By The Insight Post Uganda
In a move to boost environmental conservation, the Ugandan government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF), has initiated a certification process for palm oil smallerholder farmers.
This innovative step aims to encourage sustainable practices within the palm oil industry and mitigate the adverse environmental impacts that have accompanied its growth.
The endeavour is conducted through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) program, a cooperative initiative dedicated to fostering sustainable palm oil production and utilisation through dialogue and cooperation within the supply chain and among stakeholders.
The introduction of oil palm production in Uganda has brought about profound changes in the landscapes of districts like Kalangala and Buvuma. While palm oil cultivation has contributed to economic development and job creation, its expansion has been marred by a host of environmental challenges.
These include tropical deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution, soil erosion, the endangerment of species, and the exacerbation of climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. This happens as a result of farmers planting palm oil trees in mainly protected areas on top of using uncontrolled chemicals such as fertilisers.
Robert Charles Aguma, the Environment Health and Safety Officer of the National Palm Oil Project-NOPP at MAAIF, emphasised that in order for the government to align itself with environmental regulations, an assessment of environmental and social impacts was conducted in Kalangala and Buvuma districts.
Subsequent to these assessments, annual environmental audits have been carried out. However, despite these efforts, there are instances where deviations from the standards are identified. In such cases, recommendations and compliance agreements have been proposed, but unfortunately, only a limited number of farmers have consistently adhered to these standards.
Aguma says that under the certification alternative, farmers who achieve certificates of good practices will be eligible for extra credits based on the size of their gardens as a reward for environmentally responsible management.
Nevertheless, Aguma goes on to clarify that certain farmers planted palm oil trees in buffer zones, particularly in Kalangala, where initial planting lacked clear guidance. Additionally, some other gardens ended up submerged due to rising water levels.
“We have identified and marked farmers in the buffer zones, and we are trying to take them through sensitization on the best management practices, what to do within the buffer zones not to affect the quality of water in the lake, things like maintaining cover crops to avoid erosion of silt into the lake, not apply fertilizers within the 200-meter zone,” he says.
According to Aguma, in Buvuma the government through the National Forestry Authority is working with locals to open boundaries and mark central forestry reserves. In places where farmers had already planted oil palm trees, they have been advised and supported to uproot and replant in other areas.
In order to effectively implement a campaign aimed at certifying smallholder farmers, MAAIF enlisted the services of Solidaridad East & Central Africa to enhance the capabilities of key stakeholders within the palm oil industry. This initiative is geared toward establishing a modern industry that adheres to contemporary environmental and social standards.
With backing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the government designated $1.2 million for the awareness program.
David Kyeyune Ssengonzi, the Country Manager for Solidaridad, indicated that their goal is to provide training for approximately 650 unit leaders in areas such as RSPO, best management practices, climate-conscious agriculture, carbon farming, and trade.
Their objectives also encompass facilitating 3,300 farmers in embracing oil palm agroforestry systems and engaging in carbon trading.
Furthermore, the sensitization program places a particular emphasis on the cultural and heritage sites within the hub district, as well as the corresponding cultural heritage development plans for each district where oil palm cultivation takes place.
Natural heritage sites serve as significant indicators of various stages in the Earth’s history. This can be evident through fossils, rock formations, and the ways in which the landscape and natural features, such as mountains, have been shaped and influenced over time.
When an area boasts rare natural formations, such as distinctive rock formations, exhibits exceptional beauty or serves as a unique habitat for plant and animal species that are exclusive to that location, it becomes imperative to safeguard it.
Significant sites within the districts where oil palm cultivation occurs in the Lake Victoria basin include the Mpaata rock art in Buvuma, the Luggo forest, Lutoboka fort in Kalangala, Muzimu caves in Rakai, Bukaleeba fort and caves in Mayuge, and the Wankoli cultural site and Wakoli-Nankoma fort in Bugiri. These sites hold particular importance due to their exceptional natural and cultural attributes, warranting preservation efforts.
Smallholder farmers have enthusiastically welcomed the program, expressing their belief that it will play a significant role in environmental restoration.
Salim Maiso, the Chairperson of Buvuma Oil Palm Grower’s Cooperative Society Limited-BOPGCo, has emphasized that the initiative will contribute to the long-term sustainability of both oil palm cultivation and food production.