By Javier Silas Omagor, STEPFM/NECJOGHA
Manafwa, Uganda – Five years ago when Musa Mandu, told his wife and relatives that he was going to quit his local government job in order to form a village savings group, primarily dedicated to fight against climate change in the eastern Uganda district of Manafwa.
“They didn’t understand what that meant. They never thought this would sustain me and my family financially,” Mandu explains. “It wasn’t and still isn’t something people think can bring daily bread. No one; especially among us the ordinary folks who do not understand benefits of environmental conservation.”
However, the former mechanic ignored his wife’s and relatives’ concerns and opened a village Saving and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) called Bubulo Environmental Conservation Management Association Project (BECOMAP).
Situated approximately 6 klometres off Manafwa – Bududa road, the project was formed with a common objective of conserving the environment within Manafwa district and its neighboring areas.
“In our area (Namutembi village), I wanted to ensure that people understood that prioritizing the environment in whatever we do as locals all the way to policymaking is not only about protecting nature, but also ensuring that we lead better lives yet with financial stability,” Mandu emphasizes.
Mandu and most of his SACCO members are survivors of the past landslides and floods which have devastated Mt. Elgon sub region especially Bugisu sub region in the district of Manafwa, Sironko and Bulambuli.
Most members are residents of Namutembi cell-Bubwaya ward and Manafwa town council in Manafwa district formed BECOMAP.
Started in 2013, the group believes that tree planting, restoration of rivers and proper farming practices would effectively and sufficiently save lives from regular natural disaster occurrences yet also affect the quality and quantity of their livelihoods.
The project aimed at saving money amongst residents which would later be used for soliciting mitigation methods against flooding, soil erosion, water logging and mudslides which in the past few years has claimed hundreds of lives and property in Elgon sub-region.
According to Mandu, the membership has gradually grown to 72 members and at least 30,000 trees have been planted so far. This project currently lies on a property of over 50 acres of land which is communally owned by the members under a memorandum of understanding.
“A few people understood my goal and willfully joined me and together, we agreed to start BECOMAP with 10 visionary members who each contributed each Ush20,000 and Ush50,000,” Mandu recalls.
They managed to realize Ush3.9m, and ever since the team has made progress which has seen them today own a project worth Ush800m.
This money is what the team uses to buy tree seedlings which they later plant. As per their SACCO by-laws; each of the 10 founding members of the project was required to provide an acre of land whereby 100 trees per acre would be planted by the group.
Today, several community members in and around Manafwa district, have appreciated the project and are getting on board. The group has a 30% representation of women, 20% are youth and men being the majority at 50%.
The group preferred indigenous trees which were grown in the African Traditional Society –ATS times like the mvule tree, alongside pine and eucalyptus trees because their roots had proved to possess better soil holding capacity and could hold water as well, not to mention being friendly to crop production.
Asked how they have since financially sustained their families, Mandu explained that besides selling some trees for timber, the group has beehives encompassed in their man-made forests from which they earn money through lucrative honey sales.
They also practice inter –cropping in their forests with cereal crops, vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes and avocado, while fruits such as passion –fruits and mangoes are also planted for both commercial and home consumption purposes.
Fredrick Jordan Oluka, a climate change expert and a geologist praises the initiative of BECOMAP members explaining that trees are extremely significant in fighting climate challenge.
“Communities with well-shaded neighborhoods can be cooler than communities without trees, reducing the heat-island effect and reducing energy needs.” Oluka, educates.
Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha the Executive Director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a non government organization that fights environmental degradation, commended the village group for championing environmental in Mt. Elgon slopes.
Bainomugisha wants every community in Uganda to emulate BECOMAP in fighting environmental degradation.
John Baptist Nambeshe, one of the legislators from Elgon Sub region representing Manjiya County in Bududa district said with inspirations from this group, he was thinking of introducing a policy in parliament that supports the mass planting of trees across the country. However, he warned about the which species of trees to plant, because some trees cannot withstand certain climatic conditions.
According to the State Minister for Environment, Dr. Mary Gorreti Kitutu, the permanent solution to landslides and other disasters in Bugisu is restoration of the degraded environment.
“The problem of landslides will only continue if people have destroyed the environment due to poor farming practices. We need to protect the river banks,” she said, adding that groups indulging in climate change fight like BECOMAP must encourage women and the youths to participate in this cause.