This article was written by Ellady Muyambi, Executive Director, Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI). Support HRCI’s climate cultural action in Uganda with Plan A.

Being aware that climate change is negatively affecting the communities of Rubuguri who live in the neighbourhood of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) who include the Batwa who are the indigenous people displaced by the park, the Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI) initiated a project whose goal is to use culture and indigenous knowledge to mitigate and adapt climate change. 

The project is premised on the fact that, although cultures are endangered by climate change, perhaps even more so than when they have been endangered by a multiplicity of other anthropogenic changes, cultures can and will survive. 

Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI) is further aware that culture, from an anthropological perspective, encompasses all learned and shared aspects of life in human societies. Included is not only ‘high culture’ — the arts and literature — but also science, technology, and more practical, everyday activities and beliefs such as for instance how to plant a potato or pray for rain, to seek good luck in battle or in exams at school. Cultures are not static; they change in response to wars, plagues, new inventions — as well as to environmental and climate variability. 

The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The communities in Rubuguri had started to encroach and degrade Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, its neighbouring pocket forests and wetlands, in an attempt to get timber and charcoal for sale. The communities also encroached the park for farming and grazing of their animals. The communities’ initial grazing lands were gazetted as protected areas where the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is in charge and members of the communities have been treated as encroachers when they would stray into the national park or the adjacent pocket forests such as the Kafuga forest. 

Uganda Impenetrable national park

The Impenetrable National Park is home to humans, wildlife and unique ecosystems (Credit: USAID)

In an act of revenge, the communities further encroached on the park and its neighbouring pocket forests and wetlands. The impact of their degradation was already being felt through the drying of nearby water streams and disease outbreaks such as malaria related to the durable change in temperature broadly known as climate change. Settlements and cultivation on steep slopes also further increased the risk of landslides and rates of soil erosion.

Read also: For a New Relationship with Wilderness

In order to restore the park, the pocket forests, the wetlands and help the communities, HRCI initiated a project whose activities include cultural events and festivals, music, dance and drama, fashion shows and storytelling, among many other animations. All cultures are learned and shared across generations, and one of the most effective strategies for conveying our knowledge and experiences is storytelling.

Cultural events and festivals are having a significant and important influence on the development of the communities in Rubuguri especially in respect to the utilization of the endogenous resources and are increasingly becoming popular means of creating public awareness among the communities in Rubuguri through taking progressive steps towards protecting the environment.   

The Ugandan path to Sustainability

Uganda is a low GHG emission country has experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts and floods in recent years. Uganda lies within a relatively humid equatorial climate zone, but the topography, prevailing winds and water bodies cause large differences in rainfall patterns across the country. There is a potential for an increase in the frequency of extreme events such as heavy rainstorms, floods, droughts and other natural disasters. With more frequent and severe droughts, climate change is likely to impact Uganda negatively in terms of water supply, biodiversity, and hydropower generation. 

Explore Uganda’s Climate Profile

Due to Uganda’s poverty, low rural incomes, lack of income diversity and heavy dependence on rainfed-agriculture, the country and its people are very vulnerable to climate change. The country is the largest coffee exporter in Africa (Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee) and climate change is likely to have a strong negative effect on its production.

What’s more, Uganda is the World Food Program’s largest provider of local maize in Africa as well as for other staple crops such as rice, East African Highland banana (matooke), beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, cassava and more, this fertility is threatened by land degradation and climate change.

“We need to create partnerships between local communities, scientists, and wider global community that will allow people living across the planet to take the steps most relevant to securing their own futures in a changing climate.”

Although Uganda is a low GHG emission country, ranking 176th of 188 countries in per capita emissions and contributes 0.07% to global GHG emissions, the country ranks 155 of 181 countries in the ND-GAIN index (2016) for climate vulnerability. In fact, Uganda is the 14th most vulnerable country and the 48th least prepared country – meaning that it is very exposed to, yet unready to address the effects of climate change. 

Adding Climate Change to the Cultural Framework

Aware that human populations have always been moving and changing their subsistence strategies in response to changing climatic conditions, this project is making the local communities understand that they cannot comprehend the human consequences of climate change, past, present, and future, without understanding culture.  As such, the project is helping the communities in Rubuguri to reframe their problems, including climate change. 

By working from the level of local culture on up, we find ways to reframe and engage with climate change as part of a broader form of cultural change. To do this, we need to create partnerships between local communities, scientists, and wider global community that will allow people living across the planet to take the steps most relevant to securing their own futures in a changing climate. We are therefore calling upon everyone from across the globe, to support our project by visiting our project page with Plan A! 

This article was written by Ellady Muyambi, Executive Director, Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI).