Saturday,November 28,2020 20:38 PM

Herding into oblivion

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th April 2011 03:00 AM

NATHAN Rwambuka holds his enkoni (herding stick) as he gazes into a distant horizon. As one of his cows approaches, he drops his head and looks at it. It is one of the youngest in the herd, a brown male.

NATHAN Rwambuka holds his enkoni (herding stick) as he gazes into a distant horizon. As one of his cows approaches, he drops his head and looks at it. It is one of the youngest in the herd, a brown male.

By Joshua Kato

NATHAN Rwambuka holds his enkoni (herding stick) as he gazes into a distant horizon. As one of his cows approaches, he drops his head and looks at it. It is one of the youngest in the herd, a brown male.

“This was the last calf born while I still occupied my land,” he says.

A few days ago, Rwambuka and a group of other herdsmen had been forcefully evicted from land they claim to have bought from the Bagungu.

It all started in Teso, Lango and West-Nile, where mobile pastoralists were ordered to vacate the wetlands. The latest conflict was in Buliisa district, where over 600 cattle keepers were evicted from areas they claimed to have bought along the banks of Lake Albert.

“We do not move because we like loitering, but because we do not have enough resources within our natural habitats,” says Rwambuka.

The resources he refers to include; water and pasture for the animals. It is estimated that there are over 11 million cattle in Uganda. However, 30% of these are kept under mobile pastoralism.

Mobile pastoralism
As the country modernises, mobile pastoralism is becoming more endangered.

The cattle corridor is the natural habitat of cattle in Uganda and the region. In Uganda, the corridor covers most areas of western Uganda, Lyantonde, Gomba, Mubende, Kyankwanzi, parts of Kiboga, Ngoma in Nakaseke and Nakasongola.

It then crosses River Nile into parts of Teso, Lango and Karamoja. Across the borders, the Nuer and Dinka of Southern Sudan, the Pokot in Kenya are also mobile pastoralists.

Mobile pastoralists have no permanent home. They keep moving in search of water and pasture for their animals. They make use of lowlands to feed their animals without necessarily degrading the land.

However, their challenge is that most of these lowlands within the cattle corridor are being ‘invaded’ by permanent settlers.

“I grew up in this corridor, moving from one area to another. I have never had a permanent home in my life,” says Ananias Mugabo.

Mugabo’s life is typical of a traditional herdsman. A cattle keeper from Ankole could move with his cows through Ssembabule, Gomba, Kiboga, Nakaseke up to Nakasongola.

During dry seasons, most of the cattle keepers converge and some still converge around the River Kafu confluence on the Nakaseke-Masindi border.

In Ssembabule, the areas around Ntuusi attract lots of pastoralists, thanks to the several man-made water dams there. In Teso, the River Awoja and the various wet-lands attract more pastoralists, while in Kasese, they moved into areas around Kazinga Channel.

“I moved at the end of December after predictions showed that January will be very dry,” says Eriah Musenero.

Musenero is herding over 600 cows that belong to someone he refers to as his boss. Just like most herdsmen, Musenero moves with his family of two wives and several children. “It took us five days to move up to this river,” he says. His wives also assist in herding the cows.

In some cases, rich cattle owners hire trucks that transport the cattle to areas near the permanent water sources. Towards every dry season, the trucks transport cattle from Kiboga towards River Kafu, for example.

Cattle corridor no more
The cattle corridor is largely a meandering strip of lowlands, covered by short trees, lots of pasture and several rivers and swamps.

“These lowlands were created for grazing. That is why we are here with our animals,” says Roger Singahache.

In recent years, however, this corridor has been threatened by both human settlements and commercial farmers. For example, the pastoralists who found themselves in Buliisa had initially been around Masindi Port on River Nile. However, this area was bought off by Mukwano Group, who turned it into a sun flower growing field.

Across Teso, the corridor has increasingly been ‘invaded’ by non cattle-keeping related human settlements.

There is very little movement of cows across areas of western Uganda since most of the land was fenced off. In fact, mobile pastoralism is dying faster in western Uganda than anywhere in the country.

In areas around Isingiro, pastoralists are still visible. However, even then, they are in endless conflicts with the local population.

In Kasese, the Basongora pastoralists were evicted from areas in the game park. In the Kiganda area of the cattle corridor on the border between Mubende and Mityana districts, there are endless conflicts between cattle-keepers and people who own large tracks of the corridor.

Modernisation is the way to go
There are very few mobile herdsmen in Western Uganda. But this was not the case until the 1980s.

“People were sensitised and mobilised to adapt better methods of keeping cattle,” says Kiruhura LC5 chairman, Phillip Kamugungunu, who is also a cattle-keeper.

Under the mobilisation, people sold off some of the indigenous breeds and replaced them with hybrid cows. “Many people fenced off their pieces of land and settled there,” explains Kamugungunu.

Yonasani Kashaija, another farmer in Nyabushozi, explains that while he previously had 100’s of local breeds, he earned less from them compared to what he is earning from the 60 improved breeds he has.

“I am not saying the local breeds must be entirely phased out, but farmers should downsize and adopt improved breeds which need less space and pay more,” he says.

“It was no longer about how many cows you owned, but how well they looked,” Kamugungunu says. This is the message that has to be given to all mobile cattle-keepers. Certainly, there is no reason for a person who has 600 cows to claim to be ‘poor’. An adult cow costs sh500,000 and if someone has 600 cows, he is worth over sh300m.

“Certainly, if such a person is sensitised, he can sell off 50 cows and acquire enough land to set up a good farm,” says Edward Byaruhanga, who owns a farm in Kiruhura.

Byaruhanga’s family used to herd their cattle under a mobile system. “We had over 800 cows but mzee used to say we were poor. After my studies, I convinced mzee to change and he accepted. “We sold off the cows and we bought 100 acres of land,” Byaruhaga says.

The herd was further downgraded and replaced with 30 friesians, for milk production. “We have over 100 friesians and 300 local breeds, and the milk production has improved,” Byaruhanga says.

That is the way to go.

Herding into oblivion

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