In Eastern Uganda, Bugisu sub region, where literacy and diverse spoken local dialects remain substantial barriers to global climate change campaign, translating weather forecast and climate information into existing dialects, can help effectively deliver the campaign against climate change.
This is because the massages would be reaching a large number of poor people who directly or indirectly involve in practices which tend to fuel climate emergencies such as wetland degradation, air pollution, deforestation among others.
Usually, farmers in Elgon region demand information regarding the temperature, rainfall, wind, and the direct linkage to their vulnerability and exposure to the impacts of weather and climate including follow-on effects such as flooding and crop failure.
Timothy Wambede, a farmer says that, inconsistent weather coupled with low access to relevant weather information especially in rural communities has reduced both the quality and quantity of their production.
“We the farming communities no longer have enough harvest compared to 15 years ago; these days when it rains, it sometimes falls too much, making the crops over-grow [and not] germinate.
Yet when it shines, sometimes it goes on for a long time, withering the crops.” A demoralized Wambede, in an exclusive interview.
Between 1997 – 2004, heavy rains claimed 48 people, displacing 10,000, in 2010 the devastating landslides hit Elgon sub region claiming over 100 bodies while 300 people went missing and 85 homesteads destroyed.
In 2018, 60 people died from another landslide in Mt. Elgon Sub region, 400 went missing and 12,000 people were affected. As if that is not enough, early December 2019, another disaster engulfed the region claiming a reported number of 50 lives while over 100 are missing.
Following several demands by farmers, a nonprofit making organization, Weather And Climate Information Services For Africa – WISER, have commenced with the initiative of having the weather-related information including updates and dynamics translated into local dialects living and spoken in Uganda, including Bugisu’s Lumasaba.
WISER, have opted to help make it easy for the farmers by translating the weather forecast for the benefit of the Ugandan farmers.
The project is led by World Vision UK who will work in partnership with the ACCRA Consortium (made up of CARE International, OXFAM, Save the Children and World Vision Uganda) and the Uganda National Meteorological Authority.
The other vital organization in this process is the Greater Horn of Africa Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF) which releases the regional climate forecasts three times a year. These are downscaled by the country forecasting team UNMA along with sector advisories.
It is these forecasts that get to the users through several channels, through the mainstream media. There are also regular updates in between the seasons. Seasons which include; firstly, March, April and May, the second season being, June, July, August and the third, October, November and December.
The targeted districts are characterized by persistent exposure to weather related shocks and a need for action-based forecasts delivered to end-users.
These are, however, areas of high potential for agriculture production and productivity, and WISER support through this project is already playing a tangible role in reducing household poverty and aiding economic development.
Michael Adriko, who heads the forecast translation project at the key implementer, World Vision, Uganda, says that they are making progressive achievements towards catering for every language living and spoken in the country.
“Uganda has about 154 dialects spoken by different individual communities, that makes our work a little difficult and demanding in terms of resources since we have to hire language experts to translate into all these 154 dialects.” Adriko told us in an interview.
He added: “Nonetheless, a year ago, we started with 6 languages and today we are able to translate the forecast into 35 of these local languages.”
Adriko further believes that with time and availability of resources, the project will be able to translate the forecast into all the functional dialects spoken in Uganda so as to ensure that every community is catered for.
For now, those communities who are among the 35 luck ones claim that, the service has helped them in various ways including reducing post-harvest losses, which used to be a menace for every farmer.
“Previously, due to the English language monopoly in weather broadcast, we (Farmers) never paid attention to the importance of weather forecast. We only traditional means of predicting the weather patterns and that resulted into us making loses. Said Musa Mandu, a farmer in Manafwa district.
A 55-year-old farmer, Mandu, says in the past, their ancestors predicted rain through direction of the wind, cloud formations and when certain trees begin to grow leaves.
Mandu, is the chairperson of Bubulo Environment Conservation and Management project and SACCO – BECOMAP, which is a farmer led anti climate change initiative in Manafwa.
Worried about the rising threats, Mandu and 10 other residents of Namutembi cell-Bubwaya ward and Manafwa town council in Manafwa district founded BECOMAP in 2013 to save the environment – and the lives of the people in the region.
The group has 50% representation of men, women at 30% while the youths represent 20% of its membership.
Each member made an initial contribution of either UGX 20,000 or 50,000 (about USD $5 – $13). Each of the 10 founding members was also required to provide an acre of land where the group would plant 100 trees.
Over the past 6 years, the organization has gradually grown to 72 registered members, at least 30,000 trees have been planted so far. This project currently lies on a property of over 50 acres of land which is communally owned by the members under a memorandum of understanding.
“Our general farm production has scaled up, down from an estimate of 55% to 66.9% ever since we embraced translated weather forecast.
The member farmers led by Sam Mauso claim that translated weather updates through their community radios and some commercial FM radios have helped a big deal.
“Majority of our farmers did not go to school so they found it hard to understand the weather updates in the English language.” Mauso said.
These Mt. Elgon Landslides victims, believe that, proper use of weather and climate information, tree planting, restoration of rivers and proper farming practices would effectively and sufficiently save lives from regular natural disaster occurrences yet also affect the quality and quantity of their lives.
“In our area (Namutembi village), I wanted to ensure that people understood that prioritizing the environment in whatever we do as locals all the way to policymaking is not only about protecting nature, but also ensuring that we lead better lives yet with financial stability,” Mandu said.
Poor agricultural practices, including the destruction of riverbanks and streams, have increased the worsening disasters in Elgon area. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, rivers in Manafwa district such as Paasa, Nametsi and Manafwa river itself carried pure, clean and safe water that communities relied on for their livelihoods.
The mountain hills and slopes were always covered by the green vegetation of elephant grass and trees. But today, irresponsible human activities have exposed the slopes and destroyed riverbanks and streams, loosening soil texture, which contributes to landslides.
Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha the Executive Director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a non-government organization that fights environmental degradation, commended the weather forecast translation initiative as one that is going to be essential in championing the fight against climate change.
State Minister for Environment, Dr. Mary Gorreti Kitutu, thinks that the permanent solution to landslides and other disasters in Bugisu is restoration of the degraded environment and proper use of weather information by the entire public.
“Having spent years grappling with limited market access owing to poor road network and exploitation by middlemen, this time round we have been frustrated by the extreme weather patterns.” Elias Wamboko, a coffee farmer in Bududa district worried.
“Our local radio stations have also started to prioritize weather programming in local languages, which is really helping us enormously. Today, before it rains, the entire community is aware and prepared for any possible outcome.” Wamboko explained.
Elias Wamboko is a member at Bushika Farmers group which is located in Bushika sub-county in Bududa, started in 2010 as a small trade and cooperative registered organization.
Their group leader Mereth Namwenye, is full of praise for the weather translation initiative, confessing that as a group it has helped them take wiser decision before, during and after planting.
“We suffered from low market prices during the times of dumper harvests and due to the bad weather, roads became impassable and this would give the buyers an excuse to cheat us, but now we have gone an extra mile to fetch better prices.” Said Mereth Namwenye, the group leader recalled while in an interview.
Namwenye pointed out that Bushika members especially the youths are also playing a key role in creating awareness to the communities through their door to door forecast campaigns.
Upon receiving weather information from UNMA and local radios, the selected and inducted team goes around the villages explaining to farmers, the day’s weather forecast in Lumasaba dialect, they also encourage tree planting so as to reduce over dependence on the existing natural forest reserves.
Modern water and soil conservation practices are used during the wet and dry seasons and the advisories provided in the Seasonal Forecasts.
The translated weather information has become more significant in our farm management and that is reason many local farmers regularly visit us for free knowledge and practical skills”, the Chairperson boasted.
John Musila, the Manafwa district chairperson, commended the project before emphasizing that enhancing effective extension, education and communication services amongst farmers will even make the initiative (Translation of weather forecast) bring about more impact and go a long way to help combat climate change.
This is the reason Bugisu Cooperative Union – BCU farmers, started Uganda’s first farmer, FM 100.6, BCU radio station, in Mbale town, so as to help translate weather and climate information for their listeners.
BCU FM is broadcasting majorly in Lumasaba and Richard Werikye, the Station Program manager says they are apparently prioritizing localized weather updates with support from World Vision and UNMA.
“Surprisingly, the most followed and listened on air segment right now for us is the weather forecast, probably because Bugisu is a predominantly agricultural region.” Werikye said.
Speaking in a phone interview, Festus Luboyera, the Executive Director of UNMA also lauded the initiative before stressing that localization of weather and climate information is the future of the climate change war.
Luboyera is however adamant that due to population pressure and irresponsible human actions, translation of weather and climate information might not yield results unless more sensitization and public adaptation is realized in Uganda.
Uganda’s booming population, is growing at a rate of about 3.6 percent per annum. The current population is 45,883,274 as of August 20, 2019, based on the latest United Nations estimates. At its current growth rate, by 2025, Uganda will be home to approximately 63 million people.
A 2019 annual report by ReliefWeb’s department for international development, indicates that human-induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and by up to 4.3 ºC by the 2080s. Such rates of increase are unprecedented.
“Our people need accurate and reliable weather information like never before and this has to be translated into the languages they can understood better.” John Baptist Nambeshe, Manjiya County, Bududa district Member of Parliament.
Nambeshe advanced his observations saying; “These could even be made much better through both community and local mass – radio stations but currently this crucial information is mainly packaged in English language which is not a monopoly in our communities.”
Justine Khainza, Bududa woman Member of parliament says introducing a policy in parliament that supports the translation of weather and climate information into local languages and mass planting of trees across the country, is a must consideration if Uganda is to expedite its own intent of combating climate emergency.
This investigative feature was funded by InfoNile and the CIVICUS Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator