, I was keen to seek the people’s truths and experiences,” noted Miriam on our way to conduct the first pre-visit before the exhibition. “Nurse Miriam, Chairman Musa and the rest of the community welcomed me into their homes and lives, in a way that enabled me to tell their story.”

About Sinking Land

Through four visits to the landing site, Miriam produced Sinking Land, a photo story that captured the collision between man and water as Lake Victoria flooded to overtake the site. The gallery and data-driven multimedia story captured everyday life in Ripon including families, homes, and businesses. It portrayed the devastation of some members of the community by floods, including Nurse Agnes, whose clinic was swept away, Chairman Musa, who had to evacuate his house with his family in the middle of the night, and other members of the community who had their economic activities disrupted and worlds turned upside down.

It also captured hope and joy as the community, despite all their challenges, enjoyed music entertainment by a local mobile band. Mataa ga Baana band is a five-member mobile band from Masaka, central Uganda, who move around performing for different communities. 

A Sinking Land photo won first place in the 2021 Uganda Press Photo Association Awards in the Environment Category.

“I was shocked that the community did not even know that the rising water level was due to climate change and they did not even know about climate change,” Miriam said.  

In March 2022, InfoNile was able to support Miriam to take her photos back to the community – with the aim to show the subjects of the photos how the photographer captured their stories for national and international audiences, in light of historical inequities in how photographers have often captured and used the stories of disadvantaged people. The exhibition was also meant to increase trust between the local community and journalists and how they tell their stories.

“My aim for  ‘Sinking land’ was the inclusion of local voices in the conversation on climate change. I am overjoyed to see this vision come to life starting with this community exhibition “

On that first pre-visit, Miriam introduced the InfoNile team to the chairman of the landing site, Musa Daku, and his colleague Abdul Shortie, the tourism sector chairman, who were both very instrumental in helping us organize the community exhibition.

They both showed us around the site and pointed out possible locations where we could exhibit the photos. We decided to use the community’s social meeting place, an open plan shed with wooden benches opposite the water.

During the pre-visit, we also visited Nurse Miriam, who was sitting outside her new clinic with her friend. Upon seeing Miriam, she broke off into a broad smile and asked about her well-being since they last saw each other.


The Exhibition

After concluding on the plans for the exhibition, we printed 19 photographs from Miriam’s gallery and included captions published in both English and Lusoga, the local language of eastern Uganda.

Showcasing the photos to the Community at Ripon Landing site during the community exhibition. Picture by InfoNile

So there we were by the lakeside on 23rd March 2022, surrounded by children, men, and women admiring, laughing, and making jokes about the photographs captured by Miriam, those depicting themselves and their neighbors. Amongst them is Hassan the chef, who traveled 100 kilometers to join in on the exhibition. 

Photo of Hassan taken by Miriam Watsemba in the original Sinking Land gallery

As we set up, excitement spread through the community as more and more people streamed to the exhibition space, with laughter and recognition spreading amongst them.

When all the pictures had been hung up, the Maata ga Baana band was already playing the community’s favorite tunes, as more people gathered and reacted to the photographs.

Mata Ga Baana band poses with photographer Miriam Watsemba holding their printed picture during the community exhibition. Photo by InfoNile

“When I saw the photos, I was in awe to see that Ripon Landing site can be covered like this,” remarked Juma Waiswa, a resident on the site.

“When Miriam came here, people did not welcome her at first. At the time, people were annoyed at the government because their homes had been swept away and so they thought the newspapers had come to capture their misery. The exhibition has been a surprise and it is good you came back. For me I have enjoyed it,” said Abdul Shortie, the tourism sector chairman.

Chairman Musa Daku holding his own photo. Photo by InfoNile

Community Engagement

At the peak of the fun, approximately 100 people had gathered in the shed and were seated outside the shops and houses on the site. The community members witnessed the presentation of framed photos as gifts to photo subjects from Miriam and the InfoNile team.

The community sitting under the shed during the community exhibition in Ripon Landing Site. Photo by InfoNile


Chairman Daku is a soft-spoken yet authoritative man who commands respect and admiration from the other members of the community. During the event, Daku facilitated a dialogue to engage the community on their understanding and responsibility around climate change.

“This was a beautiful place. People loved this place because of its beautiful weather and the conditions of living. But now, since the floods, business is not the same,” resident Juma Waiswa said.

“If the water levels rise again, we will be greatly affected because there will be completely no way to access the boats,” said Ekait Lawrence, tour guide and the secretary for the Ripon Association of tour guides.

“These photos are making me remember where we came from. These photos are making me realize that the weather keeps changing. Around this time last year, we had a lot of flooding and our houses were being submerged. And then like this last year, this year we’re having a lot of heat. There’s so much heat, it’s too hot. The weather keeps changing in ways that we don’t understand,” Daku said.

Nurse Agnes, one of the major subjects of Sinking Land, was away on the day of the exhibition, but Miriam recalled, “the first time I visited Agnes, she was saying, ‘If this water rises, I will go to Asia and move places.’ According to her, she thinks that when she changes geographical location, then she escapes the effects of climate change,” remarked Miriam after the exhibition.

Through the community participation, it was evident that the community was at first skeptical of having the media document their living situations, because of fear of people using their information to exploit or harm them, as well as a disconnect between the perception and reality of climate change.

At the end of the exhibition, it was wonderful to see the subjects engaged in conversations about how they can work together to conserve the environment next to their homes.

Whereas some of them will never recover from the losses they incurred during the floods in Lake Victoria, their engagement during the #EverydayNile community exhibition goes a long way to show their resilience and appreciation for their stories being told and heard by millions of people around the world.

“When [the community members] look through the images and think through them… you can almost experience their mindset change,” Miriam said. “It’s amazing by the time we left the [site], climate change was so normalized. They were now starting to give examples of things that had been going through, but they didn’t know they were climate change before. 

Photojournalist Miriam Watsemba conducts an interview with chairman Musa Daku.

“Knowledge is gained, understanding is gained faster, especially if its visions are very visual and the visuals are really relevant to the local community. You’re not bringing photos of melting glaciers from a foreign country to show them that there’s something called climate change. No, you are showing the fishermen a [flooded] landing site, a photo of a fellow fisherman in a situation that shows climate change. And the caption is written in Lusoga in a language he understands.”

According to Miriam, the biggest tool for journalists to help such communities adapt to climate change is human and solutions-centered storytelling.

The InfoNile team at Ripon Landing Site during the community Exhibition.

“That storytelling becomes the bridge between the people who are interacting with climate change every day and the policymakers, decision-makers, the people who decide how resources are distributed, the people who decide how interventions are made,” she said.

In May, InfoNile will take back the photos from another #EverydayNile story to a community in Rusinga Island, Kenya that is using solar power to catch silverfish.

Click here for more information on #EverydayNile

By Lenah Bosibori

  • The Grevy Zebra exclusively in northern Kenya, remains endangered, according to Grevy’s Zebra Trust
  • Hunting and poaching have drastically reduced their population over the years,
  • 2016 Great Grevy’s census results indicated that Kenya was home to 2,350 Grevy’s zebras, 90% of the world’s population
  • Recent estimates indicate that only 3,042 are alive, representing an 80% decline in their population globally.
  • The drought that started in 2021 has increased poverty, leading to more poaching.
  • Between 2017 and 2022, most suspects involved in wildlife crimes against zebras were arrested with meat. 14 crimes involving zebras were tracked within the time frame.

In February, two Grevy’s zebras – one of Africa’s most endangered large mammals – were killed in Sarima, Nyiro Conservancy bordering Marsabit, and Lake Turkana, triggering panic among conservationists in Northern Kenya.

Joel Oronyo, who works with Grevy’s Zebra Trust Samburu North, recounts the ordeal: “We had reports that poaching had happened at Sarima in Nyiro Conservancy. We responded quickly, but when we reached there we found two zebras injured, one on the legs and another one in the stomach. We couldn’t do much as they were already badly injured,” said Oronyo.

Oronyo immediately called his team from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who responded quickly to try and save the iconic zebras, which later succumbed to the injuries.

Dida Fayo, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) lead in Samburu North, displaying a photo of a Grevy’s zebra that was injured in Sarima Samburu North and later succumbed to its injuries. Photo: Lenah Bosibori

Found almost exclusively in northern Kenya, the Grevy’s zebra remains endangered, according to Grevy’s Zebra Trust. This unique species of zebra is known for its striking, tall appearance, thin stripes and elegant gait.

In the late 1970s, over 15,000 Grevy’s zebras roamed in the wild. Hunting and poaching drastically reduced the population over the years, and the 2016 Great Grevy census results indicated that Kenya was home to 2,350 Grevy zebras, 90% of the world’s population – Conservation Status – Grevy’s Zebra Trust.

Recent estimates indicate that only 3,042 are alive, representing an 80% decline in their population globally. In Kenya, the 2018 estimate was 2,812 Grevy’s zebras (a small increase from 2016) and there are 230 in Ethiopia. 

Grevy’s Zebra Trust website

In February, the rangers were not able to prosecute the poachers because the poachers were many and armed, compared to the number of rangers from KWS and Grevy’s Zebra Trust. 

“When we started searching for the poachers in the bushes, we found them feasting on the meat, meaning they had already killed some. Since we were few we went back and were keen to avoid conflicts,” said Oronyo.

“It was not a good situation at that moment and it was so painful that animals are being killed in these remote areas whereby it is hard to access and monitor every wild animal during this drought moment since they are on the move looking for pasture and water.”

Poverty leads to poaching

Julius Leknit, the deputy director of programs at Grevy’s Zebra Trust, says the drought that started in 2021 has increased poverty, leading to more poaching.

“The local community kills the Grevy’s zebras for survival, especially during this drought period when everyone is looking for critical resources which are pasture and water,” says Leknit.

The effects of the drought force women in Samburu North to stand in the sun waiting for well-wishers to donate food to them. Photo: Lenah Bosibori
Plainland showing the effects of a prolonged drought in Samburu North Nyiro conservation area. Photo: Lenah Bosibori

Leknit says Grevy’s Zebra Trust has partnered with local communities in northern Kenya to conserve Grevy’s zebras in order to boost their numbers.

Grevy’s Zebra Trust employs 29 Grevy’s Zebra Scouts from seven different communities to monitor the zebras and foster positive attitudes towards species.

They also employ a team of 10 Grevy’s Zebra warriors from the local community who monitor approximately 200 Grevy’s to raise awareness and provide protection to the species.

Their outreach to communities has created a large network of local support to disseminate conservation messaging and promote conservation action.

The issue of human-wildlife conflict has been rampant in northern Kenya, taking a toll on Grevy’s zebras, which are ranked among the most endangered species globally.

Grevy’s Zebra Trust.

