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The impact of landlessness on sustainable agricultural initiatives; Benet Sub County, Kapchorwa, Uganda

By Francis Alinyo and Terry Leahy

Francis Alinyo – CAPSTRANS research centre,
University of Newcastle, Australia, University Drive,
Callaghan, NSW,    2308, Australia.

Terry Leahy – School of Humanities and Social Sciences,
University of Newcastle, Australia, University Drive,
Callaghan, NSW,    2308, Australia.
Phone: + 61 2 49 21 6106
Fax: + 61 2 49 21 6933




The rate of soil productivity decline in Benet Sub County, Uganda, is on the rise despite numerous efforts to reverse the situation. Benet is an area that suffers from uncertain land tenure rights resulting from conflicts between the community and the Mt Elgon National Park. This paper explores the contribution of land ownership disputes to declining soil productivity in Benet Sub County, Uganda. Interviews, focus group discussions and PRA sessions were conducted among farmers and local leaders. Our study indicates that the causes of declining soil productivity go beyond technologies, which have been the main focus of past interventions. The causes include: mono cropping, rapid population growth, absence of land ownership rights, inadequate extension services, and gender inequalities. These findings have great bearing on sustainable agriculture interventions, the welfare of the community and management of the national park.


Key words: Benet, sustainable agriculture, Mt Elgon National Park, land ownership rights.


1. Introduction


Benet Sub County is the area that was excised from Mt Elgon forest to resettle the Benet people whose occupation was damaging the forest. This 1983 resettlement process was marred by irregularities that left some Benet families landless - seven hundred this redistribution and more by now with population growth. The 6000 hectares of land earmarked for resettlement also blew out to 7500 hectares. Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government’s protected area watchdog, claims that the exceeded area (1500 hectares –Yatui parish) should be part of the protected area.


There are ongoing land disputes between the Benet and non-Benet communities on the one hand, and protected area authorities on the other hand. A fresh redistribution has often been suggested. To advance this idea, Uganda Wildlife Authority attempted to fragment and rule the community (Meyer 2005). The community, local leaders and land rights organizations consequently sued the government in the High Court for land rights violations. A ruling in 2005 recommended fresh allocations should not be conducted; the communities should remain on the land distributed in 1983. The court also ruled the illegal occupation by 700 families in the margins of the national park should be legitimized. These court rulings have not been implemented, and talk of fresh land allocations and evictions still keeps coming. Land ownership uncertainties and confusion persist in the communities, especially for those living in the fringes of the national park and in Yatui parish.


Although uncertainties surrounding land ownership persist, communities in the entire Benet region continue to engage in smallholder farming. Along with this goes massive soil degradation. The district local authorities and conservation agencies have responded by initiating activities that aim to strengthen agricultural production. Examples include; planting of trees to check soil erosion and provide fuel wood, construction of biogas digesters to supplement fuel wood, growing of high value crops and training of farmers in sustainable farming methods. Evaluations, however, show that the level of adoption of these sustainable technologies is very low. This study seeks to discover why farmers in Benet are reluctant to adopt sustainable agricultural activities. The article also proposes conservation alternatives for communities living adjacent to the national park.


2. The link between sustainable agriculture and land ownership security

There is a contradictory literature about the relationship between land tenure rights and sustainable agriculture practices.

A widely held view is that guaranteed land tenure motivates long-term agricultural planning. Dudley (1992) points to the negative consequences for people and the environment of land insecurity, more especially where many are involved in agriculture. Pretty (1995) argues that lack of secure tenure and clear property rights to resources discriminates against the long-term investment necessary for sustainable agriculture. A study conducted in Thailand by Lohmann (1992) found farmers with secure land tenure had appropriate systems of organic agriculture such as intercropping, fishponds and fruit trees.  Pretty (1995) cites numerous studies to argue that appropriate rights to land determine the success of sustainable agriculture (see also Mutangadura 2007).


Findings undertaken in Western Samoa and some parts of India, however, suggest a different view (Atwood 1990). In Western Samoa, registration of family land holdings was undertaken to enhance land tenure security and improve agricultural productivity. Thomas (1984) found that this initiative brought minor increases in village agricultural production. Instead emigration and the Samoan value system had a greater influence on agricultural production. Rajan (1992) also states that the Sangmas women groups in India were actively engaged in farming activities that aimed to regenerate the productive capacity of land that belonged to absentee landlords. In many parts of Asia, people have small household plots of land that often give little scope for planting trees. In India, projects have allowed landless people to grow trees on public land such as roadsides, canal banks and other common land. Chambers and Leach (1989) state that such programmes have been successful in states like; Bihar, Uttar, Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra. In her study in India, Jewiit (2002) found out that local people were often willing to fulfill the demands necessary to develop participatory forest protection in areas where forests have particular cultural importance, regardless of ownership.


The impact of land security on sustainable agriculture varies. Where communities place a high value on agriculture, alternative routes to sustainable agriculture have been ventured despite uncertain land ownership rights. In other situations, enhanced land rights have not necessarily improved agricultural practices. It appears that although land ownership rights are fundamental for sustainable agriculture, the degree of influence varies from one place to another depending on social, political and cultural factors.


The government of Uganda and development agencies have responded to soil degradation in Benet by undertaking conservation without an understanding of relevant socioeconomic factors. This study assesses the contribution of uncertain land ownership rights to the low adoption of sustainable agriculture initiatives in Benet. The findings are fundamental for sustainable management of natural resources and the welfare of the community.

3. Study methodology


3.1 Study area.


The study was conducted in four sites in Kapchorwa district, namely; Yatui, Megya, Kisito, and Cheminy. Benet is one of the Sub Counties that constitutes Kapchorwa district.


Yatui, Megya and Kisito are all found in Benet Sub County. Yatui parish is the 1500-hectare zone. It is the area with the highest incidences of conflicts and uncertainty over land ownership. Megya is one of the parishes within the 6000-hectare zone. This area is rated as one of the best performing parishes for sustainable agriculture in Benet. Kisito is in the national park. Most Benet families who did not get land during the resettlement are temporarily settled here, despite laws excluding them. Cheminy parish is in Kaproron Sub County and separates Benet and Kaproron. Compared to Benet, communities in Kaproron experience few land ownership conflicts.


The four sites provided contrasting opportunities to understand issues like; (i) sources of livelihood in a protected area – Kisito, (ii) nature of farming activities in areas with secure land ownerships rights – Megya and Kaproron and (iii) nature of farming activities in areas with disputed land ownership – Yatui. Overall, the four sites allowed comparative assessments of land ownership rights and other factors bearing on sustainable agriculture interventions.



3.2          Research methods.


The following research methods were used.



3.2.1        Key Informant Interviews.


Face-to-face interviews were conducted with selected farmers, and local and district leaders. These interviewees were ‘key informants’ who have direct contacts with people involved in the issue being researched (Royse et al 2001; Neuber et al 1980). Because land ownership and agricultural matters are sensitive in Benet, some informants found it easier to air their views one to one. Semi-structured questions were used as a guide during the interviews; topics covered included land tenure, sustainable agriculture activities and extension agriculture services. A tape recorder was used to record most interviews. Some interviewees did not want to be taped despite assurances of anonymity.



3.2.2        Focus Group Discussions.


Focus group discussions were used to assess issues like; the efficiency of agricultural extension services, agriculture problems, success and failures of past interventions. Discussions in the focus groups were elaborate, enabling fundamental issues that could have been over looked to emerge (Neuman 2005), for example the role of gender issues in adoption of sustainable agriculture practices. Two focus group discussions were held in Cheminy and Megya, with an average of six participants of varying ages and sexes. A tape recorder was also used for these discussions.



3.2.3        Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).


Coupal and Simoneau (2001) note that PRA covers a family of methods to encourage full participation of people in the processes of learning about needs and the actions required to address them. Two PRA sessions involving an average of twelve people of varying ages and sexes were conducted in Yatui and Kisito sites. The researcher facilitated all sessions while a local undergraduate student documented them. The following PRA tools were used; matrix scoring and ranking, mapping, institutional diagrams, cause-effect model and gender workload calendars.



3.2.4        Observations.


Direct observations were made of activities in the farms and the national park; such as farming technologies, erosion control measures, and farming schedules.


