By Otushabire Tibyangye
Efforts to save Lake Nakivale from extinction which is situated in the district of Isingiro in South-western Uganda have begun paying off through the intervention National Environment
Management Authority (Nema) and other players. They include creation of a 200 m buffer zone with a tree belt, tree planting, regeneration of flood plains free from human settlement and activities and sustainable use of wetland resources.
Why the intervention
Lake Nakivale Wetland fragile ecosystem is part of the larger Lake Mburo, Nakivale, River Rwizi Wetland System, of approximately 26,834 ha. It was designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Wetlands Ramzsar Convention in Iran on 15th September 2006. This was because it supports threatened two bird species of the endangered Cichlid fish species Astatoreochromis and Astatotilapia.
It is also the only area in Uganda where the Impala animal is found. Lake Nakivale is 14 km long, 6 km wide with a maximum depth of 3.5 m at high water level. This wetland connects with Lake Kachera and Lake Kijjanibarola Wetlands through River Rwizi Wetland. They all feed into Lake Victoria. The wetland system is not only a site of international importance, it plays a great role at local level as a source of water for domestic, livestock and wildlife, provides pasture for cattle , fish and materials for handcrafts and thatching houses. Like any other wetland in Uganda it directly impacts the performance of the national economy.
It directly benefits locals of Isingiro District as it is located in the heart of the district and refugees too who live on the shores of Lake Nakivale. It is also the biggest water source in the district which is among the water stressed districts. The need to create a buffer zone as established by the government was long overdue to the fact that Lake Nakivale was silting at an alarming rate due to population pressure in the refugee settlement and surrounding areas on Bukanga County.
Nakivale Refugee Settlement was established in 1958 and officially recognized in 1960 to house Rwandan refugees who were mainly cattle keepers pausing less threat to the lake. They did not have much impact on land degradation.
However the situation changed around 1994 when they (refugees) went back home after the liberation struggle which triggered the exodus of new refugees from Rwanda but who are agriculturists. Currently the settlement is a home to 110,000 refugees mainly from Somalia, Democratic Rep Congo, Kenya, Eritrea, Sudan and Burundi among others. Majority of them practice agricultural farming using poor methods. They have also put pressure on trees looking for firewood and construction materials and other natural resources for survival.
In 2013 the government decided to establish a buffer zone around the lake to save it from extinction. The environment officer in-charge of wetlands Isingiro District Abdu Kamoga says the intervention to save Lake Nakivale was timely because the lake had been rescinding due to siltation and part of the lake had turned into a papyrus swamp.
He attributes this to population pressure on the land surrounding the lake and in the hinterland which comprises both cattle keepers and farmers on the slopes of Ngarama hills.
“We had to intervene to save a grave situation that was threatening the existence of the wetland and lake. They included siltation, overfishing, harvesting thatching and craft making materials, loss of medicinal plants, overgrazing, uncontrolled tree harvesting and poor agricultural practices leading to soil erosion,” he says.
From 2008 NEMA carried out awareness creation to sensitize the local population on the need to create a buffer zone of 200 metres before the eviction of the encroachers who included both the refugees and nationals, fishermen, craft making artisans, cattle keepers, farmers and traders that had established shops along the shores of the lake.
“We met a lot of resistance from the encroaches who wanted government to compensate them.However Eviction took place at the beginning of Feb 2013
The exercise was an effort of Isingiro District and funded by Nema, office of the prime minister and IUCN. The 200 m buffer zone has since been established with a 45 m tree belt and 5 m access road. Eviction of farmers from 8 flood plains which carry water from the hills that pour into the lake has also been achieved.
“Farmers uphill have been trained to practice best agricultural practices like digging trenches in banana plantations to arrest runoff water, mulching, agro forestry and keeping few animals to avoid overgrazing,” Kamoga says.
He however says refugees were difficult to deal with as they believed that the land belonged to them and they had a right to use it anyhow. To solve this, office of the prime minister through the refugees desk office carried out the sensitization and eviction of refugees from the buffer zone. He says compliance from the refugees has since paid off and pockets of resistance have remained in areas occupied by the locals. So far only Kahirimbi and Katwengye villages have been fully covered with trees and access road.
To avoid implementation frustrations especially by the locals, Nema has used a win-win approach through allowing farmers to use the tree belt to intercrop with other food crops for 5 years.
“We allowed the farmers to use the tree belt to plant food crops with grivelia trees for five years and also use the branches after pruning for firewood,” he says.
For sustainability purposes locals have formed wetland management committees comprising all different resource users like cattle keepers, herbalists, craft makers, fishermen and farmers for compliance purposes. This committee is charged with the monitoring of the buffer zone to see that natural regeneration takes place and in the flood plains. However it is still a challenge where the committees have not been formed.
Planting of ecofriendly trees like grivelia in the settlement camps has been encouraged to provide fire wood and construction materials.
Out of 89 km buffer zone 23 km have so far been planted. To solve the problem of construction materials refugees have been encouraged to plant trees at household level in the camps and to construct mud brick houses also to ease accommodation purposes for those with big families.
Use of biogas among the locals in the villages and brickets for the refugees.
As a way to improve on the restoration of tree cover in the settlement a bricket making machine has been established in the settlement and the refugees are able to access clean cooking energy in large quantities. Brickets are made from rubbish and other waste householdmaterials like banana peels.
The water levels have increased, quality improved tremendously and this has been supported by settlement management through establishment of safe water methods that include digging of shallow wells and piped water. “Currently individual water consumption per individual per day has moved from 14 to 17 liters but the target is 20 liters per day”, Kamoga says.
Fishermen also have a cause to smile, 10 fish landing sites have been established. Since the establishment of the buffer zone 6 years ago fish size and stocks have increased hence more catch and more income.
Areas that need improvement
The buffer zone is still faced with encroachment from the nationals who are still digging in the 200 m and cattle grazing.
“We are still faced with farmers who occasionary stray into the 200m zone for cultivation and cattle keepers who are yet to stop grazing on the lake shores and watering their animals directly in the lake,” he says. Bush fires are still a challenge not only to the regenerating vegetation in the buffer zone and flood plains but also to the newly planted trees.
During the dry season some trees are lost not only to fires and the dry spell but also ants which eat up the trees. Kamoga is optimistic that with more funding tree planting will improve tremendously the restoration of the environment, regeneration of the natural vegetation along the lake shores, improvement of the lake shores, water quality and increase of water volume to its original position. The lake had lost part of its shore and an arm of about 200 meters currently covered with a papyrus swamp.
Kamoga says more sensitization and law enforcement are needed so that the achievements can be shared in the areas which are still wanting.
“We need to have the enforcement of the law in its totality so as to achieve and consolidate the good practices so far that have been achieved,” he says.