The Grevy’s zebra is one of Africa’s most endangered large mammals and is protected against illegal trade by the IUCN/SSC EquidSpecialist Group and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They are also legally protected in Ethiopia and since 1977, have been protected by a hunting ban in Kenya. 

Justus Lesanjore, the assistant conservancies coordinator in Samburu County, says the poaching incident in February happened due to the absence of a ranger whose only present colleague was overwhelmed by the unfolding crisis.

“We had a small gap at Sarima; one ranger who was manning that specific area went missing; he left work with no reason leaving the area unattended but we have recruited another one to fill the gap,” Lesanjore says.

Mohamed Salat, a senior ranger with Kenya Wildlife Service South Horr Nyiro Ward, said the incident affected the rangers badly.

“We felt like going beneath our beds; we combined our efforts and looked for them. We managed to find the poachers but we were not able to arrest them because they were so many,” he said.

“It is possible that sometimes we find ourselves in a situation that we cannot control,” adds Salat.

He noted that wildlife poaching is sporadic and depends on certain circumstances. 

Harsher punishment for criminals

“During the drought season in 2021, we had five Grevy’s poached by the local community for their meat, but this time we don’t have the real numbers that have been lost to this heinous crime due to the prolonged drought period as compared to 2021,” says Lesanjore, the assistant conservancies’ coordinator in Samburu County.

Between 2017 and 2022, most suspects involved in wildlife crimes against zebras were arrested with meat, according to #WildEye East Africa data collected by InfoNile in partnership with Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism. 14 crimes involving zebras were tracked within the time frame.

Amendments to the Wildlife Act 2013 that were passed in 2018, which is currently undergoing review, spell out new penalties for bushmeat hunting. “Dealing (sell, supply, purchase, distribute, transport and possess) in carcass or meat of any wildlife species” imposes a three years’ imprisonment with no option of fine payment.

Purchase of any meat or eggs of any wildlife species imposes a fine of up to Ksh 1 million or a jail term of 12 months, or both; however, a judge has discretion over the same. This is compared to the earlier Wildlife Conservation Management Act of 1976, where a person convicted of hunting any animal in a national park was subject to a fine ranging from 5000 Kenyan shillings (around US$58) to 20,000 shillings (around US$176), and/or imprisonment ranging from six months to three years, which could include corporal punishment.

Read more; Are the wildlife laws imposed strongly enough to fight poaching in Kenya? – GRIN

Data tracked on #WildEye East Africa shows that between 2017 and 2021, the highest sentence given to anybody involved in crimes against zebras was 11 years’ imprisonment and in default Kshs. 2.2 million (around US$19,396.33). In this particular case, the suspect was found guilty of three crimes contrary to the Wildlife Act 2013. These included illegally killing a wildlife species, illegally dealing with wildlife meat and illegal possession of a wildlife trophy.

On the contrary, the lowest sentence handed down to any suspect involved in zebra crimes during the same period was a fine of Kshs. 20,000 (around US$176) or five months’ imprisonment in default for being found guilty of illegal possession of a wildlife trophy, contrary to the Wildlife Act 2013.

Conservancies to protect biodiversity

According to Leknit, Samburu North is a very beautiful landscape, only rivaled by the world-famous Maasai Mara game reserve located in the southeastern Kenyan plains.

Started in 2013 by the county government of Samburu, Nyiro conservancy is one of the biggest conservancies in the vast county, with 52 scouts protecting the biodiversity of the community. 

“We started this conservancy because we realised that Samburu National Reserve was the only source of income for the community. We wanted the community to own and protect their natural resources,” says Lesanjore.

Conservancies provide their constituents with access to jobs, better services for community development, and more business opportunities like the Northern Rangelands Trust Trading, which is a business accelerator for social and conservation impact enterprises. 

However, drought has increased poverty even in the conservancies, leading to increased poaching.

“People around this area are hungry; even if we start to feed them we cannot manage all of them; we have limited resources, the reason they are killing the zebras,” Lesanjore adds.

The February poaching incident led to a consultative meeting on March 24 in Samburu, South Horr, to discuss the way forward on how the stakeholders could partner to reduce poaching cases. 

The meeting brought together officials from Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Grevy’s Zebra Trust, conservancies coordinators, KWS, Samburu County, and community rangers to explore innovative ways to enhance the protection of the Grevy’s zebra.

Maintaining surrounding communities’ involvement has been crucial to protecting wildlife and the landscape in Northern Kenya. Photo: Lenah Bosibori

Northern Rangelands Trust is a conservation organisation that brings together 43 community conservancies across 10 counties, most of them from the northern and coastal parts of Kenya.

The counties are Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Laikipia, Meru, Lamu, West Pokot, Baringo,Tana River and Garissa.

The organisation provides technical support, fundraising support, peace-building services, and the development of community conservancies, which are best positioned to enhance local people’s lives and conserve the natural environment. 

“NRT came in to support the five new conservancies that include Baragoi, Nyiro, Ltungai-Malaso, Ndoto and Kirisia-Nkoteiya conservation areas created by the county government of Samburu,” says Dida Fayo, the NRT lead in Samburu North.

The conservancies were started in 2013 by the Samburu county government to improve the livelihoods of the community and enhance the protection of the environment as well as foster security initiatives.

A wildlife conservancy is land managed by an individual landowner, a body or corporate, a group of owners, or a community for purposes of wildlife conservation and other compatible land uses to better livelihoods. They have helped the community to protect their own biodiversity while receiving some income from land rent and tourism.

“Samburu North has for decades grappled with poaching, resource-based conflicts that have escalated against a backdrop of climate change,” says Fayo.

“If there is a human-to-human conflict then it automatically translates to human-wildlife conflict. If we humans don’t have peace among ourselves then we can’t expect us to have peace with wildlife,” adds Fayo.

Drought increasing human-wildlife conflict

The consultative meeting noted that poaching was mainly driven by a lack of awareness and knowledge of the wildlife and their benefits among local communities, while drought was found to be the leading cause of human-wildlife conflict.

Livestock continue to migrate in the pastoral areas due to declining forage and water brought by the dry season, resulting in conflict among communities over rangeland resources.

Kenya | Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
A drought-stricken village in Samburu. Photo: Lenah Bosibori

On September 8, 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought affecting parts of the country a national disaster. Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, which include the Rift Valley, Eastern, Northeastern, and Coast provinces, were most affected.

The drought has affected both livestock and wild animals. Due to starvation, disease, and long trekking distances, declining livestock health has resulted in widespread livestock deaths in pastoral counties. In Marsabit, up to 9% of livestock herds are estimated to have died during the 2021 drought.

A camel starved by severe drought. Pastoralists have lost most of their livestock. Photo: Lenah Bosibori

While addressing the national assembly’s committee on finance, Najib Balala, the cabinet secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, said that Kenya lost 62 elephants due to drought in the months of August and December 2021.

The population of zebras has also been affected. According to #WildEye East Africa in April 2021, authorities acting on an intelligence tip-off in Kajiado managed to waylay David Musyimi and Mwendo Mumba while in possession of zebra and dik-dik meat. They also recovered two knives and a machete used by the suspects to kill the animals. They were released with a bond of Kshs 300,000 (USD $2,596) with a surety amount.

The loss of livestock, below-average milk production, and declining goat-to-maize terms-of-trade across the northern and eastern pastoral areas are resulting in households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity outcomes. With around 11% of the 2021 Kenya Drought Appeal funded, further assistance is likely needed to save pastoral livelihoods during the forecast below-average 2022 March-May long rains. 

In addition, the number of rangers and scouts are few in the area and whenever drought strikes, animals find themselves in the crosshairs of herders and farmers as they compete for dwindling pasture and water.

Melako Conservancy in Northern Kenya (546,777ha) is the largest community conservancy in Kenya compared to the 365-square-kilometer Laikipia Nature Conservancy (aka Ol Ari Nyiro).

KWS is trying hard to dig some shallow wells that wild animals can access to quench their thirst even as it emerged that greater awareness, additional KWS camps in Kawap area, robust stakeholder engagement, refresher courses for rangers, and enhanced patrols by KWS rangers were imperative.

This story was developed and supported by  InfoNile, in partnership with Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, with funding from the Earth Journalism Network. Additional reporting and editing by Sharon Atieno and Annika McGinnis at InfoNile. Data visualization by Sharon Atieno. This investigation was also published by TalkAfrica and on Oxpeckers.

By Prosper Kwigize

Ngara district, Tanzania – an area with rich natural water resources including the Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers – is suffering from a lack of water for both domestic and agricultural activities. 

This is despite the commitment from the World Bank and Nile Basin Initiative to support a water supply project under a compensation scheme for communities who rented out their land for a power project on the Kagera River Falls.

The Kagera river basin connects the Ruvubhu and Akagera rivers at Rusumo and eventually drains into Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River. The basin’s population includes more than 14 million people from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and a small part of Uganda, who are in danger of suffering from an outbreak of diseases due to a lack of clean and safe water. 

According to Rural Water and Sanitation Authority (RUWASA), currently, only 68 percent of residents in Ngara access clean water, as of 2021/2021 statistics.

Ashura Mohamed, a resident of Ngara, said that there has been unusual water rationing, where some households get water twice a week while in other areas there is no water at all. High bills are issued regardless of whether they got water or not, she said.

She said the problems of insufficient water supply and poor distribution of water have led Ngara residents to depend on local vendors who sell 5 liters at 200-500 Tanzanian shillings (USD $0.09-$0.22).

The long queue of people who need water from private boreholes results in quarrels between the vendors and buyers. It is also a source of family conflicts, whereby husbands complain about their wives being late for other domestic responsibilities, he said.

Baraka Sengiyumva, a water vendor in Ngara town,Tanzania
Baraka Sengiyumva, a water vendor in Ngara town. He sells about 600-1,000 liters per day and earns well. (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

According to RUWASA, the amount of water produced by the water supply system in Ngara is only 61,949 cubic meters out of 225,000 needed, according to the District report of the year 2017/2018.

Eng. Simon Ndyamukama, the manager for the rural water and sanitation authority, said that 30 percent of the district’s water is obtained from local drilled wells, while 48 percent comes from tap water. 

Many residents of Ngara and Karagwe districts in the Rusumo and Kagera river basins depend on the waters of shallow wells that are dug locally and cater for almost all social and economic activities.

Community leaders said that individuals are locally mixing chemicals in the water to remove mud, which is also said to be unsafe due to sanitation regulations.

Ndyamukama explained to DW that water resources have been affected by climate change and environmental destruction caused by human activities. 

However, he said the availability of clean water is increasing. From 2019 to 2021, water availability has increased to 68 percent and is expected to reach about 76 percent by the end of 2022. 

The chart shows the figures for the provision of water services to the community for the period 2019-2022. Source: RUWASA Ngara.

RUWASA Ngara manager Eng. Ndyamkama said that in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, the government has managed to supply clean water to 246,257 residents out of 358,975 in Ngara, with the target to reach about 85% of the whole population by 2025.

But the Ngara district council strategic plan 2016/2017-2020/2021 shows that Ngara has a long way to go to ensure residents can access clean water.

“The Tanzania government through our authority has set various priorities focussing on making sure that water services benefit the community, and we are sure that we will increase the number of households accessing water up to 85% by the end of the 2022. At the same time, in collaboration with development partners and other stakeholders like World Bank and NELSAP, the development of the water sources are taken into consideration,” said Eng. Ndyamkama from RUWASA Ngara.

The junction of Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers at Rusumo area in Ngara district on the boundary of Tanzania and Rwanda (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

World Bank and NELSAP intervention to provide clean water

The Rusumo community is remaining with the narrow hope that a World Bank project which started in 2017 alongside the construction of the Rusumo Falls hydropower project will help improve the water situation. 

The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydro Electric Project implemented by the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (NELSAP) is set to benefit the three neighboring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi at their common border of Rusumo.

It is estimated to produce about 80 MW of electricity on the Kagera River at the Rusumo Falls. Construction activities began in 2017 and the project is expected to be rolled out in May 2022.

A set of compensation and development activities were launched alongside the project to support the affected communities. 

Tanzania received a total of USD $5 million to develop the project area, according to the communication officer of the Rusumo hydropower project, Louis-Andree Ndayizeye. The Local Area Development Plan (LADP) was designed to enhance regional economic and social development in the Rusumo area through constructing social infrastructures to improve livelihoods.

Part of this included a 2.7 billion shilling ($1.2 million) Nile Basin Initiative project funded by the World Bank in 2017 to help improve the water situation for the people in Ngara district. The district was required to construct a water source and water supply system for about 12,925 residents of Rusumo Ward and neighborhood areas. This initiative was expected to be a solution to the challenges for the people who currently depend on water from the Kagera and Rusumo rivers.

However, the World Bank project is stuck due to existing contractual challenges between the donor, contractor, and the Tanzania government.

According to the acting director of Ngara district council, Enock Ntakisigaye, various implementation activities have already begun, including a feasibility study and site preparation for the construction of machinery and water pumps. However, construction has stalled, and various contractual and legal mediation procedures between Ngara council and the contractors ECIA Co LTD and Abemulo Contractors are underway so that the project can resume. 

Such delays in receiving improvement in water services among other compensation and social services measures have led residents to become disgruntled, which could threaten the safety and success of the hydropower project. 

The water project signboard at Rusumo near Ruvubhu river
Rusumo Falls at Kagera river in the Nile Basin at the border of Tanzania and Rwanda (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

Pollution, collapsed houses: Impacts of Rusumo hydropower project

Residents of the Rusumo ward in the Kagera basin said the problems of accessing clean water are being worsened by the construction of the hydroelectric power project.

Several residents of Kagera in Tanzania, Kirehe in Rwanda, and Muyinga in Burundi where the project is being implemented said their expectations to benefit from the project have not been met.

They said there is a poor relationship between the electrical company, host community, and other stakeholders, which has led to a decrease in environmental protection of the rivers that feed the project – also threatening its potential for electricity production. 

Wastewater drainage from the workshop of the Rusumo hydropower project is poured into the rivers and causing pollution, they said.

An environmental health expert, Scarion Ruhula, who also works for the Tanzania Disabilities Relief Service in Kagera and Kigoma, said that there is no direct impact that can be caused by the presence of a garage or human settlement if it is built between 50 to 100 meters from the water source. However, the Rusumo project is located within this buffer zone with drainage into the river.

What is needed is to ensure that water from the residence or garage does not flow directly into the river, he said. Ruhula called on government authorities to conduct regular inspections in the Project area to control the possibility of outbreaks of pollution-related diseases.

Regarding the allegations of sewage being introduced into the river, the director of the environmental management council in Tanzania, Tanzania Environmental Management Council (NEMC) Executive Director Samuel Gwamaka said the office did not have official information on the public complaint and that the council would direct an inspector from the Lake Victoria zone to inspect it for possible action.

Later, on March 1, 2022, NEMC followed up. The agency sent inspectors from the Lake Victoria region and the Kagera River Basin to inspect the Rusumo power project site following complaints of pollution.

Inspections revealed that the contractor had violated environmental regulations by lacking a proper waste management system in the garage. Water, metals, and oil were found to be flowing into the construction site and into the Kagera River.

The inspector from NEMC, Benjamin Dotto, said that due to violations by project management authorities, NEMC had issued a stern warning and that further action would be taken against NELSAP if they failed to reform their waste management system. He did not want to name any of the fines they had inflicted, although reports from within the Ngara district council stated that 20 million shillings had been levied as fines for the violations.

In November 2021, more than 40 households found themselves in danger after being flooded with water in their homes, while some of their houses were damaged by explosions aimed at breaking rocks. 

The explosions used to create water canals for the power project have also led to the collapse of toilets, leading to sewage flows into the river.

In an exclusive interview, the E.D. of NEMC, Samuel Gwamaka, acknowledged the environmental and human impact of the Rusumo power project.

Gwamaka acknowledged that the blasting of thorns to create an underground canal has caused some local homes to be damaged. He also said floods were caused by the construction of a water barrier on the Kagera River.

According to NEMC, every project involving the environment must have an environmental impact assessment to mitigate the potential impacts of the project. However, Gwamaka explained that the current challenges stemmed from environmental changes that were not previously identified during the assessment, which took place about 10 years ago. 

The environmental assessment conducted by SNC Lavalin International under the NELSAP project states that the construction was expected to cause flooding in an area of 17,000 hectares and a change in water level by 1,700 hectares. However, adequate precautions were not taken despite the construction of a water barrier, leading to the flooding of human settlements.

There was no community awareness created to enable them to prepare for water overflows, and no bumps were built to prevent water overflowing from the river to the farm and houses as well, according to Ntiba Alfred Bilaba, the chairman of the beneficiary committee of the Rusumo hydropower project.

Other complaints came from certain households who were not paid to relocate whose homes ended up being damaged or destroyed by rock blasting operations. Only 40 houses among many others were inspected and proven damaged, but NELSAP has not yet compensated all those affected by the blasts. The allegations were made by Rusumo citizens and also confirmed by the Ngara district commissioner.

The government of Tanzania admitted the challenges and assured that the government is working with contractors to ensure that the terms of the contract for the victims of the project are complied with to provide compensation.

Ngara district commissioner Colonel Mathias Kahabi on behalf of the Kagera region government promised to ensure that the conflict of interest between the community and the Rusumo Power project is resolved.

Colonel Kahabi urged all parties to ensure that they adhere to the terms set out in the agreement between NELSAP and the Rusumo Village Government in the implementation of the Rusumo hydropower project for the public interest and to ensure that environmental assessments are given priority.

Following the complaint, the project management agency noted that all issues were resolved in accordance with the agreement signed by all 3 countries. In an exclusive interview, NELSAP Communication Officer Louis Andree Ndayizeye noted that the NELSAP Rusumo Project has repaired structures that were severely affected by blasting activities, and now, the project is preparing to repair other affected structures which include houses and toilets.  

However, an investigation conducted on March 10-12, 2022 in Rusumo ward in Ngara district revealed that NELSAP was continuing to assess the damage while under intense pressure from the Tanzania Government through the District Commissioner and the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) which conducted inspections and identified the effects of environmental damage in the area of the power project.

According to the multinational hydropower project and African Development Bank Impact Assessment report by the African Development Bank, impacts related to the construction phase of the project were expected to last for at least two years. These include “dust and noise emissions; soil erosion; degradation of water quality; soil contamination by bad waste management or accidental spilling of hydrocarbons; and disturbance of wildlife.”

The new water pipe reserved for the Rusumo World Bank water project is stuck due to managerial problems with Ngara District Council (Photo By. P . Kwigize)
The site where the World Bank-supported Rusumo water project is located, which the contractor has left for more than one year now (Photo By. P. Kwigize)

Promises to affected people 

Impacts to people affected by the project include loss of residential structures, business structures, loss of employment, loss of agricultural land, and loss of marshland use. The affected people who were compensated included 67 households from Kirehe District in Rwanda and 103 households from Ngara District in Tanzania. 

According to Louis Ndayizeye, the compensation of communities affected by the project was concluded before construction started in late 2015. The NELSAP Rusumo Project is now in the process of compensating owners of crops that were damaged by backwater flooding, she said.

According to more than 10 beneficiaries interviewed however, some properties were under-compensated due to delay of payment. The valuation assessment was conducted in 2015, and payments were made later in 2017 when the value of the houses had already increased, so those who were assessed for housing were forced to look for other sources of income in addition to the NELSAP payments, they said. 

The Rusumo community also said that reallocation of the people from the project catchment areas was not provided to all assessed families. Ntiba Bilaba, the chairperson of the project victims committee, complained to NELSAP for not adhering to the signed agreement and causing many community complaints to the Nile Basin Initiative, the donor, and the government of Tanzania.

According to the regional power project agreement, NELSAP was to provide $383,832 as compensation for more than 200 people whose areas were taken over by the power project. However, Dionis Albogast, the treasurer of the Livelihood Restoration Program, said that the amount disbursed to the beneficiaries in the period 2017-2021 was $293,240 – leaving $90,592 which has not yet been released, causing the complaint. 

The Kagera river basin community had also hoped to boost their livelihoods under the power project’s Livelihood Restoration Program (LRP). However, residents said the Rwandan livelihood restoration program had a better model because interventions were provided to the victims directly rather than giving them through implementing partners.

However, the coordinator of development projects funded in Ngara district council, Didymus Sebastian, said that all the development funds provided by NELSAP for the community have been used to directly benefit the beneficiaries. What differentiates Tanzania from Burundi and Rwanda is the implementation strategy alone, he said. 

Didymus further clarified that civil society organizations and public institutions including the Relief to Development Society (REDESO) and the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRA) were hired to build the capacity of groups formed to implement economic projects.

Agnes Mutashobya, a resident of Rusumo ward, fetches water from the local borehole. (Photo By. P .Kwigize)

The impact of local communities on the environment

Along with pollution from the project itself, government officials in the Kagera region acknowledged the serious environmental challenges posed by human activities in the basin, which affect the river and possibly the success of the hydroelectric project.

Enock Ntakisigaye, a Deputy Director of Ngara District Council, said there has been negligence in the management and compliance with environmental laws and the proper use of water among people in the Nile River basin, especially the Kagera rivers and Ruvubhu.

Ntakisigaye noted that there are laws that require citizens not to engage in any activity within 60 meters of water sources including rivers, dams, and lakes to protect and conserve water sources.

Environment Act No. 2 of 2004, the Water Resources Management Act No. 11 of 2019, and the Water and Sanitation Authority Act No. 5 of 2019 state that it is an offense for any person to damage water sources or use water in violation of the law. These laws also address the need for communities to have reliable access to clean and safe water.