4. Agriculture in Benet.

4.1 Key features.


Smallholder agriculture is the main source livelihood for Benet and the surrounding sub counties. Agriculture is both crop production and livestock husbandry. The main crops are maize, beans, wheat, potatoes, barley, bananas and coffee. The level of production varies from one area to another, for example, coffee and bananas are mainly concentrated in areas outside Benet.   The exception is Megya parish. As we shall see, this parish has been much more receptive to initiatives designed to encourage sustainable agriculture and diversify cropping.


Farmers rely on seed provided in the black market or by seed companies. They rarely store and recycle seed because much is hybrid. So they end up having to buy seed and inputs from one company - Kenya Hybrid Maize Seed. Access, affordability and safety are key issues. There are numerous efforts by government to encourage high value crops and livestock - to commercialize agriculture and alleviate poverty through that.


The hand hoe, panga and ox plough are the main tools used in farming. Maize is grown once a year while crops like beans, wheat, barley and potatoes are grown twice. The first planting season ranges from March to April while the second season is between July and August. Bananas and coffee are long-term crops that take about 3 years before they start producing fruits and berries respectively.


Cattle and donkeys are the most commonly reared livestock. On average, each household keeps between 5 and 10 head of cattle consisting of local (Boran) and crossbreeds. Cattle are used as a source of income, food and labour in agricultural production (ploughing). They are also used for traditional purposes like bride price and rituals. The donkey is used for transporting domestic supplies such as water from the springs and agricultural products from the garden or to the markets.


Agriculture in Benet is characterized by rapidly declining soil productivity leading to low household incomes and prolonged hunger periods. The declining soil productivity is often associated over grazing, mono cropping and down slope cultivation (the ploughing of furrows down the slope). Interventions by external institutions have thus largely focused on technology promotion efforts namely; intercropping, improved seed, establishment of contours, and “good” crop/livestock husbandry practices.



4.2 Causes and effects of declining soil productivity


Declining soil productivity in Benet is caused by a complex of factors that goes beyond technologies. A cause-effect model can be used to represent our findings (figure 1).



The causes of declining soil productivity in Benet were identified as; mono cropping, rapid population growth, lack of land ownership rights, inadequate extension services, and gender inequalities. These factors can broadly be classified as governance or social.



4.3.1 Mono cropping.


Vegetation in all areas in Benet including the most fragile (steep slopes and riverbanks) has been cleared to create farmland; the entire landscape is almost covered by maize fields.


During PRA and focus group sessions, it emerged that farmers in Benet prefer maize growing to other crops for a number of reasons. Firstly, maize acts as a source of income and food. Indeed posho prepared from maize flour is a famous local dish.


Maize is a traditional crop that we use to prepare our traditional meal-posho.You need to have enormous energy to be able to do the work that we do; climbing the steep slopes and manually doing farm activities like ploughing, planting, weeding and harvesting. One needs to be strong to do this. We get such strengths by eating posho. We therefore have to keep growing maize. Maize is our survival in this area.


Secondly, farmers in Yatui and Kisito are only allowed short-term crops because of the unresolved land tenure security. Thirdly, maize growing acts as a form of banking. Farmers in Benet receive cash income from two sources; wages repatriated from kin who have jobs and the sale of livestock, which is a form of successful farming. The use of these incomes to purchase seeds and other inputs locks up or banks the money as grain. Without this, the money might be spent less wisely. Fourthly, maize and other cereal crops are viewed as suitable to the local conditions; soil and climate. Farmers claimed that they have previously ventured into other crops but without any success. Yet farmers in Megya have been able to grow a wide range of crops without any difficulty. In fact, one banana farmer in Megya said he harvests bunches of bananas that weigh 60 kilograms.


Maize productivity has been dwindling since 1990. PRA session participants in Yatui noted that they harvested less than 500 kilograms of maize grain per hectare in 2007.


When we settled here in 1985, we would harvest up to 30 sacks (3 tons) of maize grain per hectare but this is no more. We now get 5 bags only, we are in trouble


The cost of maize production in Benet is examined in detail in the tables below.


urce. PRA discussions in Yatui.


