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Keynote at Centre for Effective Global Action (CEGA)

November 16, 2020.

 Ladies and Gentlemen – Thank you.

 I am very honoured to be speaking with you today.

I was born on the foothills of Itemba mountain, in Nyebingo village, western Uganda in the late 1970’s. An intact and pristine neighbourhood is as clear as yesterday – at least in the deep corners of my memory.  Rivers – Kiborogota, Omukijurira-busha, Kanyeganyegye, Kanywa took their natural bends and wetlands of Muyorwa and Omukyisharu completed an undisturbed ecosystem that hosted birds, wildlife, small fish (esonzi) and supported farm enterprises like apiary and mulching for coffee and bananas farms.

From hustles far and beyond, frequently returning to my village now – where I am a practicing farmer, growing coffee and herding livestock, things have changed. The rivers vanished and wetlands are no more. My four children will, sadly, have no opportunity to walk the true lands of my past. There are no robust conservation and restoration efforts at the village level –and Rukungiri District local government.  

A similar situation is self-evident at the national level. According to Uganda’s National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), the Country loses 80,000 hectares, up from 50,000 hectares of forest annually. Uganda’s forest cover has been depleted to 8% up from 24% in the 1990s.

Ugandans are in shock regarding planned takeover and demolition of part of Bugoma Forest, a protected tropical forest situated southwest of Hoima and northeast of Kyenjojo to plant sugarcane! This forest, gazeted in the 1930s is endowed with a high biodiversity with 24 species of mammals, 465 species of trees, 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterfly and 130 species of moths. For now, pending Court action, the forest is safe. For how long? Your guess is as good as mine.

As a consequence, Uganda is now at witnessing a climatic and environmental crisis.

The Landslide that occurred in the Bududa District in eastern Uganda on 1 March 2010 killed 100 people and 94 bodies were found. Sadly, 350 people were never accounted for.

According to Daily Monitor, At least 1,000 people have reportedly been killed by landslides in Bugisu Sub-region over the past 10 years, an average of 100 people killed every month! Even more people have been displaced – with attendant challenges of disease, food insecurity, malnutrition and famine.

Torrential rain on 21 May, 2020 caused several rivers to overflow in Kasese district, in particular the Lhubiriha river. 8 people died. Homes were damaged and hundreds of people displaced. A bridge that connects Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo was destroyed. As many as 100,000 people were affected according to Red-cross.

In March 2020, swarms of desert locusts invaded Uganda from neighbouring Kenya through the North-eastern district of Amudat in Karamoja sub-region and caused mayhem in 20 districts in Teso, Lango, Acholi and Sebei sub-regions. Along the way, locusts decimated crops and vegetation. According to Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Uganda lost an estimated US$218.3 million in export revenue from especially maize, cotton, coffee, fruits, vegetables and simsim exports.

In April 2020, Lake Victoria water level scaled up to 13.12m, almost reaching the record high of 13.46m seen in 1964.

This caused a floating island situation that choked the turbines of Nalubaale Hydro Power Station, causing widespread disruption and power outages across Uganda. The disoriented national electricity grid negatively impacted supply of electricity in hospitals during this Covid-19 crisis, disrupted factories, businesses and schooling.

There is so much we can do to halt the momentum of climate change, restore our fragile ecosystems and green-up our economy.

We need to rethink planning, follow the evidence and reform our national budget architecture to confront climate change and deliver on targets that would get us closer to meaningful decarbonisation.

Agriculture, and specifically smallholder farming, a system that dominates most of Sub-Saharan Africa is at the centre of this. Since the Maputo declaration 17 years ago, where governments committed to invest 10% of the national budget to agriculture, only a handful of governments have made a plausible attempt to implement this commitment.

Dedicated Climate Finance to smallholder farmers is critical: Only 1.7 per cent of climate finance – a fraction of what is needed – goes to small-scale farmers in developing countries despite their disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, according to a report released by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) last week on November 12th, 2020.