Despite the existence of these laws, the community is still establishing agriculture and settlements in the Kagera river basin, and this affects conservation activities. Our reporter witnessed new farms and settlements at the intersection of the Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers, where the owner was not ready to be interviewed, claiming that the area is legally owned and that the government recognizes it and has allowed him to start his projects.

One of the newest leased farms in Rusumo village, Ngara district (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

Screenshot from the SNC report, page 19, on the environmental and social impact expected to happen in the project basin:

Rusumo residents said there have been declining fish stocks due to increased human activities in the river and an increase in population that uses illegal fishing methods. They also felt the hydroelectric power project construction had affected fish availability. Manilakiza John, a fisherman, was found struggling to search for fish in the river.

However, the Nile Basin Initiative says the project system has no impact on biodiversity.

“The Project is a Run of the River (RoR); this scheme was chosen in order to minimize effects on communities and flooding to the marshlands. Therefore the project is ecologically friendly and has no impact on biodiversity. This is not a dam, so no chemicals are thrown in the river,” explained NELSAP communications officer Louis Ndayizeye.

The production of hydroelectricity in the Kagera river

In 2019, access to electricity in Burundi was at 10 percent, Rwanda 16 percent, and Tanzania 18 percent, according to the World Bank.

Using water from the Kagera River, the Rusumo hydropower project will generate an alternative 80 megawatts to the national grid of Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda, which is mentioned to be sustainable and affordable. Each country will get 26.6 extra megawatts.

According to the Nile Basin Initiative, the project supervisor, the extra megawatts will benefit 1,146,000 people in the three countries, and it will represent an estimated rapid increment of electricity of 5.4 percent (520,000 people) in Burundi, 4 percent (467,000 people) in Rwanda, and 0.34 percent (159,000 people) in Tanzania.

The increase in electricity access in the East African countries by using the waterfall will lead to the expansion of economic activities by promoting the private sector and agribusiness, but if the environment is not protected, the sustainability of the project will not be achieved.

Human activities including agriculture and livestock within the water catchment in East Africa, especially Kagera river, Ruaha, Mtela (Kilombero river) Nyumba ya Mungu Dam, and others, if not controlled, will lead to a shortage of water for sustainability. Currently, Tanzania is experiencing the same which led to power rationing across the country due to scarcity of water in the main hydropower basins in the country and power generation plants being damaged. All areas that depend on hydropower including Dar es salaam, central Tanzania, and areas in the north and the south are still experiencing this shortage and rationing.

There is a high fear that if the conservation of the two rivers that supply their water to the hydropower project is not maintained, there will be no sustainability. The presence of a large amount of water connected to the Ruvubhu and Agakera rivers was what prompted the construction of a major power project that would support energy access to Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

A map of the Rusumo basin where the two rivers are meeting influences the construction of the hydropower station for three countries 

This article was produced in partnership with InfoNile with funding from JRS Biodiversity Foundation. It was aired by the Radio Deutsche Welle (DW) in December 2021.

By John Mugisha;

The construction of new dams in some parts of Nyagatare, a district in North-eastern Rwanda has helped local residents address potential water shortages and outdated irrigation systems that have long hampered agricultural development in this remote rural region.

Now farmers in the area like Muhire Ganza, say the dam has significantly led to agriculture transformation in this region which is a major step towards improved productivity and household income.

As part of efforts to support sustainable irrigated agriculture, the dams are playing a vital role in improving water, food, and nutrition security by harnessing water resources for irrigation, domestic, and livestock use while ensuring the sustainability of the resources and building resilience against climate change and variability.

“Before dams were introduced, the lack of water severely affected most farmers because they depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods,” Muhire said.

The water used is pumped from the nearby Muvumba River.

So far, these works mainly consist of wheeled irrigation systems for crops and water for livestock which is enabling farmers to be resilient to the drought that had adversely affected their yields before its establishment.

Christine Dusabimana, 46, a widow and cattle farmer appreciated the project, concurring that it offers a relief to the residents in this drought-prone district of the Eastern Province.

Dusabimana explains that, due to poor rainfall patterns they would move to neighbouring districts in search of water for her cattle and would leave her four children for two to three days alone.

With the new project, she is able to tend to her cows at home with her children and earns at least two hundred forty thousand francs (Rwf.240, 000) on average every month from the sale of milk.

Dusabimana in red dress cultivating together with her colleagues

“The Muvumba River has existed for a long, and as of now, its waters are being effectively utilized to our benefit as residents. This project is timely and commendable,” she added.

But the multipurpose project which is expected to provide clean water to about 300,000 people, and ensure 7,380 hectares of farmland is irrigated, also involves the construction of a dam with a 30.5m height and the capacity to contain 35 million cubic metres (m3) of water. It will also have a power plant that is expected to generate 740KW of electricity by 2024.

Reports from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that the Muvumba Valley Irrigation Scheme consists of four types of irrigation namely: center pivot irrigation, drip irrigation, sprinklers, and graviton; with all the systems being set up to manage the drought issues affecting the area.

Whereas the water needed to supply an irrigation scheme is taken from the Muvumba river, the upper course provides water for tea plantations in the high altitudes in northern Rwanda, while its lower course serves and facilitates irrigation of rice fields, maize, other crops, and provides fresh water to livestock farmers in the northeast.

The project benefits include the development of agriculture through irrigation in Tabagwe, Gatunda, Karama, Rukomo, Nyagatare, Rwempasha, Musheri, and Rwimiyaga sectors of Nyagatare district.

RELATED STORY: Accounting for Rwanda’s soil loss: A journey along Nyabarongo River.

Agriculture transformation

Agriculture is the main livelihood of the families and it depends on rainwater in this rural part of Rwanda.

The main impact, according to experts is the availability of water to irrigate their crops as well as water for both villagers and their livestock.

Otto Muhinda, FAO deputy representative to Rwanda notes that knowing the country’s irrigation potent is key to not only deciding on interventions that can boost smallholder farming but also stimulate investments in the agricultural sector.

The country currently practices irrigation on 48,500ha, but the government plans to expand this to 102,281ha by 2024 as per the fourth development plan for agriculture transformation.

Official estimates show that the estimated cultivable land that can be irrigated countrywide is 600,000 hectares.

Irrigation technologies

Yet funding for the modernisation of irrigation systems and irrigated farming in this region was through aid from the government and other development partners, Rwanda is also relying on other appropriate irrigation technologies for the different regions in the country, such as river diversions, pumping from underground sources and rainwater harvesting among others.

Nyagatare district is characterized by lowly inclined hills separated by dry valleys. Currently irrigated agriculture land has shown that production can be tripled or more when combined with appropriate fertilization and cultural practices.

However, poor water resource management of this watercourse had led to disputes and sparked arguments during the dry seasons mainly between farmers on the upper side who would divert the waters that flowed into the downhill catchment leaving others and cattle keepers struggling.

In a move to address these challenges, a USD 10 million World Bank-funded project was launched in 2015 to establish a water reservoir to help farmers cope with dry seasons.

According to the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana the project currently provides clean water to over 300,000 people, while cattle keepers are able to graze and feed their livestock.

“The aim of the initiative is to use Muvumba to supply water for residents to meet domestic needs, livestock farming, irrigation of crops to increase food production, as well as generating power,” said the senior Rwandan Government official.

Jean Marie Bugingo, an agricultural expert from Nyagatare District says that since agriculture is the main livelihood of most families and it depends on rainwater in this remote part, the main challenge is the availability of enough water during the increasingly prolonged dry periods.”

“Rwanda is challenged by climate variability manifested through changes in rainfall patterns with more extreme events. In addition, there is an increased pressure on the resources due to population growth, intensification of agriculture, rapid urbanization, industrialization, added to the competing demand on water and deterioration of water quality.”

Jean Marie Bugingo, an agricultural expert from Nyagatare District

According to Bugingo, the component of water from Muvumba Multipurpose Dam for livestock consumption should be given equal attention to both livestock and crop farmers even though Nyagatare is the country’s livestock strategic base for dairy farming.

On the issue of route conflicts between crop and livestock farmers, Bugingo pointed out that “absence of livestock routes and conflict between herders and farmers there is need for Creation of livestock corridors, development of local conventions on natural resource management, need of more awareness through a mutual dialogue of conflict management and transhumance through community consultations. ”

“There is also a problem of Feed scarcity where there is not much support for cultivated forage which could feed the animals as an alternative for green pasture, animal diseases and the cost of irrigation equipment that farmers are finding costly to purchase, that all relevant authorities should try put more emphasis on helping farmers,” concluded Bugingo.

Muhire Ganza, a rice and maize grower from Rukomo sector, is one of the beneficiaries reaping the rewards. He says that the dam and irrigation system are changing lives in Nyagatare and it is a significant change. Last season, he ecstatically enjoyed a bumper harvest of seven tones out of which three were rice and four of maize, thanks to the irrigation system.

“Previously, maize production was at 3.5 tones per hectare, now it is at 4.9 tones per hectare, the average investment is about Rwf 650,000 to grow maize, and I spend Rwf 187 to produce a kilogram of maize and get at least Rwf 250 for a kilogram of maize as return on investment,” he said.

“The project has improved access to drinking and irrigation water, increased crop and livestock production as well as farmers’ income. “

With the profit from the sale of my produce, the extra income enabled me to purchase two cows, and pay school fees and medical insurance for my children.”

Muhire Ganza, a rice and maize farmer Rukomo, Rwanda

Assessing levels of success

In order to promote best practices for sustainable water management, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations established dialogues between farmers on how to use the dam.

Damascene Ngabo, an agronomist from Kiyombe sector, Gataba cell, who advises farmers on a day-to-day basis, says to sustain the farmers, cooperatives and Muvumba irrigation scheme should be introduced to innovative farming programs such as agriculture mechanization.

“For irrigation farming to be sustainable, different stakeholders should intervene, infrastructure should be built for the transportation of produce to the markets on time,” he said.

Meanwhile, pumps and drainage pipes at some places have been set up, with varying levels of success.

These challenges, according to experts occur at farm and schemes levels where community participation is key to participating on an equal footing in irrigation committees to decide how it is distributed, conserved, and managed.

“Yet this development of large-scale cropland irrigation is enabling additional benefits from hydropower generation, these technologies still need to fulfill necessary requirements to ensure that the system has a higher water productivity for crops,” said Norbert Murasira, an irrigation engineer based in Kigali.

This story was first published in Rwanda News Agency

By Egide Kalisa and Andrew Sudmant

Rising levels of vehicle traffic, industrial activity and urban sprawl are contributing to rising levels of air pollution across the global South. This is particularly the case in cities where urbanisation is progressing fastest.

In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the population has surged from less than 500,000 in 2000 to more than 1 million today. It is set to increase to nearly 2 million by 2030. At the same time, vehicle numbers in the city have increased from just 55,000 in 1999 to more than 200,000 in 2019.

Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for premature mortality worldwide. And there is growing recognition that even at relatively low levels air pollution can cause significant health impacts, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke – is 70 times smaller than a human hair and is one of the most significant contributors to urban air pollution. In Kigali, the amount of PM2.5 in the air is approximately double the level deemed permissible by the World Health Organisation. This emphasises the need for action and the scale of the potential benefit to be achieved. A challenge, however, lies in a lack of analysis on the sources of air pollution and the opportunities for action.

Using datasets on urban air pollution, we assessed the impact of car-free days – an innovative programme which encourages walking and cycling – and the COVID-19 lockdown in Kigali, Rwanda.

We found that PM2.5 was reduced by 15% on car-free days. We also found that the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 – which reduced travel activity by over 80% – reduced air pollution by around 33%. A consequent partial lockdown, which allowed cars but not motorcycles, reduced travel activity by 41% and air pollution by around 21%.

Results from these analyses help us to understand both the causes of air pollution and the opportunities for policy action to address it.

Car-free Sundays

Started in 2016, on car-free days major roads are blocked off to provide space for collective exercise sessions to promote healthy living. Initially run once a month in 2018, the car-free days were made fortnightly and extended to secondary cities across Rwanda.

We found that, after controlling for the weather and seasonal variability, car-free days reduced PM2.5 by about 15%. This led to a 3.7% reduction in total PM2.5 pollution in the city every year.

Air pollution on ‘normal’ and ‘car free’ Sundays by time of day.

The COVID lockdown

Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus also had a dramatic effect on traffic, creating an opportunity to explore its contribution to air quality. Using Google mobility data – estimates of travel activity developed by Google using mobile telephone data – travel activity was reduced by more than 80% during the full lockdown and by 41% during the partial lockdown.

The full lockdown, which ran from March to May, required all traffic (excluding emergency vehicles) to stay off the streets. This reduced air pollution by around 33%. The consequent partial lockdown, which allowed cars but not motorcycles, reduced air pollution by around 21%.

These results emphasise the high significance of the transport sector in Kigali’s air pollution levels and the need for further action to address air pollution from the sector.

In addition, with motorcycles remaining off the streets during the partial lockdown, the increase in air pollution during this period suggests that heavy vehicles and private cars, rather than motorcycles, are the main source of urban transport air pollution.

Levels of air pollution under the full and partial lockdown compared with the period following.

Next steps for policymakers

If the 20th century was the century of the car, an optimist might view the 21st as the century of multi-modal transport. Madrid, Vienna, Helsinki, Hamburg and Oslo have announced plans to become “car-free”. London, New York, Stockholm, Oslo, Singapore, and São Paulo are implementing charges on private cars that want to access certain areas of the city. And “bicycle mayors” (government officials dedicated to supporting the development of cycling) have been designated in Nairobi, Gaborone, Kampala and Cape Town.

This shift is in part a reflection of a growing awareness that air pollution is an economic growth issue and comes with substantial social, economic and environmental costs.

The analysis above and wider literature help to make the case for the comprehensive programmes of action in Kigali, and more widely.

Rwanda is one of only a few countries in Africa to have taken some positive steps towards managing air pollution. Since 2016, the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority has been authorised to carry out long term air quality monitoring. The authority also disseminates information to the public. In addition, Kigali has car zones to reduce traffic in the city and investments have been made into electric vehicles.

But more can be done. Extending car-free days across the week is not currently possible, but policymakers can support the expansion of public transport, invest in sidewalks and bike lanes, and work with the firms looking to implement shared cycling networks.

The disruptive lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 have provided policymakers with evidence to bolster efforts around car pollution. These include the enhanced testing and enforcement of vehicle standards, the implementation of bans on idling of cars (leaving cars running while stopped), and support for the growing number of firms around shared e-mobility.

This article was originally published on The Conversation Africa

The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered directly to the public.

By Sharon Atieno

In Kenya, like other countries in the world, deforestation is the major driver of tree cover loss.  So big is this loss that between 2001 to 2020, Kenya lost 11% of its tree cover, about 361 kilo hectares, according to the Global Forest Watch.

To solve this problem, Kenya targets to increase its tree cover to at least 10% to reach the minimum global standards set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Part of the interventions outlined by the government of Kenya to achieve this goal includes rehabilitating degraded landscapes, especially in the arid and semi-arid areas, where charcoal burning is an issue of concern, establishing commercial forests for charcoal production as well as planting trees and fruits in agricultural land, among others.

Part of the biggest problem in restoration efforts is caused by seed predators, such as  insects and rodents, that eat the seeds before they could germinate when in their natural state.

Dr. Jane Njuguna, Senior Deputy Director for Research and Development, at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)

To solve this, a local startup has developed the seedball technology whereby seeds of indigenous tree and grass species are coated with charcoal waste mixed with nutritious binders then thrown like balls into the planting grounds.

Seedballs

The coating, Dr. Njuguna explains, stops seeds from being lost prematurely and enhances their lifespan ensuring that when the rainfall amount is appropriate they can be able to germinate because it acts as a seed bank.

 The technology mimics natural regeneration of forests, whereby the seeds just germinate on their own due to favourable conditions unlike putting the seedling in a hole where they are also prone to predators.

Ted Kinyanjui, co-founder of Seedballs Kenya- a joint collaboration between Chardust Ltd and Cookswell Jikos

Kinyanjui says they collect the charcoal dust from charcoal vendors, then they filter it to remove magnets. Afterward, they add nutritious binders sourced from dead acacia trees which help in holding the ball together.

They then pass the mixture through a special machine that has been invented by his partner. The machine coats the seeds -which have been KEFRI certified -with the biochar and produces a seedball worth 5 to 15 mm depending on the size of the seed.

After drying, the seedballs are then packaged into packets of varying sizes, including envelope size containing 8 seeds to a 25kgs sack. Each packet has its own price which ranges from Kshs. 150 (USD 1.5), for the envelope package, to Kshs. 12 500 (USD 125) for a 25kg sack of seedballs.

On a daily basis, the machine can produce up to 500kgs but we normally just produce 100kgs on average depending on the client’s order, Kinyanjui says.

Ted Kinyanjui displaying a seedball
A split seedball containing a tree seed

Before supplying the client’s order, they make inquiries about the tree or grass type that is prevalent in the client’s area. This increases the survival chance of the tree when it is grown in its original environment as opposed to introducing a foreign tree species which will not survive in that environment.

When the seedballs are thrown on the planting ground, they stay in the ball until it rains. The rain water dissolves the charcoal dust coating leaving the seed in its natural environment thereby triggering the germination process.

Since 2016, Seedballs Kenya has distributed about 18 million seedballs. Their clients range from individuals, children, schools, companies, churches, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

In 2018, a combination of seedballs and seeds was used by KEFRI in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Seedballs Kenya, and Farmland Aviation Kenya Ltd in the first aerial rehabilitation exercise of 1,400 hectares of the Maasai Mau Forest Block 1.

Based on their monitoring activities, KEFRI says, good germination has been realized from the exercise.

KEFRI team led by Dr. Jane Njuguna (front centre) and other researchers

Kinyanjui notes that though the uptake has been good, they have faced some resistance from people selling seedlings at Kshs. 50 (about half a dollar) each, who see Seedballs Kenya’s initiative as bad competition that is likely to push them out of business.

Also, he adds that some clients are too eager for the seeds to germinate quickly, not knowing that different tree species germinate at different time periods.

Seedballs Kenya is currently partnering with Kenya Flying Labs, a drone technology company, to help in seed distribution in inaccessible areas, and to map and monitor the performance of the seedballs and the resultant trees.

special drone for dispersing seedballs
Drone containing seedballs

In an event hosted by Kenya Flying Labs and attended by Seedballs Kenya and KEFRI in Nairobi to launch the drones, Mohammed Akasha, a technical expert at Kenya Flying Labs said the specialized drones are fully fitted with seed dispensers and can carry a capacity of upto 7kgs.

Further, though they can disperse up to 5 seedballs at a time depending on their setting, they could cover 0.8 hectares in fifteen minutes- one flight.

Akasha noted that though helicopters and light-wing airplanes can also be used for mass distribution of seeds, their costs are prohibitive. The tree planting service by Kenya Flying Labs will be at a rate of US$300 per hectare.

The combination of seedballs and drone technology will be used to plant indigenous trees in hotspot areas across Tana River County where land has been degraded due to unsustainable farming practices, wood fuel harvesting, deforestation, and the occurrence of an invasive tree species called prosopis juliflora (Mathenge).

This article was originally published on Science Africa

Story by : Asmaa Gamal

Arabic Editor : Karoline Kamel

My mother told me how she got her name “Masria” which means “Egyptian” when her father traveled from Upper Egypt to Cairo in search of work, and he received the news of the birth of his daughter in Esna, “Edfu Center” in Aswan, where his family resides.

My mother’s grandfather was not the only one who left his land in Upper Egypt, but my father also traveled to the capital in search of a job opportunity, just like hundreds of other people looking for a better future for themselves and their families after they had a hard time in agriculture.

Despite this migration, the majority of those who left their land return to visit the rest of their families in their distant villages, and our annual trip to Upper Egypt was for me to reach the land of happiness, the land of sugar as I like to call it, where the most famous feature is the shiny sugar cane sticks that I adore.

That trip in my family was not only for the nostalgia and maintaining the bonds between family members, but also to be blessed from the waters of the Nile, a ritual that the members of my family did not abandon, and I also did later with my son. My mother told me that it is a pharaonic custom, and whoever touches his face with the waters of the Nile cannot live away from it for long.

My mother would have preferred to take the train, as she would tell me because she and her family would spend it singing and dancing all the way.

Her story brought to my mind the song “oh you who approach between water and greenery… When will we meet the one with a beautiful face… We will connect tomorrow or evening… Our soul is the soul of the former wind”, the song performed by the singer Farid al-Atrash in the movie “You Are My Love” during his journey on a train. Heading to Upper Egypt, the passengers are happy, singing and clapping, and a beautiful dancer is dancing in the corridors of the train.

However, I prefer to take the trip in my father’s car, because it is a long trip that takes about 12 hours. My father is not very talkative and only smiles, but like many people who work in more than one job, I don’t get to spend much time with him, so on our trip to Upper Egypt, I can spend more time with him.

We start the journey by bidding farewell to the crowded cement buildings. The road adjacent to the Nile greets us, so my real pleasure begins by looking at the greenery. The journey continues along the river.

My mother tells me how “the sea,” as the people of Upper Egypt call the Nile, was responsible for the marriage of the girls of the country. “The water did not reach the houses, so the women went to the sea every day to get water. We used to hang seashells in our hair so it would make sounds and the men would see us and choose their brides.” My mother laughs as she recounts her memories, and continues the rest of the details of the women’s journey by passing through the tombs of their ancestors, watering the plants, and reciting the Qur’an. However, my mother met my father in Cairo and fell in love, and married him.

My grandfather and my grandmother met because of the Nile River. As she tells the story, my grandmother was on her way to the sea to fetch water and my grandfather saw her, admired her, and married her.

It seems that the magic of water extends in our family, as my mother told me that her grandfather met her grandmother because of a glass of water. One of the times her grandfather passed by her grandmother’s village, he felt thirsty and knocked on the first door in front of her grandmother’s house, so she offered him water. He loved her, married her, and lived with her in her village.

The bounties of the sea, the “Nile River” to the villagers and strangers, as my mother tells me.

The Nile river’s water connected them with goodness, joy, and even sadness. It was enough to describe it as the color of the Nile, “Atniel,” the colloquial word to describe the mud of the Nile that women used to paint their faces in times of sadness and distress and in cemeteries.

But my grandmother Maryam, who is 91 years old, says that the spirit of the house has dried up with the uprooting of trees from the surrounding land since the government decided to prevent cultivation inside the courtyards of houses near the Nile without paying taxes because it is personal exploitation.

My father used our annual trip to tell me the history of his family, and the tribe we come from “Al-Ja’afira”, which began its migration from the Arabian Peninsula and settled in several countries in the African continent including Egypt, Sudan, and Morocco.

In Egypt, the tribe to which my family belongs chose the south to settle in the area where the mountain embraces the two banks of the Nile, the mountainous nature that is similar to the environment in which they grew up, but in the presence of the Nile with its greenness and goodness. Agriculture attracted them, but sugarcane became the crop that fascinated them as they were fascinated by Upper Egypt in its entirety.

During our trips to Upper Egypt, my father always repaired for me the hand-written notebooks that my family relied on, the most important of which are the “inventory” books, which are the records in which the tribe records its offspring. All births are added to it so that the offspring can be preserved.

And I read in one of the old books that my father kept in our house, about the migration of our tribe, “Al-Ja’afira” from the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, to Egypt, and many concentrated in Upper Egypt. The texts say: “The younger Mr. Ja’far moved in the year 413 AH from the Hijaz to it.. He mentioned Imam Al-Sharif bin Utbah Al-Husseini in his book (Umdat Al-Talib fi Ansab Al Abi Talib)” and said what he uttered; Hassan bin Jaafar bin Ali Al-Rida followed him in the desert of Al-Madinah, and they are called Al-Sharjari (the ones that descended from trees).

This thus explains the reason why my father drew a tree that contains the names of our family on the leaves of the trees, which goes down to my grandfather, Hassan, and Hussein, and every time he had a grandson, he added their names on that tree.

In our small mountain village where my grandfather lives, near the shrine of “Sheikh Ali” where the women go every day, carrying water to irrigate the plants and birds, and they sit there.

My grandfather worked in agriculture, and just as he cared about the land and what grew from it, he cared about drawing the family tree that descended from the descendants of Hassan and Hussein, the grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad. And he was always adding to it the grandchildren of their village who are born day after day. But this is not the state of the village now after many of its sons abandoned it to various places in search of livelihood.

Our long journey to my grandfather’s house ends with reaching the house and family gatherings to receive the returnees, my grandfather used to give us to plant seeds, call them by our names and put them in the garden of the house and water them with our hands, and we returned to them later on our separate visits to find that they had become tall plants; they have grown with us day after day.

The disappearing sugar

But one time we traveled, we found the garden empty of trees and our plants, and my grandfather told us that the government had forced him to raze the planting and considered it a personal benefit against the agrarian reform law. On this day my father stood by the only palm left in the garden and took a souvenir picture.

Traveling to my grandfather’s land after a while, I didn’t find the garden I used to see; I saw only one palm tree left standing alone in the garden. This happened gradually after the government limited the water quota coming to the agricultural land and mandated extra tax money for those who want to use more. Also, the government prohibited the cultivation of sugarcane in upper Egypt in the 1990s because it was used as a perfect shelter for the terrorists to hide in.

My grandfather recounted that in the nineties, the distribution of water quotas for agricultural lands in Egypt witnessed some changes in an attempt to rationalize the economy, in accordance with the amendments issued in 1994 and 1995 amending the provisions of the Irrigation and Drainage Law No. 12 of 1984. During this period, a lower water quota was imposed on my grandfather’s land. Because the government considered that he used more water than his share, which is a private benefit, if he wanted to continue with the same amount, he had to pay a higher tax.

Egypt’s current sugar production is about 2.4 million tons: 62 percent from sugar beet and 38 percent from sugarcane. Production of sugar beet has been increasing in recent years while sugarcane production has been decreasing. 

The economy of Upper Egypt is highly dependent on the production of sugarcane, despite the government's attempts to reduce sugarcane and increase the production of sugar beet instead, which consumes much less water. Sugar cane is irrigated only using the water from the Nile River, while sugar beet is able to be grown in reclaimed soils using modern surface irrigation systems, according to the 2019 Strategic Water Resources Analysis by the Nile Basin Initiative.

The land of sugar for me is no longer the same for its people, after the nature of their lives and agricultural activity changed, which was affected by many factors, some of which were revealed to me by the son of our village Noor (54 years). He said to me, “The sugar cane crop is sick...because this disease [fungus] has spread to all of us. But the government does not help us, not even with insecticide so that the crop will grow well.” I felt the tone of sorrow with which Noor talked about his cane crop, in the land he inherited from his ancestors who used to grow sugar cane.

It appears from Noor that the challenges facing Upper Egyptian farmers in continuing to cultivate sugarcane are great, given that it is not possible to replace it with sugar beet because it is not suitable in Upper Egypt, as Noor explains.

Noor clings to what he inherited from his ancestors, but to reduce the costs of farming, he works with livestock breeders, and in return, they help him in harvesting the crop for free, but by obtaining fodder for livestock from reed straw.

The book “The Ruling of the Experts” by British researcher Timothy Mitchell mentions “Abboud, the owner of sugar farms, or Ahmed Aboud Pasha, had the main monopoly on sugar cultivation due to his good relationship with the English at that time. Sugar cane cultivation is the main source of income for hundreds of people who live in Upper Egypt. Because of his suitability with the weather and the abundance of Nile water suitable for his growth there, Aboud was famous, the businessman who owned a large empire of companies working in the field of sugar worth millions of dollars.

During that period, as the researcher explains, the emigration of young people from Upper Egypt increased, as well as adults who were leaving their lands after suffering from monopoly, to the extent of walking on their feet to Cairo.

Whoever refuses to leave his land, his suffering worsens. Sabri Al-Durbaz (45 years old), one of the villagers, tells me that his land is not far from the Nile River, but it suffers from thirst. “The crops are sick and need fertilizer, and the water is not available for all of us, so the government tells us to stop planting cane,” he said.

Sabri needs help in harvesting his crop, so Jihan, who is 16 years old, his sister's daughter and a student at the school, offers it to him. "The cane is not visible...but it tastes different, too," Jihan says about the change that has taken place on the ground.

It is not possible to measure the change in agriculture and land in Egypt without the tools of modern observational and research studies, but on the social level it is possible to follow the change in the activity of children, generation after generation, and the abandonment of agriculture in favor of other activities, and perhaps the migration of the land itself has become the approach of many.

"Isn't it better to emigrate than to marry? Marriage is an internal migration," says our great Nobel-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz in his novel "Love in the Rain".

However, my father and other sons of our village and the land of sugar abandoned their lands and got married as well, but the longing for that land and the blessing of the Nile River was inherited by us, the sons of these immigrants, and we remain indebted to the sea “the Nile River” and its blessings.

This #EverydayNile story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Global Partnership for Water and Development.

More than 1,800 coffee farmers who are members of the Kawa Kanzururu cooperative are active in the Ruwenzori massif in Beni territory in North Kivu on the border between the DRC and Uganda. This cooperative has not yet been able to process the coffee produced. It only does the production, collection, processing, and marketing of the coffee produced by its members operating from various Micro-Washing Stations (M.S.L.). Thanks to a grant from InfoNile, these different MSLs were mapped. An opportunity to understand the difficulties in coffee production. It is, in particular, the insecurity on the farms, the lack of agricultural service roads, but also the water which is however available, but not accessible. To alleviate their suffering, coffee farmers are waiting for the positive impact of the Fairtrade certification that their cooperative has already benefited from for two years.

 Rwenzori Massif

The beauty of the Ruwenzori massif is not only its snows and the endless rains. It is also and above all, the coffee crop, Arabica variety known to have been adopted in the highlands. Here, 22 micro coffee washing stations are maintained, around which the coffee farmers are associated.

These MSL [micro washing stations] hire a staff whose number can vary between 2 and 5 members. Their task is to welcome farmers who want to sell and process their cherry here.

The treatment consists of pulping, flotation, fermentation, washing, sorting, homogeneous drying, etc. During the low season (February to May) their work is not as intense as that of the high season (August to October-November).

Water, an essential component in coffee processing

Vosi Luzegha has been president of the kawa Kanzururu cooperative for 6 years. According to him, to obtain one kilogram (1 kg) of “fully washed” coffee, you need at least a quantity of twenty liters (20 L) of water. He explains that in the coffee processing process, water plays a key role.

A female farmer in the middle of sorting patches on a display at the Coffee micro-washing station in Luseke/Rwenzori

The Kawa kanzururu (white coffee in the local language) cooperative has existed since 2014. It is headquartered in the rural commune of Lume in the Ruwenzori sector, about sixty kilometers east of the city of Beni in the Nord- Kivu province.

Since 2017, data on the coffee produced have been available within the cooperative. This means that it is from that year that the quantity of water used can be evaluated.

Water available but not accessible, growing insecurity and non-existent agricultural service roads

The Vugherwa coffee washing station is a two-hour walk from the cooperative’s head office.

 This addresses most of the challenges coffee farmers face among the 25 farmers who are members.

The water is almost a kilometer from the washing substation. Valerie Muhavura, manager of this micro station explains that the pulped coffee must be carried on the back to ferment it and wash it in the river. It is tiring because each season his micro station produces between 8 and 10 tons of cherries. “We wash the coffee at the Lume River. Which is very tiring. We are suffering,” he stressed. There is no road either.

Parches on shelves at the Rugetsi micro-washing station

To get there, you have to walk along a path that is just as impracticable when it rains. Transport is by back to the headquarters of the cooperative where all production is centralized. “I am mobilizing among the farmers who are members of this micro station to help him evacuate the coffee to Lume on our backs. If the road could be developed, it would be a relief for coffee producers,” he hopes.

 The Kavalya micro station also does not have facilities for accessing water.

 Machinist pulping white lead at the Micro station in Kavalya/ Rwenzori, Credit: Jonas Kiriko

“There is a stream 1 km from here that we have to cross its bed when we need to use large quantities of water. That causes sometimes misunderstanding with farms owners that our conduit uses till to the micro station”, said Kasereka, manager of this micro station.

