Climate Change: Farmers hit hard in Mt Elgon region

Namabumbi goes through her dry garden after it was hit by the July and August Heat due to Climate Change (PHOTO/David Mafabi)

Apoloniya Namabumbi, 46, stands in her garden pondering her next move.

She looked at the sun above the sky but could not stop it from shining.

That afternoon she had expected rain to give life to his crops that are now drying in the gardens.

Across the neighborhood, many of his neighbors also stood in their gardens with accusing fingers pointing at rain makers for failing rain from pouring.

Like Namabumbi, the light showers in mid-June and July enticed farmers to plant for the second season but as fate had it, there was no rain in the entire month of August.

Acres of maize crops that had started germinating have been destroyed and Namabumbi and her husband sit outside their two-bed-roomed house looking at the sky hoping against hope that it rains to give their crops life.

“All the maize and beans I planted on my two acres of land have been destroyed by the heat wave,” says Namabumbi.

Although the first planting season which stretches from March to June starts with rainfall, the second season which usually starts in July has had no rains, especially for the months of July leaving farmers’ crops drying in gardens.

Namabumbi, a farmer in Zesui, Bukinyale village says in the past they could look at the movement birds from the East to the South as an early warning system that the rains would pour.

Across the districts farmers’ gardens have been battered by the August heat wave and farmers who were enticed by the early May rains to plant are counting losses.

According to Namabumbi, they usually plant in March and harvest in June/ July then plant in July for the second season but everything has changed this year as the month of August has been so hot that the crops are all dry.

“This second season of the year is bad, August has been so hot to the level that it has burnt the crops we planted for the season, we can’t tell the seasons, the rains have not poured,” said Namabumbi.

“Everything has changed, we can no longer tell the seasons with the traditional early warning systems, we have now resorted to God to help us because everything seems not to be working in our favour, our crops have dried up in gardens, the dry  has been season is long, something has gone wrong,” added Namabumbi.

Like other farmers, Namabumbi says they are watching the brutal reality of what climate scientists told them would happen and that now they don’t know what to do?

Mr Charles Wakube, the Mbale district Environment officer says there have been dry weathers before, of course, but the month of August has been exacerbated and certainly becomes the hottest month on record due to the extreme northern summer.

He added that across the globe, the average temperature for most days in August has been hotter than any previous day known of.

Mr Wakube explained that the slow heating of the earth has been perpetuating these extreme temperatures and that the consequences could devastate our economies, infrastructure and political stability.

Environmentalists say that the weather pattern has become too erratic for any correct prediction by farmers even the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA] and that these changes are hitting crop farmers hardest — on the farm and even in their pockets.

Although records at the UNMA indicate that the average temperature for most days in August has been hotter than any previous day that we know of, they had earlier predicted heavy rainfall patterns in August.

According to the seasonal Rainfall outlook for June to August over Uganda dated 30 May, 2023 [Ref: Scf/JJA/2023] on Mt Elgon sub-region, the hot season was expected to continue to mid June, then light rains would set in before moderate rains get established with high chances of near normal rainfall.

The statement signed by the Ag executive director Mr Bob Alex Ogwang stated, “ The sea surface temperature over equatorial pacific ocean are currently in neutral phase with increased chances of developing Elnino conditions over coming months,”

This is not what has happened instead a dry season similar to that in January every year has characterized the sub-region with excessive heat that has destroyed farmers’ crops in the gardens.

Namabumbi says those years ago, the rains would start from March to June for the long season and August through September and October for the shorter spell was as sure as the sun rising from the east and setting in the west.

Many farmers in the Mt Elgon sub-region remember such times with nostalgia, as they were assured of when they would grow their crops and when they would harvest them for both the first and the second seasons

So far, the month of August has perhaps turned out to be one of the worst for farmers, The long rains for the second season have delayed maybe until mid-September with adverse heat effects across the country.

Namabumbi is just a representative of many farmers who are faced with the climate change effects and are likely not to harvest anything this second season because of the adverse effects of the heat wave.

In Bulambuli, Mbale, Manafwa, Sironko, Kumi, Bukedea, Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo, Pallisa, Budaka, Butebo, Kibuku, Namutumba, Iganga, Nakapiripirit, Tororo, Busia and Bududa districts, many farmers are counting losses following the heat wave that has hit the area since late July through August.

Although Namabumbi and her husband were forced to replant the Maize and beans later, as fate would have it, the July/August dry weather wreaked havoc on their farm, heaping on their losses.

What the ground in Sironko looked like due to heat wave (PHOTO/David Mafabi )

Mr James Omagoro, a farmer from Molo, in Tororo district, says that he has lost maize, beans, and Sorghum seeds due to prolonged heat wave.

A former director at the National Agricultural Research Organisation Dr William Wogoire [now Rtd] explained that seasons have changed and urged people to diversify agricultural production and start planting drought-resistant but early maturing plants.

Dr Wogoire said farmers must change the planting seasons and use the full range of scientific forecasts for extreme-weather events in order to help mitigate the disasters being caused by climate change.

He revealed that this is happening when the world is, on average, about 1.2C hotter than pre-industrial times and that if the temperature rise hits goes slightly above 1.2C, we should expect these brutal heat waves every two-to-five years.

The Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) in a March 12 statement attributed the dry spell and searing temperatures to the tropical cyclone, known as Idai, which wreaked havoc in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Mr Ogwang however insists that human activity is the cause of this climate change and, “therefore, we are all responsible for it, we are part of the problem, but also part of the solution,” and that what is more is that, these changes seriously damage our health and affect our quality of life.

He explained that the impacts of climate change include warming temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increases in the frequency or intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels and that all these impacts threaten our health by affecting the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the weather we experience.

Mr. Bob Natifu, the Commissioner, Climate Change Unit at the Ministry of Water and Environment said understanding the many challenges facing our world isn’t easy,” it’s hard to understand a water crisis when some countries are flooding and that it is hard to appreciate the Arctic ice disappearing when the winter news is filled with stories of extreme weather events,”.

Mr Natifu said the entire country is likely to experience poor harvests throughout the year due to low rainfall partners that don’t also come in time.

He revealed that the causes of rainfall  according to Scientists correlate the decline in rainfall to destruction of the environment and ignorance about Climate Change.

Uganda Climate Action plan 2016 says that climate projections developed for the country using the models used in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) indicate an increase in near-surface temperature for the country in the order of +2°C in the next 50 years, and in the order of +2.5°C in the next 80 years under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5; and in the order of +2.5°C in the next 50 years, and in the order of +4.5°C in the next 80 years under RCP 8.5.

And the Action plan also predicted a slight decrease in total annual rainfall in most of the country, with slightly wetter conditions over the west and north-west under both RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 and that rainfall totals might drop significantly over Lake Victoria (-20% from present)

Mr Sam Cheptoris, the minister of Water and environment said Uganda has mostly a tropical climate characterized by stable rainfall patterns adding that the effects of climate change have turned the seasons around with the country experiencing shorter or longer rains and harsher droughts – especially in the eastern and north-eastern Uganda.

He explained that environmental degradation has resulted into climate change, also referred to as global warming, which has seen increase in average surface temperatures adding that other factors that have led to climate change include increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, industrial and automobile gases.

He explained that in the past 40 per cent of rainfall received in Uganda was influenced by natural features such as wetlands and forests and that the other 60 per cent rainfall was influenced by external features such as the Indian Ocean but that all this is changing due to Climate Change.

Climate Change Reports also indicate that each year, more than 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, land degradation and drought, according to the UN – a surface area equivalent to the entire arable land of Germany..

UN says that according to medical experts at The Lancet Climate change is accelerating the spread of infectious diseases, such as dengue fever and malaria, creating conditions in more regions where the infections can thrive and that in 2018, dengue had expanded by as much as 15% compared to a 1950s baseline.

Records at The Lancet also indicate that one third of the most precious habitats are under threat and that vulnerable ecosystems are under threat from climate change.

Climate change is causing extreme weather, including skyrocketing temperatures, forest fires and floods. “We’re seeing more and more extreme weather,” Elliott says. “You’re also seeing more high heats and wildfires — now we’re talking about more air pollution.”25 Aug 2023.

Mr Natifu told UG Standard that Uganda is mainly affected by human induced climate change and that the human induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and by up to 4.3 ºC by the 2080s.

He explained that Uganda’s climate is naturally variable and susceptible to flood and drought events which are having negative socio-economic impacts and that Uganda has become high Greenhouse Gas emitter that causes global warming because the real issues effecting the environment have not been addressed.

“ And I want to warn farmers like Namabumbi to start using the environment sustainably and plant trees in order to fight shocks of Climate change,” said Mr Natifu.

Mr Natifu said further that the environment ministry thinks that better and more flexible adaptation strategies, policies and measures are crucial today the country is to lessen these impacts but that eco-system approach is also needed to enable government take up development..

“Climate change is here to stay and the scale of future climate change and its impacts will depend on the effectiveness of implementing our world agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions and also ensuring that we have the right adaptation strategies to reduce the risks from current and projected climate extremes,” Mr Natifu added.

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