BY INNOCENT KIIZA
Rwenzori region, particularly Kasese district, has been severely impacted by recurring climatic change catastrophes, including hydrological floods, mudslides, and prolonged droughts, which have had adverse effects on the livelihoods and cultural heritage of the local population. To address these climate-related challenges, women in the region have taken a leading role in implementing various initiatives, such as planting indigenous trees on culturally significant sites and along riverbanks in Kasese district.
The planting of indigenous trees along the River Nyamwamba, Mubuku, and Kabiri has been recognized as a crucial effort to mitigate climate change and conserve cultural sites that serve as habitats for wildlife.
One of these dedicated women is Jannet Nyakairu Abwoli from the Banyabindi community. She has played a pivotal role in educating other women on planting herbal trees for medicinal purposes, as well as trees for shelter and firewood. This initiative aims to discourage women from venturing into protected national parks to collect firewood, as such actions can lead to conflicts with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) authorities. Nyakairu also highlights the role of indigenous trees like Ficus natalensis (Omutoma) as family foundations, which hold cultural and ritual significance. She emphasizes the importance of these trees in attracting birds, butterflies for pollination, and as early warning indicators for drought and adverse weather conditions.
Mary Kyakimwa, a resident of Kyondo in Bukonzo East Constituency, Kasese district, stresses the importance of women’s active participation in identifying medicinal trees for plantation. She notes that men often lack knowledge of medicinal trees, and women are instrumental in selecting the right trees for rituals and medicinal purposes. Indigenous trees such as Draceanas (Omuramura) are used in performing rituals, especially during floods and river-related events.
Naume Biira, the Deputy Gender Minister of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, acknowledges the significant contributions of women in mitigating climate change through planting indigenous trees. Women have played a key role in greening their surroundings, focusing on trees with medicinal, food, blessing, and spiritual properties. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Biira’s knowledge of herbal medicine earned her recognition as a herbalist due to her green home environment with diverse tree species. She emphasizes the importance of avoiding exotic trees that can attract lightning and negative spirits.
Dr. Joseph Katswera, the Natural Resource Manager of Kasese district, commends women’s involvement in greening Kasese and protecting the riverbanks of Kabiri and Kororo cultural sites. He underscores the significance of indigenous knowledge in climate change adaptation and mitigation. He notes the need to respect cultural norms and traditions that were established to safeguard natural resources. Dr. Katswera encourages the use of indigenous knowledge in decision-making and natural resource management, highlighting the importance of educating young people about the value of indigenous trees in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) is recognized for its support of indigenous knowledge in the region. CCFU has been implementing a project called “Using Traditional Knowledge to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Ekyisalhalha Kya Kororo,” a sacred cultural site along River Kabiri in Kasese, as part of the Net Zero: Heritage for Climate Action project. The project aims to involve indigenous people, particularly women, who possess valuable traditional knowledge, cultural practices, beliefs, and norms that can contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.
Fredrick Nsibambi, the Deputy Executive Director of CCFU, explains that the project aims to enhance the capacity of cultural heritage site caretakers to apply oral traditions, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices to reduce the effects of climate change. Nsibambi anticipates that the project will result in collaborative and sustainable management strategies for the cultural heritage site while increasing caretakers’ appreciation and application of traditional knowledge.
Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, in collaboration with Kasese district, has launched a tree-planting initiative to combat the effects of climate change on the Rwenzori Mountains. The project aims to plant 10 million trees, focusing on indigenous trees with medicinal, fruit-bearing, and spiritual properties. By selecting the right trees and supporting erosion prevention, the project seeks to mitigate climate change impacts on the region’s glaciers and biodiversity.
Kasese Municipal Senior Environment Officer Evelyne Mugume emphasizes the importance of partnerships and climate mitigation actions. Municipality and district authorities have collaborated with the Worldwide Fund (WWF) on restoring vulnerable riverbanks, covering 2,570 hectares of forest landscape. This initiative includes tree planting and has involved the National Forest Authority and local cultural leaders in the Rwenzori region.
According to World Bank statistics as of August 2023, Uganda has experienced increasing average temperatures at a rate of 0.28°C per decade. Daily temperature observations indicate a significant temperature rise each year. Kasese district has been severely affected by climate change, resulting in hydrological floods (along rivers Nyamwamba, Mubuku, Rwimi, and Kabiri), mudslides, and prolonged droughts, leading to loss of lives and property.
Dr. Joseph Katswera stresses that the climate crisis poses one of the greatest threats to the world’s heritage, affecting natural resources and exacerbating inequalities and social injustice. The changing climate has also led to various diseases, some of which remain mysterious and can be attributed to climate change, affecting people’s diets and well-being. The effects of climate change, including frequent and intense droughts, storms, heatwaves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and warming oceans, have a direct impact on animals, habitats, human livelihoods, communities, and cultural assets.
In conclusion, the efforts of women in Kasese district to mitigate climate change through indigenous knowledge and tree planting are commendable. Their role in preserving cultural heritage and conserving natural habitats is vital in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. Collaborative efforts involving government authorities, cultural institutions, and organizations like the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda are essential in promoting the use of traditional knowledge to combat climate change and protect the region’s unique heritage.