After Covid and Water Scarcity: Uganda’s Isingiro Farmers Justifiably Dreaming Big 

After Covid and Water Scarcity: Uganda’s Isingiro Farmers Justifiably Dreaming Big 

By: Hannington Tumuhimnise Katehangwa and Annitah Matsika

In Kyarugaju cell, Rwamurunga parish, Kabingo subcounty in Isingiro district at the farm of Francis Mbagaya, a renowned cattle farmer in the area, construction of a new dam is ongoing after a test on the wrath of water scarcity in the area.

Isingiro district is a water-stressed area and cattle farmers have been the worst affected over the years. 

Located in south western Uganda, Isingiro has two main water bodies; Lake Nakivale and river Kagera also known as Alexandra Nile which originates from Lake Rweru in Rwanda.

In a bid to mitigate water scarcity challenges in the area, the majority of cattle keepers are now tirelessly expanding their small water dams while others are constructing fresh ones.

Mbagaya, initially had a dam that sits on one acre of land, he explains that it is not enough, a reason why he is constructing a bigger one worth two and a half hectares of land.

“Once I finish constructing this new dam,  plus the other old one, my cows will have enough water” he explains.

Mbagaya s dam that he is expanding
Mbagaya explains how water scarcity has affected his current dam.

Much as the district has two main water bodies, cattle keepers and other people in the district still have a predicament water scarcity especially those who are far away from lake Nakivale and Kagera river respectively.

Some cattle farmers used to graze across the border in Tanzania.  After the outbreak of coronavirus, Uganda in March 2020 instituted a raft of measures that included total lockdown, closure of all borders and a ban on cross border movements. This exacerbated the suffering of hundreds of cattle farmers who relied on Tanzania territory for pasture and water.

Mbagaya s new dam under construction
Mbagaya’s new dam under construction to join the older one

According to Mbagaya, little has been done to extend piped water to people in the area. “Though we have river Kagera and Lake Nakivale, our leaders are reluctant to help us bring water closer to us to help us and save our animals from dying,” he laments.

Mbagaya Inspecting his cows
Mbagaya inspecting his cows on the farm

 The Government of Uganda has already borrowed funds from the Agency Francise (AFD) to establish the Isingiro District Water Supply and Sanitation Project. This aims to improve water supply and sanitation services in the district. This is now raising hopes among the cattle keepers in the area

Cows drinking fron Kagera river
Cows drinking from Kagera River (Uganda side)

According to the area Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Herbert Muhangi, the project will benefit close to half a million people (132,000 refugees and 208,000 non-refugee inhabitants).The water will be extracted from the Kagera River that forms the southern border of Isingiro District and simultaneously the international border between Uganda and neighboring Tanzania. The raw water will be pumped to a location where a new water purification plant will be constructed.

RDC Muhangi is optimistic that the Kagera River water extraction project will contribute to addressing water scarcity challenge that has been affecting masses in the district especially the cattle keepers who have been walking long distances to Tanzania to get water for their animals.

Isingiro district has 190,000 cows and 255,000 goats, according to the data from Isingiro veterinary office. 

Apparently, herdsmen are relying on three government dams and a few individual dams which are not enough to cater for the number of animals in the district.

Kagango earth dam found in Kashumba Sub County in Isingiro district that was construcred by the ministry of water and environment 3
Kagango earth dam found in Kashumba Sub County in Isingiro district that was constructed by the ministry of water and environment

Much as these dams are in place, they benefit from a few individuals especially those in the proximity, leaving others stranded with no water for animals

Once Kagera river project is completed, the water collected will be able to serve for sixty years in covered areas.

Over 90 Million Euros will be spent on the project.  

Reuben Arineitwe Kaneete is also a cattle keeper in Kakamba village in Nyakago Sub County. This is one of the sub counties at the border with Tanzania.

Cattle keepers in Kakamba Sub County have been benefiting from cross border pastoralism. 

Picture one
Kaneete pouring water in a water trough from his seasonal dam

Since the Covid-19 lockdown when cattle keepers were barred from crossing to Tanzania, Kaneete has so far lost eight cows on top of selling ten due to lack of water.

According to Kaneete, the boarders were closed abruptly without prior warning to enable cattle keepers at the boarder think through how they will take care of their animals. “This was a challenging development to the majority in the area,” he explains.

One of the bulls on Mbagaya s farm
Some of Kaneete’s cows in a drying farm

Kakamba, Masha, Bukanga, Endinzi and Kamwema are the most water-stressed sub counties in the district. These have traditionally been hit by drought in Isingiro district, Dr. Bruhan Kasozi, the Isingiro veterinary officer, says the scarcity of water in the area and the closure of boarders greatly affected herdsmen in the district. He notes that some farmers registered losses on their farms due to either complete lack of water for cows to drink or animals drinking dirty water.

Cattle keeping and other agricultural ventures in the district are in peril because Isingiro district has not received substantial rain fall in years and thisis threatening livelihoods..

Dr. Kasozi is optimistic that once government successfully draws water from Kagera river, cattle keepers will have a reason to smile

picture two
Isingiro DVO Bruhan Kasozi in his office explaining how cattle keepers have been affected

Between 2016 and 2020 before covid19 struck the country, between 4,500 and 5500 cattle had been relocated to neighboring Tanzania in search of pasture and water. This is now history because this grazing practice is no more and the majority have registered losses since it was stopped by Tanzanian authorities especially after the outbreak of covid -19,

explains Kasozi.

The Isingiro district Chairman Aaron Turahi explains that “It’s difficult for the cattle farmers to sustain their animals without cross border pastoralism that has been a practice for generations.”

However, Turahi notes that the closure of boarders is temporary and after the Covid-19 pandemic, , cattle farmers will return to their normal ways of grazing.

In 2016, Isingiro district suffered the worst of the dry spell in decades. Water in eight government dams was consumed and dams dried up, according to a story by one of the online news outlets – Chimp Reports.

The drought that lasted for a month left nine people dead as well as over 250 cows, before many non-government organizations and individuals intervened to offer food relief and other items to help people.

Following this calamity, a cross section of Isingiro residents relocated to other neighboring district for safety.

This story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme.

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