GULU Uganda (PAMACC News) - Over one thousand Karamojong pastoralists facing severe starvation in Northern Uganda have been accused of destroying crops belonging to local farmers within parts of the region, as they move around with their livestock in search of water and greener pastures.
According to Paul Lopuk, the community head of pastoralists in Karamoja,the herders have been sleeping in the jungles, many kilometers away from their homes in Kotido and Moroto districts in order to graze their livestock.
"About 1,000 of them have established makeshift settlements in Alebtong and Otuke districts in neighbouring Lango sub region, west of their home villages," said Lopuk.
They are majorly grazing on stocks of standing dry grass left by waves of bush fire which sweep the region. They are grazing in Olilim and Omoro sub counties in Alebtong district. Security and local leaders have restricted them to graze in a small piece of land.
Lopuk says the animals are unable to feed enough due to lack of adequate green grass. “We are encountering few nutritive young green grass upstream. The animals don’t prefer the grasses in the valleys which is why they stray into people’s gardens” he told PAMAAC News.
When the livestock could no longer derive adequate water from the mud left in valley dams constructed by government of Uganda, the pastoralists started to slowly drift away west of their villages, kilometer by kilometer until the distance became too much for them to return home and eat or fetch food.
Patrick Okello, a resident of Olilim says his three acres of Cassava have been destroyed by the pastoralists. He says besides interfering with the food security situation of the host communities, the pastoralists threaten women around water sources.
Wafula Ogumbo John, the resident district commissioner of Otuke district where some of the pastoralists have arrived says pastoralists without food have resorted to stealing food from host communities. In Ogwette Sub County for example, several acres of cassava have been ransacked by the pastoralists. In Ogwette, communities preserve cassava seeds by leaving them in the gardens.
Wafula says “in gardens run down by the pastoralists and their livestock, the cassava planting materials broken down have begun drying up. If not arrested, the communities will not have cassava planting materials when the rains return”. Cassava is a food security crop in this area.
According to Wafula, sick pastoralists are exerting extra pressure on public resources such as water, health care, production and sanitation situation. The sick ones have begun turning up at health centers after spending days without proper food and shelter.
“Medicines supplied to health center hosting the pastoralists are running out of supplies. We are working with Police to conduct surveillance and prevent the pastoralists engaging in criminal activities where they are seeking water and healthcare services among others” Wafula explained adding that 30 animals were stolen by the pastoralists from their host communities in Ogwette Sub County. They are yet to be recovered and handed back to their owners.
Like in Alebtong district, some of the pastoralists have resorted to cheaply selling emaciated livestock and uninspected animal products such as milk and meat to local communities in order to buy some food. The animals sell for as low as Uganda shillings 100,000. Karamojong pastoralists often migrate from their districts into Acholi and Lango sub region during droughts when there is acute shortage of pastures and water. This year’s influx stems from a long dry spell which adversely affected valley dams constructed by government of Uganda since September last year.
In January, Karamojong pastoralists entered Adilang Sub County in Agago district, another Karamojong neighborhood in Acholi sub region. They were accused of killing three residents they had encountered hunting in the bush. It is unclear why they killed them since none of the attackers was arrested but residents say the Karamojong cattle keepers are often aggressive. They want government to find permanent solutions to the unending search for water and pastures by the Karamojong pastoralists year by year. Hay conservation is a complete stranger among Karamojong pastoralists.
government and donors including the European Union have been attempting to diversify the economy of Karamojong pastoralists since they were disarmed of 40,000 assault rifles they used to protect their livestock, the major source of their livelihoods in the 1990s. The impacts of this intervention remains slow as malnutrition among Karamojong pastoralists remains high.
According to the African Union and the World Food Programme, one in two children in Karamoja is stunted. The UN agency says malnutrition cost 5.7 percent of Uganda’s GDP, an estimated 899 Million dollars each year. The UN WFP and African Union estimates that malnutrition will cost Uganda 7.7 Billion dollars in lost productivity by 2025.
The Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) says the Karamoja region has been experiencing water stress since December last year. The authority projects that the region will experience irregular light rains to set in around mid-March to late March, which will eventually lead to the onset of steady rains by early April.
“The peak rains are expected around early to Mid-May, and then moderate relaxation around mid- June. Overall, there are high chances for near normal rainfall over this region” a statement by the Authority issued on February 20th states.
Otuke district resident commission, John Ogumbo Wafula says government should invest more capital in building more valley dams for the Karamojong to store adequate water for the worst of times.