In several micro coffee washing stations, the water is found at long distances. Climate change is not yet seen as responsible for the lack of access to water.

Farmers, therefore, need a mechanism that allows them to access water directly at their micro station. In particular, in the water supply system and where the terrain is accidental, motor pumps can be used.

From a security point of view, the whole area is prey to the activism of ADF, an Islamist group that kills people with machetes. The Mwenda micro station has already been the victim of the massacre of five of its members.

According to Vihamba Roger, manager of this MSL, this situation has a negative influence on the quantity of coffee production.

“We are working in a precarious security situation. Five of our members died with their throats slit by ADF in their farms. Because of insecurity, no one can go to his farm. The farms are no longer maintained. This may negatively affect the performance in coming days. We really implore the return of peace,” he asks.

Farmers sorting the parches fresh out of the Kavalya/Rwenzori micro coffee washing station machine

This area, like the rest of the entities in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, has been under a state of siege since May 6. But the results are slow. At least 1,302 people have been massacred since the declaration of the state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, indicates an investigation entitled “Yotama report on the massacres of Beni and Irumu”.  

This report was written by two “Yotama” brothers, one of whom is a provincial member of parliament for North Kivu and the other a national legislator, all elected from the city of Butembo. In order to put an end to this insecurity, the Congolese government has just launched joint military operations with the UPDF of Uganda [ Uganda armed forces].

Covid-19 spares coffee farmers

In 2019 when covid-19 broke out, the Kawa Kanzururu cooperative has just benefited from fairtrade certification on the international market. So it continued to produce and export its coffee abroad.

 According to Kasereka Tata wa Makolo, managing director of Kawa kanzururu, measures have been taken to protect coffee farmers from covid-19.

“The cooperative quickly developed a contingency plan to fight the disease. It planned to suspend gatherings, install handwashing devices in every MSL, make facemasks mandatory for our members and we have encouraged others to get vaccinated when the vaccine has been made available. At the current stage, no one has contracted the disease, we consider it a success,” he said.

However, in 2019 and 2020 some coffee farmers withheld their production due to Covid-19 safety measures.

“The closed border, as well as the travel restrictions, made them fear that their productions would be lost. This is how in 2021, with the easing of some of these covid-19 prevention measures, coffee growers felt reassured,” explains the managing director.

The Congolese government has recently maintained the curfew, reinforced control of the wearing of masks, strongly advised vaccination. These are the measures enacted by the public authority, in order to prevent a possible fourth wave and the discovery, a few days ago, of the OMICRON variant.

Will FairTrade certification comfort coffee growers?

Since 2020, the Kawa Kanzururu cooperative has received Fairtrade certification. Kasereka Prince is an agricultural engineer and certification officer for the Kawa kanzururu cooperative. He explains that fair trade certification is a guarantee for a permanent market.

It should be noted that the Fairtrade certification initiative was created to form a new method for economic trade. This method adopts an ethical point of view and the priority is given to producers first.

Fairtrade International started with the coffee industry, but now covers a range of products such as cocoa, fruit, cotton, flowers, tea, and others. Established buyers of these products are a niche market, which makes Fairtrade marketing difficult, says www.fairtrade belgium.be.   Customers of coffee produced by farmers in Rwenzori include higher ground trading, malongo , volcafe select ,etc.

 Patrick Bakwanamaha, a researcher at the Bilingual Christian University in Congo, encourages farmers to join the cooperative. This is one of the ways to improve their production and working conditions.

The manager of the coffee-cocoa laboratory within this university encourages the cooperative to think about processing locally to allow it to increase the sources of income for its members.

In this video, he talks about the need to maintain the wet processing of coffee to maintain its good quality.

According to the Belgian Newspaper Le Soir , coffee is the third most-consumed drink in the world after water and tea. In this period of covid-19, the coffee market share has increased in Europe.

This article was supported by InfoNile with funding from the IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Program.

In Ariamaoi village, Nabilatuk district, a family of Karamojong elders walk back home after escorting herders and advising them on the grazing routes that are safe to use. Iriama Anthony, 34, leading them at the front, is a household head of the Manyatta (Small Karamoja homesteads) in the village. He plays a major role in providing information regarding the quantity of water and pasture versus the number of livestock in the area. Moving in a queue is a security mechanism they use especially in this period when cattle raids and conflicts have increased in the region.

By Stuart Tibaweswa

Karamoja sub-region, located in northeastern Uganda, is characterized by harsh climatic conditions ranging from frequent droughts to high temperatures with hot and dry winds all year round. Since October 2021, the area has been experiencing a shift in weather seasons with erratic rains recorded across its nine districts; Abim, Amudat, Kaabong, Karenga, Kotido, Moroto, Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit, and Napak. 

These climatic changes are disrupting the traditional lifestyle of cattle keepers, especially the pastoralist majority, who for generations have relied on livestock as their main source of subsistence. Short scattered torrential rains have also heavily contributed to an increase in soil erosion and land degradation, which has contributed to poor harvests and food insecurity in Karamoja.

“Shifting Seasons” explores how Uganda’s last remaining pastoralist communities are searching for water as climate change increasingly disrupts traditional ways of life in the cattle corridor. In October 2021, I made the journey of eight hours to Moroto town, to spend eight days moving with a group of herders as they went about their days. 

It was an eye-opening experience being in the region for my first time. The daily life of Karamojong is quite different from what I or many of us are used to.

They live in ‘kraals,’ or small homesteads, with thorny fences and blocks of wood encircled for protection against raids and wild animals that might attack their cattle.

As early as 5 a.m., I was forced to wake up by the loud mooing sounds of cattle. Young boys between the ages of 6 and 10 are in charge of milking the cows, and it is amazing how fast they do it. 

Peter Lemukul, 5, milking one of his fathers’s cows in Ariamaoi Village, Nabilatuk district. He does this every morning and evening with his brother and cousins. 

At 7 a.m. in Ariamaoi Village, Nabilatuk district, Angelle Peter and his colleagues sit together sunbathing while brushing their teeth with sticks and having conversations. In one situation, they were speaking about which grazing routes to use after receiving an alert about an expected raid by a group of rustlers within their area. It was pretty scary when my interpreter mentioned this to me, knowing the insecurity situation at the time. 

At about 10 a.m. when the dew has fallen, the herders start the move with their cows, carrying small jerry cans that store water for drinking on the long walks. Shockingly, since it was the dry season, herders in Amudat were facing floods due to heavy rains in the past few days. These made some grazing routes impassable.

Dry season rains

In October 2021, anticipating a dry season, Amudat, Nakapiripirit and Nabilatuk realized an early onset of torrential rains, whereas Kotido and Kaabong districts experienced unpredictable rains. The patchy vegetation that sprouts in the wake of these flash floods are seen especially in Kotido, Amudat, and Nabilatuk districts.

After a heavy downpour the previous night, pastoralists in Amudat move with their cattle along a muddy road to find greener grass. Because of the heavy rains, some roads that serve as the major grazing routes had been flooded. Heavy rains and floods also destroyed crops. 

Due to the unpredictable rains, various rivers, especially in Amudat district, were seen with water flowing on one side of the river bed with the other dry.

Many of the rivers in Amudat district were also saturated with water.

A Karamojong pastoralist cools himself from the hot sun with the surface water from the heavy downpour the previous night in Amudat district. During the dry season, temperatures can reach as high as 40°C, but average around 29°C in the afternoon. 

Not all areas of Karamoja benefited from the unusual rains. River Omaniman, one of Karamoja’s longest and fast-running rivers through Kotido district, was left completely waterless over the dry season in October. During the wet season or when this area of Kotido is receiving heavy rains, the river floods with dense water flow, which can sometimes claim the lives of people and animals.

Pastoralist ‘dropouts’

In 2014, Karamoja accounted for about 20 percent of Uganda’s total livestock. Irregular weather patterns coupled with the inconsistent rainfall supply have however influenced a great number of pastoralist dropouts, according to Mathew Lumwinyi, an elder in Moroto district. Former herders have ventured into crop farming or small-scale businesses, but face challenges in crop agriculture due to lack of skills. 

Expecting a dry spell, many also decided not to cultivate in October 2021, increasing the food insecurity in the region. In Kotido district alone, Mathew Lumwinyi, an elder, said that the number of Karamojongs selling their livestock as a result of food shortage is growing, something that was very unusual before, given their sentimental attachment to the animals that made selling a near taboo.

A crowd of sellers and buyers mingle in the goats and sheep section of Kanawat Livestock Market in Kotido district. More than 200 animals a day are sold at this market. Pastoralists use the money to buy food during the long dry spells.

“At the moment, I could sell a cow between 600,000 UGX ($171) and 1,200,000 UGX ($341). During the wet season, it could even go double for a fully grown one,” said James Okono, a pastoralist from Kotido district.

Pastoralists assess the state of their goats before they are sold at Kanawat Livestock Market in Kotido. It is noted that livestock sales in Karamoja are dependent on the season. During the wet season with adequate rains, buyers are willing to purchase cattle at the rates set by the sellers, unlike the dry season where they buy cheaply since the cows’ body condition has deteriorated as a result of not feeding properly. 

More scattered rains, but less water?

Pastoralists in the Karamoja sub-region rely heavily on water. It is one of the most important resources they need to sustain their livestock; however, they still have insufficient supply especially in Kotido, Amudat, and Kaabong districts.

The nature of the soil has contributed to water scarcity. The sub-region holds a low soil organic carbon, which plays an essential role in soil binding and moisture retention.   

Despite the erratic heavy rains, there is still a lack of enough water resources especially for home use. Livestock can drink the surface water, unlike the pastoralists, since it can cause diseases.

In Kotido district, cattle have crossed through a dried river bed. Many of the rivers in Kotido have dried despite the scattered heavy rains. These days, pastoralists have to move 30 kilometers longer to find sufficient water for their livestock, especially in Kotido. 

In Kotido district, a Karamojong herds boy watches over his cattle. This river was the herders’ first water encounter of the day after walking for about four hours. It is very common in the Karamoja region today to see young boys between the ages of 6 and 15 moving with their cattle, especially in safer grazing grounds around Moroto and Amudat. 

In Amudat district, a community borehole sits in a groundwater flood. Boreholes and small ponds are highly utilized to water small stocks like goats and sheep as well as provide water for home use. Most pastoralists draw drinking water from such hand pumps that are poorly kept with rainwater contaminated with waste, causing waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid. The stagnant water, which acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, has also contributed to an increased incidence of malaria, especially among children.

A Karamojong boy digs a small hole for freshwater at the River Loidiri bank. The boy and his brothers were herding their livestock when they stopped by a river to take water. On reaching the water underneath, they pour out the surface water, leaving fresher water to bubble up seconds later. With this method, the pastoralists can drink water that is not contaminated.  

