Partnerships Drive Water Security in Uganda

As a Member of Katwe Wetland Management Association, Frida Nasirue has switched her business model from cattle grazing to millet farming in Uganda’s Rwizi River Basin. For over 20 years, water flowing from the Rwizi – one of Uganda’s most environmentally and socially valuable rivers - has been slowly on a decline due to increasing human migration to the basin’s fertile wetlands. This degradation of wetlands, caused by climate change, livestock grazing and unsustainable farming practices, is threatening water security, leaving large local employers operating in Mbarara, Uganda’s fourth largest city, as well as local farmers in the basin competing for fresh water resources four months per year during dry season.

“We used to graze cattle in the wetland, but then learned that this practice was not good for the environment,” said Nasirue. “I have since taken up millet farming, which I financed through a small loan from the livelihood fund that was established. We never knew that we were affecting the Rwizi River by farming and grazing in the wetland.”

Public authorities, companies and communities depending on the river agreed that restoring wetlands could help reverse the damage caused by channels dredged to grow crops and keep livestock on the previously flooded areas.

John Kaburabuzo has lived in Nyakambu, a town along the Rwizi River for 60 years. Kaburabuzo, like many others, believe that a sharp population rise in the Rwizi – and the related rise in the cultivation of crops and keeping of livestock – has caused water levels to decline. However, since local farmers have altered their practices he noticed a positive change in the river’s water flow: “After we learned better ways to farm and left the wetlands for other farming opportunities, we started seeing water levels rise. Now, Nyakambu looks much like it looked 30 years ago.”

 

Practical solutions for long-term results

Collective action was taken to drive water security efforts. With support from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, The Coca-Cola Company and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)’s International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP) joined forces to establish the Rwizi Catchment Management Committee, improve Rwizi’s wetlands and drive development growth in a more sustainable manner.

The partners agreed that restoring the Rwizi’s wetlands and securing reliable water access would require buy in and involvement from local communities, including them adapting their farming practices. GIZ’s IWaSP supported this process by mapping stakeholders in the catchment to understand who and how they were affected; ensuring the key players from civil society and government officials were engaged; building knowledge and capacity and investing in scientific studies including hydrological modelling and water resource assessments.

In addition to ensure local farmers had the knowledge to more efficient and environmentally friendly farming practices, GIZ’s IWaSP also financially supported the establishment of alternative livelihoods. Community-based revolving fund schemes were installed and enabled farmers to access financial means all year round. These Community Environmental Conservation Funds, or CECFs, allowed farmers to buy supplies including seed and other agricultural necessities in an effort to shift their business models to income generating activities outside of the newly restored wetlands.

 

More sustainable opportunities

Having financial support, farmers were able to quickly replace their lost income and the Rwizi’s wetlands began to replenish. Two years after the close of this IWaSP supported project, which included the restoration of 500 hectares across seven different wetland systems of the Rwizi, the revolving funds provided to the Rwizi Community Environmental Conservation Fund continue to support farmers. The river’s water flow has become more regular and wetlands are better retaining water, leading to increased water availability during dry months. Additionally, secondary business opportunities such as new mulching techniques have resulted in noticeably fuller and healthier ‘matoke’ crops, the staple banana crop in Uganda.

“I also have a banana plantation, which I can now mulch with material from the wetland,” said Nasirue. “Due to increased water levels, we will have now enough water even throughout the dry seasons.”

The programme took a very practical approach and supported environmentally friendly business ideas such as farming mudskippers, a local sort of marine life chiefly sold as fishing bait, as a supplementary source of income for local residents. Local vegetation found along the banks of the Rwizi was also introduced to catchment area dwellers as an alternative to their irrigation channels. Used as a mulching base, this indigenous plant helps retain water and more sustainably promotes the growth of the farmers’ secondary crops.

“I have personally seen the results of our project, and they are very encouraging,” said Derrick Mugweri, Plant Manager at Century Bottling Company Ltd., a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, which is based in Mbara, Uganda, and had contributed around €105,000 towards the project.  “Five years ago, we were very worried about our water supply for production. However, ever since the Catchment Management Committee has been established and our activities implemented, we have seen positive developments in the catchment.”