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notes from the field

These field notes are personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

Drew Zackary


Blog Post 2
July 12, 2014

Riding along the back of the motorcycle on the way back from a long day of bumpy travel in between villages I finally let myself relax, both my grip on the fender bar and my mind. I took in the setting sun and breeze as we passed over a small bridge. My driver/interpreter, Jasper, is a highly skilled driver, as well as a patient and competent interpreter.  Even though English is ubiquitous in Uganda, many rural people primarily speak Langi. I have hired Jasper to help me fill in the gaps during interviews when certain phrases or words need Langi exposition.  Jasper has a diploma from a university, but with underemployment of his generation rampant he supplements his income with boda driving. I am glad to have met him, and over the month we have become friends and joke with each other all the time while riding around. He laughs at my hesitance at difficult terrain as well as my attempts to speak Langi.

Jasper laughs at a road washout

Jasper laughs at a road washout. Photo by author
As we buzz towards home on both sides of us the wetlands in Otuke are full of white and purple lilies bathed in the orange of the setting sun. Large egrets take off in seemingly slow motion to find new fishing spots. We cross the short bridge over into another sub-county.  Some young boys wave as they bathe in the shallow water.  I wave back.  My mind is at peace.  Jasper slows the bike and yells back at me, “This wetlands, it used to be bad.  There were massacres along this part of the road from the insurgency. You used to see bodies and bones in the mud up to only a couple of years ago.” I snap back into focus.  Peace here in the Lango region is a new phenomenon.  Nearly every time I interview a farmer about climate change the topic of the internally displaced person (IDP) camps and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency come up. 

Leo Jonga and his father Boscoe Okello

Leo Jonga and his father Boscoe Okello. They returned to their families land after the LRA retreated in 2007.  Leo has just this year received 20 acres of his own land after he got married. Here he shows me 3 acres of rice he planted on his land with the help of his father. Leo is learning traditional practices from elders as well as new ways to diversify his livelihood from Partners for Resilience (PfR). He also has some bee hives and bananas. Photo by Author
To understand how people make decisions about forecasting and how they make attempts to adapt to climate change, it has become important to listen to how they narrate their own lives, how they understand both history and the prospects of the future. Before 2007, the entire district of Otuke’s population lived in IDP camps.  A whole generation of farming practice and knowledge was almost lost.  The Langi, however, are extremely resilient.  Many farmers returned to their overgrown land and villages and set about transforming the earth again into a fertile, life affirming landscape.  The task of rebuilding a way of life is difficult. Families forget traditional borders. Traditional ways of cultivation are often unfamiliar to the youth. The work of PfR and community leaders has changed this landscape in many ways.  Many elders I meet are eager to share knowledge as well as receive training.  Andrew Otio, man in his sixties who survived both Idi Amins reign of terror and the horrors of Konys LRA, explained to me that “The land here is good, we want to grow better crops. With time, and more secure water, and better land boundaries, and new crop training we can change this.”

Nelly Okello shows her stored sim-sim

Nelly Okello shows her stored sim-sim (sesame) in their granary.  By using PfR livelihood training and skillfully utilizing village savings and loans for seed purchases and livestock selling her family has begun to have profitable food surplus for market. Photo by Author
The passing on of traditional knowledge of agricultural practices, forecasting and land boundaries combined with climate change aware practices and new knowledge about risk reduction is essential for producing resilient communities. It is here that resilience is more than a proxy for hope. The Langi of Otuke have been resilient in the face of near cultural elimination.  The farmers ask, not for handouts, but as Peter Otim said to me “ We need more training, we need more knowledge.” Resilience is work, from the ground up.

Peter Otim holds a passion fruit he has grown

Peter Otim holds a passion fruit he has grown.  The passion fruit is profitable at the market for his family.  This plant is a climbing plant, so needs a symbiotic host.  Otims fruit grows up a shea nut tree, which is protected from cutting through a by-law enacted with the help and funding of PfR.
PfR has given many farmers here the knowledge for resilient practices in the face of climate change.  It has been up to the people themselves to spend months in their gardens tilling soil, digging drainage trenches, and branching out their livelihoods from subsistence agriculture.  I found many examples of beekeeping, intercropping and vegetable gardening.   The continuing work between PfR, the local government, and traditional village cultural leaders has drastically reduced the cutting down of trees for charcoal making.  Encroachment on wetlands has been reduced as families have become more secure using village savings programs that empower women.  The shea nut tree, prized after the insurgency for its charcoal making ability and fast cash returns, produces seeds that women use to make shea nut oil to sell.

The use of effective Early Warning/ Early Action systems here is increasingly becoming a reality.  PfR have facilitated the dissemination of quarterly (3 month) forecasts directly to the local people in Otuke. In the past, officials rarely broadcast anything more than daily forecasts.  PfR has worked with the meteorologist in Lira to take a Langi translated forecast to the district for dissemination.

Eddy Francis, meteorologist at the Lira station shows his forecasting equipment

Eddy Francis, meteorologist at the Lira station shows some forecasting equipment.  He has been working with PfR to take translated quarterly forecasts directly to sub-county officials and villages.
With this system trust is building.  While many farmers said that they only used traditional forecasting, a few said that they used a combination of methods now that the information is given to them in a local language directly.  In the coming year a new weather station in the district headquarters will be fully operational.  There is hope that a streamlined system and newly hired technocrats will be able to get forecasts to farmers quickly before planting season’s start.

This is not to say that things are not still difficult.  Deforestation still occurs due to the high profitability of charcoal making, agricultural markets are unstable and land disputes are often violent.  Forecast information is still very late in arrival, often weeks after seed purchases and planting. But the people of Otuke, along with PfR and their local district government are opening a space for sustainable and democratic climate governance.  Resiliency lies not only in the measurable pieces of economic growth or ecosystem conservation per acre, it is in the way adaptive knowledge is processed, applied to real world problems, and nurtured between generations.  There is a lot of work ahead for the people in Otuke.  Based on what I have learned this past month, the people here are continuing to be courageous and resilient in the face of change in all its complicated forms; political, economic, and climactic.

Next post I will be in a very different part of Uganda.  It is a place only a four hour drive from Otuke, the famed area of the Karamoja. It has its own unique cultural and political history and peoples. There, I will continue to look at how forecasting systems and conservation are being worked on by PfR.

Drew helps to weed the garden of Nelly Okello

The author helps to weed the garden of Nelly Okello. Photo by Jasper Okwaong