Climate Change is an Existential Threat

Essay by Bayo Bob

Bayo Bob is the Director of Programs at Global Peace Chain Uganda and one of the lead organizers
of the Go Green Campaign.

Despite the tendency of many including those in positions of power to downplay the existential threat posed by the ticking bomb of climate change, it actually is the single biggest existential threat that we are currently facing. When I write about this topic in this manner, many people dismiss me as a fear monger who speaks in apocalyptic terms for no good reason and as such, I am going to put this into perspective by looking at Uganda as a case study.

Uganda is a landlocked country that lies astride the equator. The total population of the country is estimated at 45 million, of which 88 percent is rural. About 54 percent of the population is concentrated on the shores of Lake Victoria and in the southern part of the country. Uganda has a total area of 241,040 km2, a north-south extent of about 650 km and a maximum east-west extent of about 500 km. Much of the country lies at an altitude of 900 to 1,500m, with an average altitude of 1,200m. About 18 percent of the total area of the country is open water, and large areas are covered by swamps.

Courtesy of Free World Maps

Eighty percent of Ugandans depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood and as such, they directly rely on the environment for survival. Even a slight change in weather patterns can result in mega losses for the farmers. And it is not only the farmers who are affected. Even those who are not working directly in the agricultural sector depend on the food cultivated by smallholder farmers and this is the crux of the matter.

Prolonged drought is a recurring issue for smallholders in Uganda and elsewhere, making it extremely difficult to decide when to plant crops.

Today, it has become incredibly difficult for farmers in rural Uganda to predict the weather patterns and this has negatively affected the ability to plant crops in good time since we cannot tell if indeed the rainy season has come to stay or not. On the other side of the coin also, torrential rains in places that have not been having them also wash away and bury vast fields of crops like groundnuts and maize that are not deeply rooted into the ground. Landslides accelerate the already alarming levels of soil erosion, as we are witnessing in many areas today.

As if this is not worrying enough, data from LTS International (2008) indicates that human induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda up to 1.5° C in the next 20 years and up to 4.3° C by the 2080s. There is not an iota of doubt that this will hamper the ability of farmers to cultivate crops, like wheat and coffee, that are vulnerable to changes in temperature in the long run.

Inexorable increases in temperatures also translate into heightened evaporation and by extension, reduced levels of water in the soils. In light of this, crops that require a lot of water to grow well will no longer be able to do so and humans will have to share the few open sources of water with animals, which is far from healthy and safe for animals and humans alike.

Preparing tree seedlings to be planted on the farmers fields.

As the team behind the Go Green Campaign, we believe that trees can be our superpower in the face of the existential threat that climate change is. Firstly, trees will stand in the way of unabated soil erosion by breaking the speed of runing water and this will mean that fertile soils will no longer be washed away hence leads to an increase of productivity throughout the year.

Trees will also have a welcome impact on the economic standing of farmers because of the agrofrestry model we are adopting and expanding through training. We intend to make tree planting relevant to the farmers through encouraging agroforestry – i.e. planting trees and crops together – and supporting those who plant perennial crops. Perennial crops are crops that you plant once, but can harvest year after year (for example bananas or coffee). This method creates assured and additional sources of income for farmers, hence increasing motivation for more farmers to join the programme and “go green“. In the minds of farmers this practice will erase the false notion that trees take up space that could be used to cultivate other crops. On the contrary: more trees leads to higher yields.

Trees will equally slow down the speed of moving debris and this will make landslides – that have become a frequent occurrence in many parts of Uganda – a thing of the past. It is worth noting that people in districts like Bududa and Bundibugyo in Uganda have lost lives and property because of severe landslides. Planting trees will therefore prevent devastating catastrophes that have caused the loss of a full year of income for many farmers.

Rescue workers struggling to retrieve bodies of persons who were covered underground
following landslides in Bududa district, Uganda. Photo retrieved from independent.co.ug.

After heavy rainfall, trees help stock water in the soil and prevent surface water to evaporate and therefore contribute immensely to the formation water reservoirs. This is especially crucial in light of the fact that open water sources are currently drying up and soils that are tilled regularly are getting drier and drier. Additionally, leaves that fall down will decompose to form manure enriching soil fertility. This will make agricultural lands more fertile overall and hence improve crop yields.
Conclusively, we are confident that with the support of everyone out there, what we are doing and what we intend will serve as the perfect antidote to the raging climate change. We know that the financial implications of doing something may be higher but inaction will cost us even more.

This is a clarion call to join us in this noble endeavor because at the end of the day we all need to drink clean water, inhale clean air and eat foods that are safe for human consumption.

We would like to sincerely thank the Klimaatdichters from Belgium & the Netherlands to raise awareness and climate change and support our Go Green Campaign with their wonderful poetry book Zwemlessen voor Later.

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