At the border of Kamwenge and Ibanda districts lies the Rushango Wetland, a once desolate and degraded area that now tells an extraordinary story of hope and restoration.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the villagers and the support of organizations like the Uganda Biodiversity Fund (UBF) and Nature Uganda, the community has learned to live in harmony with nature after years of degradation.
Kassim Aliganyila, the Senior Environment Officer for Kamwenge District, passionately speaks about the challenges the wetland faced in the years leading to 2021. Rampant human activity threatened its peaceful existence, with some villagers using it for farming and others engaging in charcoal burning. However, with the help of UBF and Nature Uganda, Kamwenge Local Government initiated a mission to restore the wetland, despite facing opposition from those who viewed it as a lucrative venture.
The rejuvenated Rushango Wetland
Community sensitization played a pivotal role in this restoration project. Training was conducted to explain the importance of wetlands to the villagers, and fortunately, they listened and abandoned cultivation in the wetland.
Nyiramahoro Dinavence, who had been cultivating in the wetland, acknowledged her ignorance about the adverse impact of such activities, stating, “We did not know that cultivating in a wetland is not good… But, when UBF and Nature Uganda came and trained us, we realized the reason we were not getting enough rain is because we had put pressure on the wetland.”
To ensure sustainable agriculture practices, the community has been introduced to permanent planting basins that retain water for crops during dry spells. Agroforestry techniques and grass planting have also been advocated to prevent soil erosion.
The revival journey faces challenges, with some villagers still encroaching on the wetland. However, through continued dialogue and sensitization, progress is being made in preserving this precious ecosystem.
A demonstration garden showing permanent planting basins
Aliganyila explains how the planting basins work.
Beyond Karama, neighboring villages, and even refugee settlements like Rwamwanja, have benefitted from the project. Sensitization programs have encouraged alternative economic activities like fish farming and beekeeping, leading to a significant reduction in wetland encroachment.
Turyahabwe Livingstone the chairman LC1 Mukukuru village, Kabuye Parish in Biguri subcounty Kamwenge district says his people learnt a lot from the sensitization programs and this has helped the restoration of the once degraded Kajororo wetland.
“When UBF and Nature Uganda came to sensitise us on the use of wetlands and put the barriers, our people listened. Concrete blocks were put in place to show where we, the locals must stop and we have not crossed them so far. We now practice agriculture in our different areas outside the wetland and we are still being sensitized so that some of us do not fall off and come back to the wetland. Our people are not only practising modern ways of agriculture, but they are keeping bees, while our animals can drink from the wetland, especially during this dry season,” Turyahabwe explained.
Local leaders from Biguri Subcounty where Kajororo Wetland is located. It feeds into Rushango wetland too
Aliganyila Kassim says they constructed the pillars to restore the wetland by keeping away all human activity.
He adds that their work was easier because they have also engaged the local leaders right from LC 1 who are trained to engage their electorate.
He further testifies that the use of dialogue and sensitization has yielded more positive results as compared to the use of force as was the norm in the past.
Mr Ivan Amanigaruhanga, the Executive Director of the Uganda Biodiversity Fund, highlights the importance of funding for natural resource preservation. Unlocking private-sector funding has become a priority to ensure the success of such conservation efforts. Amanigaruhanga hopes to raise USD 10 million to finance its strategic plan for the next five years, with projects like wetland restoration at the forefront.
Mr Achilles Byaruhanga the Executive Director Nature Uganda says their target was to restore 400 hectares of the wetland and so far, they have finished 390 hectares in the last 2 and a half years.
They have now increased their target to 600 hectares to cover most of the pressure points that they have discovered.
“We are not only looking at the water system, but we are interested in Biodiversity; the plants, animals, amphibians, insects and reptiles. Because without them, it does not qualify to be a wetland,” he says.
Young men wash a motorcycle at River Mpanga
The use of community sensitization and dialogue, rather than a heavy-handed approach, has proven to be more effective in achieving positive results in the preservation of wetlands like Rushango and Kajororo. As the once-barren wetlands transform into a vibrant havens, they serve as beacons of hope for restoring endangered biodiversity everywhere.
In this age of climate change and environmental challenges, the success story of Rushango Wetland stands as a testament to the power of community engagement and education in the fight for a sustainable future.