A woman washes her clothes at river Ajijim in Nabilatuk district. Being a dry season, the basic sources of water in this area like some of the boreholes were dry with no water at all. People, therefore, move further to where they can access more water to carry on heavy domestic needs. In Nabilatuk for example, individuals would rather store the little collected borehole and rainwater for drinking and cooking, and use water from rivers for livestock and other intensive domestic needs.

A looming hunger crisis 

After a long day of walking, we finally set up camp for the night in Ariamaoi Village, Nabilatuk district. A group of Karamojong engage in night time conversations while drinking their locally brewed alcohol. Spending the day walking with them and their cattle, I observed they never ate any solid meal apart from the gathered fruits and water – their granaries had barely any food. At night, they only took milk while chewing sunflower seeds.

Ruth Nakwang, a resident of Kakwakou village, Kaabong district, displays dried seeds used to make soup to be eaten with maize. Ruth and her family chew them separately now that their maize stock ran out, she said. 

According to a 2014 study by Dr. Antony Egeru, a human ecologist and researcher on dry areas, there is a 70 percent likelihood that a crop planted in the Karamoja sub-region will fail because of the unpredictable rainfall.

This essentially means that the community is operating in a difficult time as their fallback plan is no longer available, leaving the population at the risk of famine and drought. 

A July 2021 report analysis by IPC also indicates that overall, the highly food insecure population in the region has progressively worsened, increasing from 27 percent in June 2020 to 30 percent in March 2021. This leaves children in households under acute malnutrition due to inadequate food access and contributes to the increase in cattle theft and raids

Owalinga Lawrence, 16, milks one of his family’s cows on return to the kraal in Ariamaoi Village, Nabilatuk district. In the pastoral communities, it is usually the young boys that milk and graze the cattle. 

Toward solutions, in an uncertain time

Amidst the challenges, several water sources and systems have been developed through government, NGO, and community efforts to help manage the crisis and climate variability. 

At least six sources of water exist in the region, providing water for both human and livestock use: boreholes, windmills, ponds, valley dams, river beds, and rivers.

During the desperate dry periods, people dig out sand in the river beds to reach the water. 

Over the years, a series of valley dams have been constructed by the Ugandan government to provide continuous water for livestock and basic home use. These large-scale dams including Arecek-Nakicumet in Napak, Kobebe in Moroto, and Lomogol in Kotido, have also proved to be very useful in the region, especially in Moroto and Napak where the major dams have hardly dried since construction.

The Arecek-Nakicumet water dam in Napak district, which was constructed between 2007 and 2011. In the background is Mount Napak, which channels water into the 6-meter deep dam that is currently serving multiple benefits including irrigation purposes, fish farming and supporting herders in accessing water for their livestock especially in dry spells.

In Nakicumet, Napak district, a group of farmers work on an onion garden. They also grow green pepper and tomatoes, which heavily rely on the irrigation system that uses water from Arecek-Nakicumet dam. According to the farmers, the small garden has supported some neighbouring communities when they are totally out of food.

“When it’s dry, the drip irrigation system cannot support the watermelon. The unstable rain has disturbed our watermelon from growing,” said Sire Micheal, keys keeper of the garden.

The Arecek water dam caretaker, who also acts as an underground tank operator, climbs back to the surface after opening pipes that allow water to flow into the common stream accessed by the community. During a heavy downpour, the level of water is monitored to not exceed 7 meters. Water is channeled out to small ponds from the underground tanks to maintain the water level.

Still, a 2021 assessment of 26 dams in Karamoja found that other than Kobebe and Nakicumet-Arecheke dams, most dams were drying up: The water in all the other dams was too little to cover the next dry period, and water quality was poor, with a high amount of silt. This was attributed to people watering their livestock directly in the dam instead of using the nearby water facilities designated for livestock, which are mainly in disrepair, the study concluded. 

In Ariamaoi village, Nabilatuk district, a Karamajong family stand by their man-made water pond. Using hoes and other digging tools, they set up the pond in preparation for the long dry spell but have since not used it as the area is receiving some rain. According to them, this 5-foot pond that was filled with water from previous rains can sustain water for up to two months during the long dry spells.

“All the men in this area come together so we can dig the pond. We strictly use the water during the dry seasons,” said Ariama Anthony (right), head of the household.


This story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme. Editing and data visualizations by Annika McGinnis.

Video by Andrew Aijuka

InfoNile holds Investigating Water Stories: a cross border training for journalists from 4 East African countries


In October 2021, InfoNile brought together 16 journalists for a weeklong physical training held in Uganda focused on using data and science for investigating water stories.

The journalists, including editors and reporters from different media houses in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda built their capacity in reporting data-based biodiversity stories around Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

A study conducted by InfoNile earlier in 2019 revealed that the number and depth of environmental stories varied amongst media houses in the Nile Basin. It also revealed that many journalists had zero to basic skills to produce stories using science and data. Few collaborations between scientists and journalists were also noted as a reason hindering the coverage of environment and biodiversity stories.

One of the think boards used by journalists during the workshop
One of the think boards used by journalists during the workshop

It is with this background that InfoNile facilitated this workshop in order to bridge the gap between editors and reporters, science and journalism, and promote cross-border collaborations amongst the different countries and media platforms – which is critically important when reporting about a transboundary water body such as Lake Victoria.

“Environment stories are not taken as a priority. They are expensive and take a lot of time. Most editors report on breaking news that will drive numbers like politics or accidents,” remarked Gerald Tenywa, senior environmental journalist from New Vision, Uganda while setting the stage for the workshop by discussing How the Media is Covering the Lake: Issues and Stories on Threats to Biodiversity

Water and environment researchers and scientists also attended the workshop, presented recent research about threats to Lake Victoria and explored ways that scientists and journalists could work together. It was noted that scientific concepts are often in complex language that journalists can help scientists simplify and report to a non-technical audience.

“People cannot take action if they do not appreciate something. They do not appreciate it if they are not aware of it. Our role as journalists in sustainable development is to inform the public of these science data and knowledge for them to take action,” emphasized Gerald.

While discussing Lake Victoria Through the Eyes of Science, Dr. Nkambo Mujib, a Senior Research Officer from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFiRRI) Uganda, highlighted biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, land coverage change, algal blooms, and species introductions as some of the major threats facing Lake Victoria.

Dr. Mujib’s session revealed the zeal and eagerness of journalists to engage with scientists and researchers on water science as he responded to the numerous follow-up questions by the journalists.

Dr. Nkambo Mujib, a Senior Research Officer from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFiRRI) Uganda
Dr. Nkambo Mujib, a Senior Research Officer from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFiRRI) Uganda

“We (scientists) are often very willing to share new knowledge on ongoing research. However we may not always have the best channels to share these. Connecting with journalists and being able to answer their questions is a great opportunity for us to share our research,” remarked Dr. Mujib after the workshop.

“We (journalists) need to tell stories of Lake Victoria with more vigour than before because the threats facing the Lake continue to take a different shape with every dawn,” commented Sharon Atieno, reporter Science Africa. 

In addition to science reporting, the workshop also offered practical data training of the journalists on how to source, analyze and visualize data for their stories. These sessions were spearheaded by Code for Africa and introduced the participants practically to data and knowledge tools including Google spreadsheets, Flourish, Data Wrapper.

Davis Buyondo practically learning data visualization
Davis Buyondo practically learning data visualization

“I write to express sincere gratitude for the training. Coincidentally, when I got back, I found an email that required me to use Google Spreadsheet. While I need more practice, I had some ideas. If I hadn’t attended the training, I would have had to look for somebody to help me out.” wrote Fred Mwasa, editor at The Chronicles Rwanda, a day after the conclusion of the workshop.

“I have been introduced to a new way of including data to my stories. This workshop has empowered me to even take up a course on data journalism, so that I can fully understand it and even teach my colleagues in Tanzania,” said Neville Meena, from the Tanzania Editors Guild.

Journalists from Kenya pose with a picture frame
Journalists from Kenya pose with a picture frame

In addition to data journalism, the workshop also incorporated knowledge sharing and a practical session on Investigative Journalism facilitated by Solomon Sserwanja, a top investigative reporter in Uganda and founder of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ,), one of the workshop partners. While sharing his award-winning investigative documentary, Solomon shared practical skills on best practices for undercover reporting, highlighting the risks and opportunities of this type of reporting.

Solomon Serwanjja, (M)Investigative Journalist from the African Institute for Investigative Journalism AIIJ with Neville Meena (R), and Yohani Gwangway from Tanzania
Solomon Serwanjja, (M) Investigative Journalist from the African Institute for Investigative Journalism AIIJ with Neville Meena (R), and Yohani Gwangway from Tanzania

At the end of the training, the journalists pitched their story ideas around biodiversity in Lake Victoria. Remarkably, all the journalists formed cross-media and cross-border collaborations, pitching stories with other journalists from different media houses and countries. 

Over the next weeks, InfoNile will provide grants and mentorship for the production of these stories that will be published on InfoNile as well as the journalists’ media houses.

From Left Nabaasa Innocent, Sarah Biryomumaisho, Sarah Naatolo and Barbara Nalweyiso from different Uganda media houses pitching together
From Left Nabaasa Innocent, Sarah Biryomumaisho, Sarah Naatolo, and Barbara Nalweyiso from different Uganda media houses pitching together

InfoNile will also bring together the stories into a comprehensive data-driven investigation on the threats to freshwater biodiversity in Lake Victoria, along the lines of its past award-winning cross-border investigations such as Sucked Dry.

As a networking and bonding activity, InfoNile organized a field trip to Jinja, where the participants visited the source of the Nile River, Itanda Falls, an island on Lake Victoria, and NaFiRRI headquarters.

The team at Itanda Falls
The team at Itanda Falls

The journalists were also introduced to NaFiRRI’s open access FreshWater Biodiversity Portal for Uganda, a centralized data-sharing platform with data, maps, red list status, publications, and biodiversity information on the fish in Uganda.

“Journalism today is not about competition, but collaboration. Environment and water stories especially on shared resources like Lake Victoria require that journalists have the right skills to report and work together,” said Fredrick Mugira, InfoNile co-founder. 

Finally, all the journalists and scientists signed up and joined the pilot group of InfoNile’s NileWell. NileWell is an online platform that connects scientists and journalists and seeks to bridge the gap between science and the media.

“Scientists will not usually communicate directly to the media. Working together with journalists gives scientists a platform to share their knowledge and findings,” commented Matthew Cassetta, JRS Biodiversity Executive Director via Zoom where he implored the journalists to use scientific research and show the community and the leaders’ solution-based climate stories.

This workshop and the development of NileWell have been facilitated by JRS Biodiversity, an independent grantmaking foundation that awards grants to increase the access to and use of biodiversity information in sub-Saharan Africa.