Fighting landslides in Rukiga

Phionah Orishaba, EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme/International Crane Foundation Partnership, Field Officer – Southwestern Uganda,
April 2022

Kigezi region in southwestern Uganda has always experienced heavy rains in March-May and September–November, which are also the crop growing seasons. Human activities on the steep hillslopes in Rukiga, including bush burning, deforestation, and overgrazing, have left the soil bare and eroded. With nothing holding the soil there, runoff from the steep slopes after heavy rains has increased drastically, causing landslides that destroy people’s property and crops below. The runoff removes soil and sediment in wetlands, affecting the local populations of Grey Crowned Cranes, such as in the Rushebeya-Kanyabaha wetland. Soil erosion control in Uganda is a critical issue that needs addressing for communities to thrive.

While an important economic activity in the Rukiga District, excessive eucalyptus planting on the hillslopes has become a great environmental challenge. Eucalyptus trees don’t allow the growth of short grass under their canopies, and rainwater runs quickly down the hillslopes and into the lowlands, where it causes havoc for the communities. Under pressure from an ever-increasing population, the fragmented land of Rukiga has continued to be divided into smaller plots to cater to the many children in each family. Households in the Rukiga district have an average number of six children each, and parents struggle to provide for the basic needs of their families.

Soil and water conservation initiatives have been proposed to remedy the issue of runoff that causes soil erosion in Rukiga district. One such project, funded by The Darwin Initiative, is being implemented by the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership, Margaret Pyke Trust, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Rugarama Hospital in Rukiga district. The project has established two Napier grass demonstration gardens in

A Napier grass garden in Rukiga

Rwamucuucu and Kashambya sub-counties, in which Napier grass will be distributed to farmers to plant on the terraces of their gardens so that, when mature, the grass will stabilise these slopes. As part of the resilient livelihoods support that has been given to 248 households, each household was given 500 stem cuttings of three nodes each to be planted along their terraces, as soil and water conservation is one of the conservation actions identified in conservation agreements between the community conservation groups and project partners.

The Rwamucuucu sub-county chief Gideon Tumwesigyire has shown appreciation for the initiative. “This project has come at a time where it is needed because we normally experience heavy rains, sometimes unexpected, which has been a challenge to our community people. We therefore think that giving this Napier grass to farmers in the communities will cause a great impact by controlling soil erosion”.

Communal trenches dug on the hillslopes in Rukiga District to control the speed of water during heavy rains

Communal trenches dug on the hillslopes in Rukiga District to control the speed of water during heavy rains

The chairperson of the local council in Kashambya sub-county embraced the initiative saying that soil erosion has always been a great challenge to their people, but with this Napier grass, we hope to make a difference in the sub-county and district at large.

Community engagement has motivated the district leadership at all local council levels to join hands with ICF/EWT to make communal trenches on the hillslopes as one of the soil and conservation activities that can help to control the speed of water caused by heavy rains that have become disastrous to peoples, crops, and property. These simple conservation actions they can take themselves provide people in the district with the hope that they can stop fighting the land they depend on.