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Uganda: Lawmakers work to ease tensions between farmers and herders (GPJ)

Alice Aber runs a small food business in Gulu district’s Palaro town. Last November, Mrs. Aber was expecting a big harvest. But one morning in September, just after she’d opened her shop, her grandson came rushing in with news. About 60 cows were ravaging the 70-year-old woman’s crops.

The cows belonged to the Balaalo, a collective name for cattle-keeping tribes such as the Bahima, Batooro and Batutsi, among others, that migrate with their herds into northern Uganda from other parts of the country during the wet and dry seasons, looking for better grazing and watering areas.

Their presence in northern Uganda—an area mostly occupied by farmers—has resulted in long-standing tensions with communities in this region. Locals have accused the nomadic pastoralists of occupying land illegally, allowing their cattle to roam freely and, in the process, destroying crops. Tensions between the herders and local farming communities aren’t new. The Balaalo migrate seasonally—for long- or short-term periods—along the cattle corridor that stretches from the northeast to the southwest of the country. 

This crop loss comes as farmers are struggling with rising prices and erratic rainfalls. The local council chairman, Francis Wokorach, says that, between September and November last year, he received reports from farmers of destruction totaling about 50 acres of crops.

The issue has attracted the attention of the state and national governments, and several development organizations. In February, Rwamirama Bright Kanyontore, Minister of State for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, published temporary guidelines for the movement of livestock in northern and northeastern Uganda. The guidelines required the Balaalo to, among other things, follow designated routes, acquire movement permits, and move their animals only during the day. These measures were intended to help minimize the spread of animal disease as well as calm tensions in the region.

But sometimes the Balaalo have no choice but to move unexpectedly, says Nathan Kamukama, a nomadic pastoralist who moved from western Uganda in 2020 during the dry season. 

He says, “Our cattle were dying because they didn’t have enough to eat.” He moved to northern Uganda after receiving a tip from a friend about pasture on government land. 

Mr. Kamukama says he made sure he had the necessary documentation, such as a letter from his local council and the veterinary officer.

Not everyone can afford to meet the government requirements for the movement of livestock. Kanakulya, who prefers to go by his first name for fear of retribution, says he couldn’t afford to have all 80 cows cleared by the veterinary official. Each cow costs a fee, which he couldn’t afford.

He says, “I have been here for two years. I am on government land, and my cows are doing well because they have enough grass to feed on.” He admits that his cows have sometimes strayed from the pasture and destroyed crops when he left them in the supervision of his children, and he regrets this.

Yowasi Mugundu is the chairman of the Balaalo in Palaro sub-county. He says that the culture of communal land ownership in northern Uganda poses a unique challenge to some Balaalo, who have fulfilled the requirements outlined by the authorities. 

The animals need to access water, and installing dams would help, but the lack of water during the dry season in northern Uganda is a challenge. He says that even herders who have constructed dams sometimes still need to let their cows out in search of water. In the process, their cattle destroy crops.

Mr. Mugundu implores the government not to evict herders who have moved into the region legally. He says, “Some locals want government to chase us from here, yet we have bought land here or are hiring land here and the period of hire has not expired.” 

He also cautions herders to be vigilant in supervising their cattle.This story is adapted from an article written by Apophia Agiresaasi, published by Global Press Journal, and titled: “‘The Cows Ate It All’: Crop Losses Threaten Food Security.” To read the full story, go to: https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/uganda/cows-ate-crop-losses-threaten-food-security/ [1]

Photo: Cattle belonging to the Balaalo graze in Palaro, Uganda. Credit: Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda.