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In Uganda, wetlands are an important component of the riparian land which filters sediments from the runoff water and this minimizes water pollution (Zsuffa et al., 2014). Nonetheless, the environment of wetlands in Uganda is highly threatened by the increased expansion of agricultural activities especially due to the food production potentials in the dry seasons. According to Bashaasha et al. (2011), cultivating in the wetlands has become key as it acts as a mechanism for coping with the climatic changes. In particular, the wetlands of Lake Victoria faces many environmental problems including encroachment for the expansion needs of the crop cultivation land and burning and extraction of papyrus as shown in Figure 1. These activities have been exacerbated by the high annual population growth rates in Uganda. As noted by Oosterveer and Van Vliet (2010), other than acting as climate regulators and trapping sediments from runoff water, the wetlands in the Lake Victoria basin are an important social and economic components to the people around the lakes as they offer values like crop cultivation and fishing. In the early 1960s, the un-degraded wetland areas in was around 33,000-kilometer square. However, with the increased human interference, by early 2000s, the areas had decreased to about 25,000 kilometers square (Zsuffa et al., 2014). The key underpinning cases to this decline was the increased desires of the rich and the poor to derive livelihoods from the wetlands by practicing agriculture and harvesting materials for construction. In Uganda, many people have insufficient knowledge about use of land. In addition, many regulations, policies, and laws that govern natural resources are insufficient satisfy the needs and challenges that have been posed by the high and increasing population rates as well as the intensive agricultural activities (Hartter & Ryan, 2010). This paper endeavors to focus on the decentralized governance and regulation of the wetland resources around the basin of Lake Victoria in Uganda.
Figure 1: Degraded wetlands of Lake Victoria basin (Source: Bashaasha et al., 2011).
Wetland Governance in Uganda
According to Oosterveer and Van Vliet (2010), before the 1980s, wetlands were not recognized as an important resource. Most of the wetlands in Uganda were owned by individual and the local communities had bylaws which were used to govern them. In the post-independence era, between 1962 and 1971, wetlands in Uganda were centralized. After the Land Reform Decree was introduced in 1975 which declared all land in Uganda to be public land, increased political instabilities, and non-effective resource management policies led to increased destruction of the wetlands (Namaalwa et al., 2013).
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Over the years, from the early 1980s, decentralization has been viewed as the best solution to most of the governance problems which have constrained local and national development (Sanginga et al., 2010). The increased interests in decentralized governance have increased the necessities of high levels of efficiency, accountability, and democratization of the local government. As Bashaasha et al. (2011) point out, decentralized governance entails bringing governments closer to the citizens so that it can be easier to hold leaders accountable for poor or quality governance. In Uganda, decentralization assumes that leaders will be more incentivized to respond to any interventions whenever they are given duties of presiding over design and implementation of conservation programs.
In 1986, the government of Uganda introduced the Ministry of Lands and Environment Protection which was natural resource governance whose core goal was to deal with environmental issues and protect the wetlands. In the last two decades, wetlands have become a considerable resource which has been put under high considerable pressures from agriculture more so because of the increased population growth resulting to draining of the wetlands (Namaalwa et al., 2013). Today, the key stakeholders who are involved in governance and regulation of the wetlands are the user communities living adjacent to the wetlands, the local governments, indigenous institutions, and politicians. The decisions made by these stakeholders are the key determinants of whether the wetland policy will be implemented successfully (Oosterveer & Van Vliet, 2010).
In order to collect and analyze information about the decentralization of the wetland resource governance and regulation in Uganda, I chose two riparian areas around the Lake Victoria basin, areas around Iguluibi and river Rwizi which are macro catchments of the lake (see Figure 2). I used qualitative and quantitative surveying techniques whereby I traveled to these areas and collected my data from a sample of 150 farmers from 10 villages. I choose these farmers with reference to whether they were using the wetlands for cultivation, for animal grazing or for fishing (seen figure 3). I conducted qualitative interviews with another sample of 30 participants, 15 of them were local council leaders, 8 were extension officers and 7 were agricultural officers. In addition to the interviews, to increase the reliability of my data, I used complementary data sources of information from the already public statistics and reports about the topic of study. As noted by Bashaasha et al. (2011), secondary sources of information are crucial in qualitative research as they help in increasing the reliability and credibility of the information since it the gives a researcher an opportunity to collect and compare information collected in different times for different purposes.
Figure 2: A map showing the location of Rwizi and Iguluibi regions around Lake Victoria basin (Source; Bashaasha et al., 2011).
Figure 3: A picture of a grazing activity in the wetlands of Lake Victoria
For over 20 years, there have been several institutional frameworks which have been developed though there have been underlying weaknesses in the application of these frameworks. This has been revealed in the findings whereby the farmers noted that they highly depend on the wetlands for cultivations and other activities that support their livelihoods. Such high dependency on the wetlands has made it difficult to understand the expected benefits of the wetlands regulation policies which govern the use of land. It was found out that poor governance and policy regulation of failures in the effective management of the wetlands are as a result of several factors. These include;
Lack of political support
According to Were et al. (2013), in successful management of natural resources, political support is a key facilitating factor. From my study, I realized that the lack of political support from the local government is a key problem which has constrained decentralized wetland governance. It becomes difficult for the local leaders to implement wetland policies as farmers use these areas to practice agriculture and sustain themselves economically. From what I discovered from the research, most of the local leaders who have received public environment education were not willing to convey the information about the governance of the wetlands since they fair not being popular when seeking for votes in elections.
Farmers especially those from the Rwizi region argued that they are fully aware of the policies and the regulations which govern the exploitation of wetlands though they are protected by the local politicians when they encroach the wetlands. According to the farmers, politicians use these opportunities to stay in power even though it means destroying the wetlands as long as people vote them into the government. Moreover, the local leaders have multiple roles of ensuring that the wetlands are conserved. However, it becomes challenging to apply for these roles especially if their livelihoods solely depends on agriculture. Thus, there is a high tendency of compromising the conservation of the wetlands in favor of political interest and food production (Zsuffa et al., 2014).
Lack of institution Capacity
From all the 10 villages I conducted research, I realized that there is a complete institution incapacity to manage the wetlands as many local leaders struggle to understand and implement the relevant legal policies. In Uganda, as noted by Hartter and Ryan (2010), the decentralization of natural resources is mandated by the National Environment Act of 1995. The local leaders argued that their capacity to effectively manage the wetlands not been developed adequately. As indicated in Figure 4 below, in the Iguluibi region, minimal efforts have been made to create awareness of the legal frameworks and in Rwizi region, only a few elements of public environment education can be witnessed. The continued inadequate technical capacity of the local leadership has led to a continuous encroachment of the wetlands since the residing farmers cannot receive the relevant information to fully know the importance of conserving the wetlands.
# represents the number of farmers
Figure 4: A representation of the farmers’ knowledge about the legal frameworks which govern the wetlands (Source: Hartter & Ryan, 2010)
Lack of sensitization of the farmers
The findings show that lack of sensitization of farmers which has been as a result of poor understanding of the prevailing legal frameworks on wetlands threatens the use of wetlands in the two regions. From Figure 4 above, it is evident that 50.7% of farmers in the two regions are fully unaware of any of the existing legal frameworks about the conservation of wetlands while 34.7% of the farmers argued that the legal policies do not exist. From the total sample, it is only 14.7% of the farmers that were aware of the existence of the legal frameworks and this was because they were the ones that had close contact with the local leaders and attended meetings where such frameworks were discussed.
Lack of accountability from the local leaders
From the total sample, most of the farmers indicated that the local leaders do not take the accountability of wetland conservation. 66.7% of the farmers noted that leaders are not accountable while only 185 of them argued that leaders feel comfortable with wetland conservation (see figure 5 below). In the interviews I conducted, all local council leaders noted that they feel accountable for the management of the wetlands since they understand the underlying effects of the cultivation in the wetlands though, they had not stood up to their responsibilities to ensure that the wetlands are well conserved.
# represents the number of farmers
Figure 5: A representation of the perceptions of the farmers regarding the accountability of the local leaders towards effective management of the wetlands (Source: Hartter & Ryan, 2010).
According to Sanginga et al. (2010), it has been over a decade and a half since the decentralization reforms on wetland conservations were introduced in Uganda. These policies call for increased participation from the local residents and increased accountability from the leaders in order to ensure that wetlands in the Lake Victoria basin are managed and conserved effectively. Nonetheless, none of these have been achieved. The level of participation and accountability from the farmers and leaders respectively have been worrying and need immediate intervention. As noted by Were et al. (2013), instead of improving, the efforts of the government to effectively conserve the wetlands have deteriorated due to lack of sensitization of the farmers, poor and lack of support from the politicians, lack of accountability and lack of support from intermediary institutions. Moreover, it is through decentralization that politicians have had the opportunities to control the resources and as such, they continue to widen the gap between the poor and the rich (Namaalwa et al., 2013).
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Poor conservation of the wetlands can be argued from the point of farmers lack enough knowledge about wetland conservation. Also, less energy and efforts have been devoted to increasing the capacity of training and creating awareness to the farmers especially on the importance of conserving the wetlands (Hartter & Ryan, 2010). With reference to the findings of this research, it is clear that decentralized governance and regulation in wetland conservation have not been effectively implemented and this is the reason as to why the expected results have not been achieved. The politicians and the local leaders have more power and influence over effective conservation of the wetlands and they are at the core of overseeing effective implementation of the wetland policies. On the contrary, they are ignorant and they trade the conservation of wetlands with their popularity during elections.
It is evident that wetlands are Uganda play a vital role in taping the sediments from the runoff which controls pollution. The local leaders have been assigned the role of implementing policies which protect the wetlands from destruction. Though, this has been ineffective due to personal interests. As a recommendation, I think that it would be imperative in the government would form a specific agency which would be responsible for ensuring that all governing policies of wetland conservation are fully implemented.
Wetlands are one of the key essential resources and an important component of the riparian land which filters sediments from the runoff water and this minimizes water pollution. Cultivating in the wetlands has become key as it acts as a mechanism for coping with the climatic changes. In particular, the wetlands of Lake Victoria faces many environmental problems including encroachment for the expansion needs of the crop cultivation. In Uganda, many people have insufficient knowledge about lake and land use. In addition, many policies, regulations, and laws that govern natural resources are inadequate to meet the needs and challenges that have been posed by the high and increasing population rates as well as the intensive agricultural activities. The government has allocated the local leaders the responsibility of ensuring that the wetland conservation policy is implemented. However, this has not been successful for a number of reasons including lack of sensitization of the farmers, poor and lack of support from the politicians, lack of accountability and lack of support from intermediary institutions.
This paper did not cover the types of wetlands in Uganda, how each one of them is important and if misused, the underlying effects on the environment. The various national wetland policies in Uganda have not been discussed as the paper focused on decentralized governance of wetlands. Thus, it would be imperative to focus on the various wetlands in Uganda and discuss how they are applied in order to ensure there is effective management of wetlands. The research focused on two regions and in Uganda, there are many areas around Lake Victoria which have wetlands. Thus, considering more areas would be crucial to gain an in-depth understanding of the wetlands governance and regulation in Uganda.
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