The government has begun the restoration of Kayepei – Kamolototo wetlands in Butebo District as part of efforts to protect vital ecosystems and address the adverse effects of wetland degradation. However, this move has faced opposition from a section of local residents who rely on the wetlands for their livelihoods, particularly for rice farming.
Over 6,000 locals cultivate in the wetland, which spans across Butebo and Pallisa in Bukedi Sub-region. Farmers like Mr. John Bosco Tekko cite climate change-induced soil degradation in upland areas, leading to poor yields and the need to encroach on wetlands for rice farming during prolonged dry spells.
Mr. Tekko expressed concerns about the eviction’s impact, stating that the community’s livelihoods are closely tied to the wetlands. He called on the government to provide alternative projects for affected individuals.
The restoration exercise, titled “Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystems, and Associated Catchments in Uganda,” was launched in Kanyum Sub-county, Butebo District. Areas significantly affected include Kanyum, Butebo rural, Butebo Town Council, Petete, Petete Town Council, Kapunyasi, Kanginima, Kaderuna, and Kibale.
Residents like Ms. Annet Naula fear that this move could lead to famine and negatively impact household incomes, especially among the youth. The Ministry of Water and Environment reports a significant reduction in the country’s wetland coverage from 13 percent to 8 percent, resulting in longer dry spells in some regions.
Kanyum Sub-county Chairperson, Mr. John Okia, emphasized the government’s commitment to reducing wetland destruction. He stated that they have engaged with communities and it is time for them to vacate. The wetlands provide employment for more than 90 percent of locals in Kanyum Sub-county.
Mr. Max Ogwapeti, Akisim Parish chairperson, encouraged affected individuals to explore alternative projects under PDM and Emyooga to sustain their livelihoods. He highlighted the government’s willingness to provide such alternatives.
Despite opposition from some community members who predict increased insecurity and school dropouts, others, like Mr. Lawrence Opolot, a clan leader, believe the restoration is long overdue. He cited the dried-up wetlands and declining rice yields as evidence of their non-productive state.
Mr. Micheal Natulya, the vice-chairperson of Butebo, urged the affected communities to embrace the exercise to address the unreliable rainfall, which he linked to massive wetland destruction.
Mr. Mohammed Galya, the district environment officer, explained that the pending eviction follows a series of sensitization meetings by the Ministry of Water and district leaders. He also noted that the national wetland policy allows only non-destructive human activities like fish farming in wetlands.
Butebo District covers 7,096.6 hectares of land, with 80 percent of it being covered by degraded wetlands. The district has a population of 185,000, comprising 17 sub-counties, town councils, 169,213 villages, and 61 parishes.
Butebo District Police Commander, Mr. Henry Kisubi, urged communities to cooperate and vacate the wetlands. He warned of potential use of minimal force by the police if people refuse to comply.
Assistant Commissioner for Wetlands, Ms. Lucy Iyango, stated that the government aims to protect wetlands through various programs but without compensation for affected individuals.