The report shows that while financing that supports actions to address climate change surpassed half a trillion US dollars for the first time in 2017 and 2018, only $10 billions of this reached smallholder farmers annually. This must change and should start with governments in Sub-Saharan Africa, dedicating budget lines in national budgets for climate finance to smallholder farmers. This must be tracked and monitored to deliver on agreed targets.

Restoration of Wetlands: One critical approach beyond gazettement and environmental policing of wetlands is to invest in land use change through smallholder livelihood enterprises to restore wetlands.

In Uganda with support from Green Climate Fund, President Museveni worked with fish farmers on the first-ever restored wetland demonstration project in Limoto Parish of Putiputi Sub-County, Pallisa District in Eastern Uganda. The Wetland was once destroyed by the people living around the area growing rice. People who were cultivating the wetland used to get only Shs.700,000/=  ($180) per year from one acre of rice. Now with the fish ponds in the same acre, farmers are getting Shs.70 million ($18,000) per year. The project was started 3 years ago.

A total of 79 kilometres of Limoto wetlands has been restored and 5 fishponds of one thousand square meters each have been excavated and each has a capacity of rearing 6,000 fish, which enables a farmer to fetch between Shs.70 to 80 million per annum.

Restoration of forest cover through doubling down on clean cooking and renewable energy: According to Uganda’s bureau of statistics (UBOS) 89% of the population use fuelwood as a source of energy! We, therefore, cannot end massive deforestation without sorting cooking. One way to take this forward is to subsidise and universalize use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).  According to UBOS, 0.5 – 1% of a population of 40 million use LPG and Uganda’s 0.45kg per capita LPG usage is lowest in the East African region.  

In 2019, The Agency for Transformation formally wrote to Uganda’s Ministry of Finance – and argued the case at 2020 Presidential Investors round table calling for among others; Implementation of Value Added Tax  (VAT) and import duty exemptions for LPG, LPG cylinders and stoves; Introduction of carbon tax/environmental permits on vehicles and motorcycles manufactured before year 2016 to replace revenue loss from exemptions; Use tax revenue from Kerosene and environmental /carbon permits to finance universal LPG use awareness campaigns; Incentivise private sector to build storage facilities in order to ensure sufficient LPG stocks; Putting in place National regulation and safety standards for LPG. And Incentivising production of LPG cylinders and accessories to further push down end-user prices.

In the 2020/2021 Financial Year, government granted 18% VAT exemption on LPG. We shall now need evidence to prove coloration between VAT exemption, uptake in use of LPG and increased forest cover in Uganda.

Green Jobs powered by solar and technology. Uganda’s Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Capacity has grown by 250% over the past six years according to East African Solar Energy Report published by SolarPlaza in 2019.

In fact, according to Global Off Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) and Vivid Economics, 2018; the decentralized renewable energy industry, including both mini-grids and standalone solutions, is expected to directly employ 4.5 million people by 2030 globally.

This has been made possible by rapid advances in technology, with an increasing range of quality-verified products and components being offered at ever lower prices (Lighting Global 2016).

For example, Fenix International has since 2010 connected more than 350,000 homes in Uganda with affordable, clean energy solutions – translating into 1.5 million citizens that now benefit from clean, renewable access to energy. Fenix International made over 160,000 electricity connections in 2018 alone (800,000 people) and projects to connect another 250,000 households in 2020 (1,000,000 people). There are opportunities to accelerate this through the deployment of end-user smart subsidies.

The foregoing numbers have had positive consequences for health of the population, better education outcomes and improved livelihoods.

Beyond conservation and restoration of fragile ecosystems, the future for green economy in Africa must focus and combine; green finance for Small and Medium Enterprises, climate smart agriculture, green and connected cities, eco-tourism and natural resources, renewable energy upscaling, digitalisation and innovation, business incubators and accelerators – and green industrial parks.

Your work, that generates evidence, informs policy formulation and execution is needed more than ever before.

Stay Safe.

Thank you so much.

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What do you think?

Written by Rwakakamba Morrison

Based in Uganda. Working to empower citizen agency to pursue large scale change in Uganda, Africa and the World.

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