Table 1 shows the cost of production 15 years ago, when the area was newly settled. The soil was fertile and farmers harvested 3 tons of maize grain per hectare, equivalent to 600,000 Ushs. Table 2 is typical of the current situation. The costs incurred are for land preparation and inputs; fertilizers and seed. Soil productivity has deteriorated so much that farmers apply fertilizers in an attempt to improve productivity. Yet farmers get only 500 kilograms per hectare. This is a loss of 100,000 Ushs; unsustainable since no profit is being made (Pretty 1995). Yet farmers in Benet continue to rely heavily on maize production. From a food security perspective, this is not a major loss - 500kgs of maize grain can feed a family of five for five months. A better deal would be buying the grain from the retail shops. The money (200,000 shs) used to purchase inputs and prepare land gives them 500kgs of grain at home. But if they bought 500kgs of grain from the retailers it would cost them 150,000 shs. They would be 50,000 shs better off and would also be able to use their land for other purposes; woodlots, grazing or fallowing. The centrality of maize in culture and tradition closes off this option:


Farming is the only source of livelihood for my family. I am nobody without farming. Farming helps me to provide my family with food and other basic needs. I have to continue farming in this area or else my family will suffer from hunger. Effects of maize/mono cropping on soil productivity.


Maize cultivation exposes the soil erosion (Lawrie et al 2007). In the absence of vegetation cover, water falls directly on the land during a rainstorm splashing the soil and setting it in motion (Morgan 1986). The study found that soil erosion is at the peak when the surface is bare, but continues even when maize has grown above the surface.


Francis: Do you experience soil erosion in your garden?


Andiema: That is the key-farming problem in this area. Everybody’s garden is affected by soil erosion.


Francis: What are the features of soil erosion?


Andiema: During erosion the colour of the water in the streams/rivers turns brown and flooding and landslides cause the destruction of property and deaths


Francis: When do you experience soil erosion?


Andiema: As long as it is raining. The peak months are March and May.


Soil erosion by water dissolves nutrients that support crop growth and production. Shortage of particular chemical elements in the soil contributes to slow or unhealthy plant growth and reduced yields (Asher et al 2002).


Exclusive dependence on maize has had negative effects on the productivity of the soil and the welfare of the community. The situation is worsened by the fact that communities are continuing to cut the remaining trees. Farmers believe trees obstruct the light. Valuable remnant trees like Elgon teak are eliminated.



4.3.2 Rapid population growth. 


The Kapchorwa district government census report (2006) shows that Benet Sub County has the highest population in the district (34,000) and population density of between 7 and 151 persons per square kilometer. The population growth rate is 4.3% with an average of 4.7 persons per household. The majority of the population is young (77.2% below 18 years). This population growth has caused over exploitation of the land.


Areas visited in the field are characterized by massive clearance of vegetation in an attempt to create land for farming and settlements. Cultivation along steep slopes and watercourses is common, well known to be a soil erosion trigger (Morgan 1986; Watson 1989). Discussions with farmers in Benet indicated that farming along such fragile areas is driven by the lack of adequate land for farming, which in turn traces its roots to over population.Farmers in the low-lying areas complained of erosion caused by farming activities on the steep slopes. They noted that efforts to minimize erosion will always fail unless farmers in steep areas are targeted.


We suffer from soil erosion in this area because farmers in the upper areas of the landscape have removed all the trees. The measures we try to put in place are not adequate to control the volume of water from those areas.


The high population in Benet has also led to land fragmentation. Households own small pieces of land scattered in various locations. Clumped and random settlements are common. This stems from rapidly increasing population and the land inheritance system.


Francis: How much land do you own?


Alex: I own 15 hectares of land all of which is being used.


Francis: Where is this land located?


Alex: The 15 hectares is not a block of land. It is in pieces of ¼ hectare, ½

           hectare, 1 hectare etc. The biggest piece is a block of 4 hectares. 


Francis: Why is land available in such small pieces?


Alex: One can acquire land in this area either by inheritance from the parents

         (applies to sons) or by buying from willing sellers. The more the sons in a 

          family, the more the land will be divided. Land for sale is very scarce and so 

          you have to buy whatever is available. The issue of size or location is not



Sub County local leaders said that most households own two hectares of land, in portions of ¼ and ½ hectares. According to farmers, small land holdings make soil conservation initiatives tedious and uneconomical.


