Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pastrolists in Uganda Benefit from ICTs

By Esther Nakkazi

Cattle farmers in developing countries play a major role in meeting the nutritional requirements of a growing and increasingly urbanized population. However, whereas other farmers in the agriculture sector have largely been supported and set to benefit from using new Information Communications Technologies (ICTs), in their activities, farmers especially herdsmen in cattle-corridors lack that full support.

The field report below is on how a two- year initiative, the Climate Change Adaptation and ICT (CHAI) project, one of its kind in Africa, is giving a chance to farmers in the cattle-corridor mostly herdsmen to use ICT to improve their adaptive capacity to changes in the climate, providing an enabling environment for them.

The adaptation to climate induced hazards seeking initiative, led by CHAI, for farmers in cattle-corridors, aims at creating food security in these nomadic communities and making available critical weather and climate information for them to make instant decisions.

“We are focusing on enhancing the adaptive capacity of communities in the cattle corridor area to climate change-induced water challenges by improving the quality and timeliness of climate risk and adaptation option information generation, dissemination, and use through the utilization of ICT tools,” said Berhane Gebru, Director of Programs, FHI 360 TechLab, a non-profit human development organization.

As one of the most fragile areas in Uganda, the ‘cattle-corridor,’ a semi-arid area, suffers prolonged and severe droughts that negatively affect the hydrology and biodiversity of the ecosystem. Meanwhile, it is home to many farmers.

For instance in Uganda, the cattle-corridor, has about 60 percent of the 7 million cattle in the country and its 12 million people, mostly herdsmen all live below the poverty line, a situation exuberated by lack of information and access to ICTs.

Prior, to its commencement in 2011, CHAI carried out a biophysical and social vulnerability assessment in the four districts of Rakai, Nakasongola, Soroti and Sembabule, which found that more frequent and severe climatic events create acute water shortages, diminished value of livestock and loss of livestock and crops as well as distressed sale of assets.

Indeed, the assessment also found that these events also lead to migration in search of water and pasture; diminished livelihood opportunities; conflict over limited water resources and pasture as well as changes in the farming calendar.

According to the Water Poverty Index (WPI), 2002, which was developed by a team of researchers to combine measures of water availability and access with measures of people’s capacity to access water, Uganda ranks among the lowest 20 water-poor countries out of 147 that were included in a study conducted by Keele University in the UK in 2002.

While one of the major impediments to agricultural performance in Uganda remains water stress due to Climate Change. But the sector remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy as its main source of livelihood and employment for over 60 percent of the population. It also contributes over 70 percent of Uganda’s export earnings and provides the bulk of the raw materials for most of the industries that are predominantly agro-based.[1]

There are many problems besieging the agricultural sector, and evidenced by its decline through different indicators. For instance, its share in GDP has declined from 64.1 percent in 1985 to 41.0 percent in 2001. The non-monetary subsector of agriculture has been the most affected declining from 39.9 percent of total GDP in 1985 to 22.7 percent in 2000.[2]

Cattle-corridor farmers and ICT: how it works:
So far, CHAI, has installed and serviced 22 weather stations in the four districts of Rakai, Sembabule, Nakasongola and Soroti. It has also developed and deployed mobile based weather data collection transmission system as well as trained weather data collectors at sub-county levels.

Rainfall and market information is collected on mobile phones from all the sub-counties in the intervention districts and transmitted directly to a server at the department of Meteorology, where analysis is conducted and feedback sent to the communities.

The feedback is sent through FM radio talk shows, text messaging, community loud speakers, and notice boards at sub-county levels and in markets.

Patrick Kibaya, the CHAI project manager, says that the results are very encouraging – beginning at the Meteorology Department, a key and instrumental institution in provision of timely, accurate and reliable weather and climate information – which now accesses weather data in real time.

He also says this in turn has enhanced the accuracy of forecasts, shortened time and localized them – which was not feasible before. 

The whole system has ensured mutual exchange of information between the collection sites and the different levels of government. While, it has also ensured that data generated are interpreted and used, by involving all relevant stakeholders and through using available ICTs, local early warning systems are fed that are used by institutions such as Uganda Red Cross, The World Vision and others key partners to Uganda’s National Early Warning System.

The data generated this way is reliable, timely, localized, accurate and appropriate for planning on water related agricultural risks and adaptation options, said Kibaya.

Dr Gerald Kitaka, the National Agriculture Advisory Delivery System (NAADS) co-ordinator Nakasongola, says that the localization and contextualization of the seasonal forecasts and other weather products is increasing productivity because now the information passed on to farmers is relevant to them instead of previously when it was general.

“Communication of information is good but information has no value unless used. This goes beyond communicating information to making an impact,” Philip M. Gwage Director, LDC Environment Centre.
CHAI is also going beyond just providing information. Partnering with ‘resource actions’ the gaps identified from the information is shared with organizations that can bridge this gap, for instance low cost water harvesting, says Kibaya.

Florence Nabukenya a farmer in Nakasongola says “adaptation information has enabled her go into horticulture and vegetable planting which has enabled her overcome the drought in Nakasongola by not depending on rain alone.

“Previously, we would plant bananas’ but they would die away in a short time due to the harsh drought conditions, but after getting information, World Vision helped us construct low cost water harvesting facilities.”

We then started planting oranges and mangoes, which has boosted our incomes and has enabled me pay school fees for three children now at university, said Nabukenya.

“Managing scarce water requires the application of good technology, some of it embedded in traditional knowledge and some of it inspired by fresh science and new insight,” said Edith Adera a senior program specialist, Climate Changes & Water at Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC).

James Kabagoza a coffee farmer in Sembabule says his coffee plantation was nearly all destroyed during the recent drought, but CHAI showed as a video of another farmer right there in his sub-county whose coffee was doing better simply because she had trees in her garden yet he cut his trees.

“We believe that climate proofing; adaptation and promotion of mitigation actions are some of the critical areas where ICT is critical. This will contribute to the government climate change knowledge base,” said Chebet Maikut from the Climate Change Unit (CCU) of the Ministry of Water and Environment.

“Usually when there is a crisis like a prolonged drought herdsmen sell their animals as a coping strategy. We are providing them with the information to cope and make choices,” said Gebru.

CHAI is also unique in that it is using a collaborative mechanism among public institutions like Universities, Civil Society organizations (CSOs’) and government agencies responsible for agriculture, hydrology, and ecosystem data broadens the reach and strengthens the results and outcomes across sectors – thereby mainstreaming effectively.

For instance, Makerere University students in climate science courses have been engaged in data collection and its dissemination during their internship.  “This project has given us both financial and technical support,” said Justine Arinaitwe a student at Makerere University pursing a Master of Science in environment and natural resources degree.

“It is such a unique project generating data from the people and the University giving it a scientific touch to be relevant to the needs of the communities,” said Arinaitwe.

“Generating new knowledge is key to universities. The knowledge that is being collected will be part of our curriculum at Makerere and students are gaining through these internships,” said Professor John B. Kaddu, Professor of Zoology based at the College of Natural Sciences, Department of Biological Science Makerere University.
CHAI is co-implemented by Uganda Chartered HealthNet and FHI 360 Techlab, the Ministry of Water and Environments’ Climate Change Unit (CCU), Wetlands Department, department of Meteorology and the directorate of Water resources management; Makerere University College of Health Sciences, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

[1] WTO agreement on agriculture : the implementation experience

[2] WTO agreement on agriculture : the implementation experience

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