The importance of natural wetlands in a changing climate!

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student, University of Glasgow

I am writing this when the Conference of Parties commonly known as COP 26 is taking place in the United Kingdom in Glasgow. Having spent a better part of 2021 in Uganda conducting field research activities on a topic very close to my heart and passion – conservation of wetlands in Wakiso district, Uganda I have come to appreciate how vital natural wetlands are. I will use the analogy of natural wetlands as human kidneys to write about something that we are all very familiar with. The human body has four major internal organs including the heart, the lungs, the liver and the kidneys. These are known as sensitive organs and are thus protected by the skeletal system.  If any of the four is not safe, it will be difficult or impossible for one to live a normal and healthy life.

Back to the kidneys, if you don’t take good care of them, they will get sick and you will be warned to stop or reduce what is causing the problem to them.  If you do not listen, your kidneys will continue getting sick and one of the kidneys may be removed, and you will continue surviving and in worst-case scenario, you may need a total kidney transplant where all the two may be replaced. To get a transplant you have two options either to get a willing donor or to buy both options are not cheap leave alone the process of transplanting and as a matter of fact not afforded by the majority. Also, the chances of success are 50/50. That is how bad the situation can be!

Relating the above to our physical world, we have four key sensitive and fragile ecosystems as Lakes, Rivers, Wetlands and Forests. These four support life on earth for fauna and flora. I will focus on the wetlands which serve as the kidneys in our bodies. Our wetlands play many key roles including absorption of carbon dioxide, collecting and storing flood and muddy water and releasing it fresh for our consumption and acting as breeding places for the fish which the majority of us do enjoy.

Sadly, our wetlands are under serious attack from encroachers and degraders and the warning signs are clear to us but we are proving to be adamant and not listening or observing the signs. Hence, slowly and steadily we are heading to the kidney transplant level. Considering the fact that Uganda is one of the fast-growing country population-wise, it is also a country with a fast-changing climate which has resulted into many hazards such as flooding, long dry spells and food insecurities causing loss of lives and properties. Indeed, wetlands in the country are degraded 70 times more than they are conserved. The country loses wetlands three times more than forests yet we don’t have the capacity to afford the cost of creating artificial wetlands.

Preaching adaptation and mitigation to climate alone is not the only solution as rightly observed by one of the young Ugandan climate change activist – Vanessa Nakate who noted that, “You cannot adapt to a lost culture, you cannot adapt to a lost tradition, a lost history and starvation or extinction”. It is time now for all concerned stakeholders to focus on the care of the vulnerable individuals and communities through making every effort to conserve the remaining natural wetlands, deliberately come up with a communication strategy that will send a clear message to all the citizens in a language that they understand and through a mode that is accessible to them be it televisions, radios, social media platforms, use of billboards, word of mouth as well as traditional institutions to pass on the wetland conservation and restoration message. All our educational institutions should incorporate the element of environment conservation because without it we will all be challenged to live healthy lives. It should also be our responsibility as citizens to resist and discourage all wetland degraders at all cost because their actions directly affect our lives as well as that of our children and their children.

Economic Activities: A Threat to Wetland Sustainability

By Otim Dalton

In Africa, wetlands are of great importance because they are a source of water and food necessary to the survival of microorganisms and humans alike. In their natural state, wetlands provide a range of eco-system services: they regulate water flow, store eroded materials and nutrients, and provide water, food and raw materials. Therefore, the sustainable management of swamps, marshes, floodplains and mangrove forest (which are all classified as wetlands) is of great value to the long-term welfare of many African societies.

Recently, particularly in Africa, wetlands have become a new agricultural frontier. In response, a number of agencies, both local and international, are trying to explore sustainable wetland management as a way of reducing rural poverty, improving food security and strengthening livelihood resilience in the face of climate change. However, farmers have also realized that wetlands depend on well-managed catchment areas, and measures have been identified to improve upland management. These include improving land use through soil and water conservation measures, inter-planting crops with agro-forestry trees, and maintaining areas of natural vegetation, all of which facilitate water infiltration. This water percolates through to the wetlands.

However, with the growing rural population, climate change and the degradation of upland fields due to prolonged farming, wetlands are under increasing pressure as farmers seek out fertile and moist farming sites. The increased flow of water from degraded uplands into the wetlands and the disturbance of natural vegetation by cultivation in the wetlands threatens erosion and damage to these valuable sites.

In Uganda, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) was formed in May 1995 under the National Environment Act. NEMA was established with the main intention of protecting the environment. But despite NEMA’s efforts, the wetlands are being reclaimed and degraded due to the economic needs of the people around them and those from other areas. According to the Daily Monitor of 30th August 2018, in Uganda, swamps that have been encroached on include Mpogo in MpPasaana, which lies between Kitauhuka and Kisiitia sub-counties, Karokarungi in Kisiita sub-county and Kabale swamp, which borders Kakumiro and the Hoima district. Other swamps affected are Olweny swamp and Okole swamp in Northern Uganda. In eastern Uganda, the districts affected include Kamuli, Jinja, Mutumba, Kaliro and Mayunge, where most people cultivate rice in the wetlands.

A green rice field (left) and a field that’s ready to harvest (right)

One of the key economic activities carried out in the wetlands is rice-growing, which has slowly brought about wetland reclamation. Rice yields very well in the wetlands since it requires plenty of water. Rice-growing gained prominence in the 1970s following the establishment of the Doho Rice Scheme and the Nakwasi and Lwoba irrigation schemes. These schemes were set up for commercial rice-growing and today, they are dominated by rural small-scale farmers living in areas adjacent to wetlands. Although the soils in the area have largely been described as sandy and are characterized by low organic content, the Doho Wetland is an important ecological flood plain for the River Manafwa, coming from the highlands of Bugisu, where fertile clay and volcanic soils are found.

The 2012 Uganda Bureau of Statistics Report indicated that the Busoga region of Eastern Uganda produces 70% of the nation’s rice, worth Ugx120 billion a year. This is a clear indicator that wetland rice-growing is a viable economic activity that contributes greatly to the GDP despite the devastating effect of wetland reclamations. However, environmental scientists have also noted that human activities like increasing population and urbanization are partly to blame for the alarming reclamation and degradation of wetlands and swamps even in other countries, not only in Uganda.

Through NEMA, the government must continue to educate Ugandans on the enormous importance of the wetlands, and their contribution to the environment and climate. The people should be encouraged to gradually shift from wetland rice-growing to upland rice-growing. Afforestation and good agronomic practices should be encouraged to help improve and maintain soil quality and fertility for continuous upland rice-growing. This action shouldn’t hinder the viable economic activity of rice-growing or impact its contribution to Uganda’s GDP, and it will serve the vital purpose of wetlands conservation and sustainability.

A Cry from the Wetlands of Africa

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student and SFA member

Wetlands oh wetlands! Here we are, the wetlands of Africa, hear us on our World Wetland Day -

God created us to serve the needs of humans and their surroundings. We meet almost all their needs: Fresh drinking water we give, food we give, clean air to breathe we give. This enables them not only to live healthy, but happily as well.

We have given that and more forever, diligently and without complaining. But humans seem not to value and appreciate the goods and services derived from us.

‘Why, why?’ we ask ourselves.

Humans started by encroaching on us because they wanted to expand grazing land for the domestic animals, and we accepted. We supported seasonal vegetables such as cabbages and rice which do well in our fertile soil and conserved water, now we have been over-harvested over the years. We have endured the shame of being stripped naked until it’s too much for us to bear. That was not enough to satisfy the needs of human beings: Oh, who will ever satisfy human needs?

Because of your need to expand housing and factories, we have become the first victim and now we are being denied our original role and reason for existence; you are filling and dumping  in us soil and other debris as if there are no other places left for that. You don’t show any care or respect to us!

With your increased greed you have now decided to eliminate us! Completely ignoring the rights of the other peaceful and harmless organisms that live in us by directing your industrial wastes to us which chokes us badly. Oh, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Because of the pressure and burden you have placed on us, we have had to let go of some of our functions such as controlling floods, and now humans are crying that we no longer care. Harmful weeds and pests have occupied us because we can’t fight them as our capacity has reduced to fight for ourselves. However, we are blamed for that as well and some even suggest to completely do away with us in order to protect humans from vectors that cause disease, especially malaria.

We still want to exist and serve you as we have done before – you and your generations to come. All we are asking is that you show some care for us, help us to regenerate and use us wisely. Do not over-harvest us and leave our surrounding environment bare as this makes us too weak to defend ourselves and to support you well. Help us to restore and we will forever be your obedient servant, offering you your essential goods and services. Hear our cry, oh humans of Africa.


Anthony Kadoma is a University of Glasgow PhD student focusing on Environmental Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.