Consider, for example, constructing contours in a garden, which is ¼ hectare. Where do you construct the contours and where do you grow crops or trees? It is worse when the land is located far away. I have tried several times to plant a wood lot of trees in a piece of land, which is located 2 kilometers from where I live but without any success. The trees have always been destroyed by roaming livestock and wild fires. It is discouraging to invest in things whose safety is not guaranteed.



4.3.3 Inadequate extension services.


The entire Benet sub county has only one agricultural extension officer. Farmers pointed to a number of problems in availability, efficiency and mode of delivery.


Benet is a wide area and it is difficult for one extension officer to reach all farmers. The situation is exacerbated by inadequate transport provision for the officer. 



I think we don’t have any extension officer in Benet because we have never seen him/her. We just use our local knowledge to undertake whatever farming activities. I don’t see any success in farming in the absence of extension services.


Yet many farmers understand their farming problems and have knowledge and skills to address them. For example, some connected family planning and natural resource issues. Complaints about the lack of extension services points to a situation where farmers look to government to solve problems. As in this statement:



I have not done anything because the necessary inputs like tree seedlings are missing. I also don’t know how to use equipments like the A frame.


A more effective way to address problems is to develop local knowledge and reduce dependence on government.


Extension services are not offered to those caught up in the unresolved land ownership dispute between the national park and communities – the people living in Yatui and Kisito. Conservation laws in Uganda prohibit human activities in national parks. So these communities are not benefiting from extension support. A farmer in Kisito explained his response:



We do farming in restricted areas without the guidance or advice of any body; we solely depend on our local knowledge. Government does not support us in any way and yet we continue to pay graduated tax. We are treated as if we are not Ugandans.



In Megya parish, the community has good knowledge of the existing extension services. The efficiency of this collaboration is discussed in the following section.


Communities stated that in the absence of extension advisory services, they fail to determine farming activities that are compatible with topography, soil and climate. For example, farmers falsely believe that maize is the crop best suited to the conditions, and ignore crops that are better for soils and income. The need for extension was related to the history of the Benets:


Historically the Benets were pastoralists and hunters who moved from place to place in search of grass, wild animals and fruits. Resettlement suddenly changed their way of life from pastoralism and hunting to tilling the land. A transition was not allowed for these changes. Therefore the Benets are relatively new to farming and urgently need agricultural extension services.


The efficiency of extension services was also an issue for farmers. While some farmers in Megya have benefited from extension services like training in crop husbandry, focus groups noted other gaps. For instance, they complained that the extension worker is always in a hurry. Farmers in the lower areas complained that current extension efforts exclude the farmers in the upper areas; but believed these farmers were responsible for their own problems:


Francis: How long does the extension officer stay with you?

He usually stays for a short time because he has to visit many farmers. We always feel like spending a bit more time but he is always hurrying.


Francis: What would you like to be done in addition to the trainings?  


Chelangat: We try to do things as per advice of the extension officer but we are frustrated by the actions of farmers in the upland areas. Those farmers should also be included. 


Another problem is the medium of communication. Women complained that existing soil conservation promotion materials are in English. One poster reads, “Soil is life”. Yet literacy levels of women in Benet stand are only 1% (Kapchorwa district census report 2006). Women stated that they often use such materials to light the fire or beautify their homes. According to the communities, a combination of these gaps renders the existing extension services ineffective.


Farmers and extension services are still struggling to find common ground. Farmers are keen to attend training sessions but drop out when their expectations are not met. They stated that training sessions did not address issues such as hunger, low household incomes and the high cost of inputs. Some argued that sessions did not focus enough on problems at the catchment level. This is fundamental because most of the farming problems in Benet are trans boundary in nature.



4.3.4 Lack of land ownership rights.


Presently, Uganda Wildlife Authority considers Yatui parish and Kisito to be part of the national park and therefore subject to protected area regulations. Conservation laws in Uganda prohibit human activities in these areas. Communities in these areas are, however, engaged in farming activities of some sort. Interviews and discussions with communities here showed that uncertain land ownership is affecting farming practices and productivity levels. Restricted farming practices and investments.


Communities in Yatui and Kisito are not allowed by the management of the national park to grow long term crops like coffee, bananas and fruit trees, so short-term crops like maize, barley and potatoes are the most dominant crops:


Our farming depends on the decisions of the national park management, our hands are tied; for example, we are not allowed to grow long-term crops.


