Restoration in Uganda
Restoration in Uganda. C.Beatty/IUCN

Uganda has made a significant pledge to the Bonn Challenge, committing to bring 2.5 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2020. Since 60% of Uganda’s population depends on agriculture (Government of Uganda), the need to restore degraded and deforested lands is timely and very important. Currently, IUCN works in the eastern part of the country to enhance resilience of lands and communities that depend on the lands for their livelihoods. Some of the projects aim to train locals and help them ‘learn as they work’ in implementing different practices and interventions, in their farms.

IUCN is supporting farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) to implementing forest landscape restoration (FLR) in three districts in the Aswa catchment area in Northern Uganda – Lira, Otuke and Alebtong. The programme has trained over 150 farmers and technical personnel in FMNR to promote the regeneration of lands that have been cleared for farming. This low-cost sustainable landscape restoration technique aims to improve the productivity of agricultural lands while increasing tree cover and biodiversity. This is done through management of tree stumps of indigenous trees (which remain after clearing land for farming) to facilitate regeneration.

Farmers are embracing the approach and seeing positive results. Martin Aryam, a farmer from Otuke District, explains, “I was taught how to protect my trees from livestock and fire. Now there is regeneration of fruit trees and other important indigenous species. I have also managed to plant an additional 23 trees on my farm and I intend to plant more in the coming rainy season.  These trees provide shade to animals and at the same time act as wind breaks. They prevent the wind from blowing off our roofs when there is a storm and protect our crops from the rain.

In order to sustain and scale up the initiative, 30 farmers were selected as 'champions' to participate in a training-of-trainers programme. IUCN organised a cross learning visit for the identified champions to FMNR sites in Nakasongola district where they interacted with fellow champions. The training-of-trainers segment of the programme has helped the champions branch out and train farmers in FMNR. Further, IUCN is working with the selected champions to continuously monitor and assess implementation, and provide technical support as required.

To further promote FLR, inter-catchment competitions were facilitated by IUCN in May 2017 with support from Farm Radio International, Uganda's Ministry of Water and Environment, Voice of Lango Radio, local governments, and others. The competitions were based on the theme “I am proud to be a Forest Landscape Restoration Champion,” where competing groups were required to present a skit, a song and a poem. The competition brought together 180 participants from six competing parishes from the Otuke, Alebong and Lira districts. The group from Otuke district was the winner of the inter-catchment competition and received farming equipment including hoes and machetes along with other awards.

Farmer gatherings in Uganda. Photo: IUCN

The competitions are considered to be an innovative platform to improve peer-to-peer learning and sharing of practical experience regarding FLR benefits, especially for those who were not a part of the initial project. In addition, the competition increased and enhanced group cohesion, providing an opportunity for the competing farmers to strengthen their commitment to FLR.

The competition encouraged communities to not only travel and share their knowledge, but also build their own skills and support their team. Ogwal Sam, the group leader from Lira district, shared, “We travelled all the way from Lira to Otuke to come and teach fellow community members the importance of tree planting.”

"I didn’t know that I had been spending a lot of money buying tree seedlings when I could regenerate indigenous trees from the tree stumps on my land. In fact, these indigenous trees are even more resistant to the climate change as compared to the introduced ones." - Oswani Denis

Further, Auma Mercy, a member of the winning group, expressed, “To win this competition ,you needed to be stronger and more creative. Every member in our group played their role and this has been a factor in winning this competition. I am so grateful to have been part this competition.” Ogwang George, another member of the winning group, commented, “Everyone in our group performed to his maximum during the whole competition and indeed we deserve the win, thanks to our group leaders and all group members for their kind effort.”  

Many farmers who had heard about the competition attended the event thinking that it would be entertaining to watch, however, as a result of the messages shared through the different poems, skits and songs, they learned that restoration of tree cover within the landscapes will help to improve ecosystem services that are crucial to supporting agricultural activities.

Owani Denis, an audience member from Lira, stated, “When I came here, I thought it was going to be just entertainment and the usual routine of giving speeches but I am so surprised and impressed at such a wonderful message about restoration. I didn’t know that I had been spending a lot of money buying tree seedlings when I could regenerate indigenous trees from the tree stumps on my land. In fact, these indigenous trees are even more resistant to the climate change as compared to the introduced ones.”

Transmitting knowledge through the radio

Radio is one of the most effective mediums of communication across Africa. It reaches communities living in remote pockets of countries and is a proven, cost-effective method of disseminating information. IUCN worked with Farm Radio International (FRI) to design a 24-week participatory radio show focused on forest landscape restoration (FLR) that was broadcast in Mount Elgon, Uganda.  An assessment of the programme determined that it reached a large percentage of its target audience of 200,000 individuals in the Kapchorwa and Kween districts in addition to 800,000 people in surrounding areas.

The best ideas for FLR solutions come from the people who will be implementing them. IUCN and FRI convened a stakeholder committee comprising local government officials from the disaster risk reduction and natural resources departments, community members, and representatives from the agriculture and water ministries. The group helped identify what information gaps needed to be filled, the ideal day and time for a radio show for farmers, and the stations they trusted. This inception workshop built upon extensive formative research conducted by IUCN and FRI which involved interviewing a total of 248 farmers (123 men and 125 women) from nine villages to understand how they viewed FLR, who their opinion leaders were, and any relevant information about local culture.

This information helped focus in on Kapchorwa Trinity Radio (KTR) as the most suitable station for the programme. A workshop was held to design the radio show and three district officials, representatives from two civil society organisations, eight farmers (four men and four women), the KTR station manager, and two broadcasters participated along with IUCN and FRI staff. A participatory radio series was developed to address topics such as digging trenches, planting Napier grass (to reduce erosion and to feed livestock), maintaining buffer zones adjacent to rivers, mulching, using energy-efficient stoves, planting fruit trees, and kitchen gardening. Information on the potential impacts of climate change was also woven into the segments.

KTR staff received intensive training on conducting interactive shows, gathering and responding to feedback and how to use tools such as beep-to-vote, among other relevant skills.

Community radio programmes. Photo: IUCN

When IUCN and FRI’s on-ground staff were informed that certain villages were not able to tune in to the programme due to a lack of reception, they jumped into action. The District Assistant Forestry Officer began recording each week’s programme on a solar-powered radio which he would then take to villages on a pre-determined day on his boda boda (motorbike). Farmers were able to provide him with feedback that he would then convey to KTR staff that were collecting opinions and comments during the segments.

The radio show was supplemented with a daily spot message campaign. Using street plays and music composed by farmers, local government bodies and key policy makers were encouraged to support FLR.

A recent evaluation of the radio programme showed encouraging results – 98% of people who listened to most or all of the broadcasts said they conducted one of the interventions recommended to them. Knowledge rates were found to be higher among women than men with 64% of women, as opposed to 51% of men, attributing the practices they had adopted to the show. This was despite 72% of men owning radios while only 61% of women owned one.

A mobile guide to planting trees

Keen to get farmers planting the “right tree for the right place”, IUCN worked with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to develop Africa Tree Finder – a mobile phone application that guided farmers about the trees they should be plating on their lands. On opening the application, a clickable map loads with a list of suitable species for that location. The application was developed based on a detailed consultation process with stakeholders where their common concerns with identifying and planting trees were identified and incorporated into the design.

A short documentary on the effort – Equipping Uganda for Restoration: Radio and Apps for Reforesting Landscapes – was selected as a Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) video award winner and screened for 3,000 people at the opening plenary at the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The project is now being scaled up to the Upper Aswa-Agago sub-catchment area in northern Uganda. The website www.vegetationmap4africa.org had 11,000 page views from 4,000 users in the first half of 2016. The dataset is also being used by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa Biodiversity Programme, and ICRAF are looking at ways to expand the application to all IGAD countries.

Planting in Uganda. Photo: IUCN

Through these projects, IUCN and its partners hope to effect behavioural change by sharing much-needed knowledge and tools. These changes will ensure the continued sustainable use of natural resources for agriculture and livelihoods. The lessons learned from the projects and the information shared is expected to impact and benefit communities beyond those in the project-focused areas, in addition to addressing any existing communication gaps.