Uganda: Cattle keepers dig dams to water their animals

February 15, 2016
A translation for this article is available in French

It’s a hot and windy afternoon in Kachwekano village, about 70 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Dusty leaves swirl around Augustine Kamugisha and his colleagues as they sit under a big fig tree. The cattle herders are taking their cows to Kafu River in search of water.

After a rest, they drive their animals to the river, a walk of more than 20 kilometres. The Kafu River is the only remaining communal source of water in this lowland area.

Pastoralists in this district normally migrate with their animals during the dry season. But longer dry seasons and erratic rains are putting them under pressure. At the same time, agriculture is expanding and increasing the demand for water for crops and livestock.

Mr. Kamugisha blames the scarcity of water on climate change. He says, ‘’About four years ago, there was plenty of pasture and water in this area. But now the season has become unpredictable, and this is disrupting [how we] feed our animals.’’

But not all herders are migrating long distances. Steven Mazinga is the local council leader in Kachwekano village. He called a village meeting after noticing that herders were continually losing their animals when they migrated long distances. He says, ‘’I suggested the idea of digging dams in this area to trap water during rainy seasons—to be used in dry spells to save our animals. And the idea was accepted.’’

After the meeting, people registered with Mr. Mazinga. Registered members chose small pieces of paper at random, with numbers written on the paper. They took turns digging the dams, based on the number they chose. First, all the members dug a well for whoever had the paper with #1 on it. When that well was completed, they started on #2, and so on.

According to Mr. Mazinga, three-quarters of the cattle herders in Kachwekano village have completed dams, and they expect them to start holding water when the rainy season begins.

Nelson Kiiga is a local livestock farmer who dug a dam in 2014. Mr. Kiiga says, “This year, we had a long drought, but my animals are not affected.’’

Samuel Olam lives in the village of Kasawo, near Kachwekano. He bought three hectares of land in 2008, which provided more than adequate pasture and water for his animals. Mr. Olam explains, ‘’There were few people around. It was grazing land occupied by pastoralists [before I bought it]. The area was so fertile with a predictable rainy season. Farming was so profitable.’’

But now, poor rains and overgrazing have made even crop farming unreliable.

Mr. Kamugisha thinks the water shortage will end once the dams are completed. He says many pastoralists lose seven cows or more every dry season. He says: ‘’I had 74 cattle. I expected more by this February because the cows have calved. But to my dismay, the number is falling. I hope we shall not continue to lose animals to hazardous drought once the dams are finished.’’