These are crops that expose soil to erosion. By restricting farmers to maize and other annual crops, the national park is perpetuating soil degradation through soil erosion. The common argument is that communities are temporarily settled in these areas pending further decisions. A key concern raised by communities is, for how long will temporary be, considering that they have lived in these areas for over ten years. From a conservation point of view, this makes sense because the community’s temporary status is having a negative impact on soil productivity:


Francis: What have you done to prevent soil erosion?


Cheboi: I have not done anything because measures to prevent soil erosion are expensive. But why should I do this on land, which is not mine?


There is a need to explore activities that enhance the productive capacity of natural resources in situations where communities are temporarily living in a protected area. This is fundamental because; (i) such communities are entitled to food and other basic needs, (ii) the activities of such communities impact on the farming activities and livelihoods of those living in the neighbourhood; soil erosion is a landscape problem that cuts across boundaries. (iii) There is a possibility that communities might be allowed to live in the disputed areas. Such a decision should not come when natural resources have completely been exhausted. Lack of incentives to undertake long-term investments.


Uncertainties surrounding land ownership in Yatui and Megya have persisted since 1993. Although communities maintain farming in these areas, talk of impending evictions or relocations continues. Communities in Yatui said the lack of guarantees to land ownership often derail their efforts to engage in productive farming. Local leaders stated that farmers in Yatui and Kisito are not bothered by the impacts of what they do: 


Those above 1983 are almost sure that they will be evicted, so they are not bothered by the effects of what they do; they feel they should extract some benefit from the land before they are evicted. Soil erosion control or planting of trees is not an issue for them.


Uncertain land ownership rights in Yatui and Kisito has bearings on farmer’s morale to invest resources in soil conservation measures like tree planting and construction of contours. This was a topic frequently mentioned in interviews and focus groups. However it is also important to note that some interviewees were skeptical about whether this was the real issue, pointing out that a lack of interest in conservation measures was common even in the areas that were most assured of land tenure:


Some farmers tend to blame soil erosion on landlessness; they claim that this area belongs to the national park, so they don’t want to waste their time making terraces and other soil conservation measures. I think it’s just an excuse because this has been the story since I came here. Lack of extension services and general agricultural support.


Yatui and Megya do not benefit from development programs of government and other external institutions because of the unresolved land ownership conflict. In the absence of external support, farmers in these areas have struggled to cope with the deteriorating soil productivity.


Generally speaking, external institutions are fundamental in as far as technology promotion and adoption is concerned. They play such functions as; facilitating identification of appropriate technologies and supporting provision of inputs that are lacking (Pretty 1995; Cox 1998).



4.3.5 Gender inequalities.


In Benet, domestic and agriculture roles performed by men and women are distinctively classified. There are also variations in regard to access and ownership of productive resources like land. Differences in gender have bearings on agricultural productivity. Unequal distribution of roles.


Women’s domestic roles are cooking and looking after children while farm roles are planting, weeding and harvesting. Men’s roles at household level are limited. In farming, they mostly supervise. Overall, women do so much compared to men.


From an agricultural point of view, this is problematic (Waak 1996). First, because the time invested in farming by women is reduced by their domestic roles. This means under-production in relation to pull factors like illnesses and pregnancies, which are common. Secondly, the heavy workload means women have little time for educational or community activities. So men dominate most meetings and training opportunities, leaving out the actual practitioners of farming. There is a mismatch; women who do so much know so little whereas the men who do so little know so much:


Local leaders are mainly men in this area. If you look at clan heads, they are mainly men. The other reason is that women are always working at home or in the garden and so they don’t have the time to go for the meetings if they are invited.


There should be balance in gender roles so women have time for farming as well as opportunities to improve their place in society. Technologies that reduce their workload might be of help. Women’s roles in Benet require them to enter the national park for items like green vegetables and firewood. A number complained of harassment and rape by the national park rangers. Introduction of technologies like water tanks, wood lots and energy saving stoves can safeguard women and reduce the amount of time spent on fetching water and firewood. The benefits of such technologies were put clearly by one woman whose family had a woodlot:


Francis: What benefits do you derive from the wood lot?


Cherukut: As a woman, the trees we have help to provide firewood for cooking, I don’t go to the bushes looking for firewood like other women, I prepare food on time and my children go to school on time always. I have time to clean my house and attend village meetings.


Francis: Where do you graze your cows?


Cherukut: We have reserved a small piece of grazing land. On top of that we also have Napier grass planted along the contours in the maize plantation. Lack of rights to property.


Women are treated as part of household property in many parts of Benet, a tradition that traces its roots to cultural practices such as bride price and inheritance of family property. Such tendencies undermine women’s participation in decisions concerning use and ownership of productive resources. For example, deciding when and how to use incomes from the sale of farm products is exclusively a men’s affair. The situation is worse when the husband dies because family relatives grab land in an attempt to “recover” family property:


Women have difficulty using and owning land whenever the husband dies. It is a habit for relatives of the husband to grab family land in case of such an incident. Their argument is that land belongs to the clan.


We have seen cases where the man dies and his relatives grab all the land, and the woman and children are left landless. Such families experience hunger and lack of incomes to purchase household basic items. 


These issues are not unique to the Benets but affect many communities in Africa (Matangadura, 2007; Mukadasi & Nabalegwa 2007). Such factors undermine women’s capacity for sustainable agriculture. Women are confined to farming to meet short-term needs; annual food crops. As one woman focus group member stated:


We are supposed to be the household because without us people will not have food to eat in the family.   


If land ownership is fundamental for sustainable agriculture, then it applies to all sections of a community regardless of sex. In Benet, traditional practices undermine women’s ownership of land. The actions of external institutions reinforce this. The resettlement in 1983 targeted only males above the age of 18. Current efforts to secure land tenure also assume the community is homogenous in terms of access to land. Grima and Berkes (1989) argue that, it may be more useful to examine the diversity of relationships involving property and access conditions under which a resource is held instead of emphasizing the ownership status. Presently, women do so much in agricultural production but earn so little. Tackling gender inequalities will ensure that secure land tenure benefits all and permits sustainable use.


5. Conclusions and Recommendations.


5.1 Conclusions.


The root causes of declining soil productivity in Benet are social. Efforts to improve soil productivity have, however, exclusively focused on technology and slow adoption rates are often blamed on farmer’s laziness.


We considered the relationship between low levels of adoption of sustainable agriculture and the lack of ownership rights. In fact, we found many factors responsible for declining soil productivity. Lack of land ownership rights is certainly a factor; for example, communities living in Kisito and Yatui are not permitted by the national park authorities to undertake long-term agricultural activities. They also lack the incentives to undertake soil conservation investments that only pay in the long run. Yet the extent to which land ownership rights influences farming trends is debatable. There are no noticeable differences in farming practices in all the areas, be it within or outside the 6,000 hectares; maize growing is predominant and soil erosion is rampant. Declining crop yields and low household incomes are key problems across the sub county. The technologies promoted by external institutions are poorly maintained even when they have been adopted during the project period.



5.2 The Megya exception


The successful adoption of sustainable farming practices (intercropping, zero grazing, mixed farming and mulching) in Megya is an exception in Benet that can be attributed to two factors namely; the activities of external institutions and collective action among farmers of the varying backgrounds.


External institutions like World Conservation Union (IUCN), ActionAid Uganda and Kapchorwa District Farmers Association have supported farming activities in Megya with a strong focus on local capacities. Farmers were actively involved in the identification and implementation of local actions to solve problems. This process empowered farmers to find solutions. It is not surprising that long after the institutions wound up their activities, farmers are still carrying on with sustainable agriculture activities to the extent of sponsoring themselves to attend training and conferences – something that farmers in other areas of Benet cannot do.This confirms Cox’s (1990) view that community development requires the work of a catalyst to motivate and inspire people’s participation.


Megya consists of residents of three backgrounds. First, the non-Benets who migrated from areas where farming has been the mode of livelihood for a long time. This category attached great value to productive soil and farming in general. The second category is the Benets. For them, the resettlement process suddenly changed their sources of livelihoods from cattle keeping and hunting to tilling the land. The third group is the non-Benets who were displaced by Karamojong warriors from the flat plains. Motivated by different interests, the three categories of residents have worked together to establish sustainable farming patterns. The non-Benets with experience and interest in farming were the first to adopt the technologies that were introduced by the institutions named above. They experienced challenges such as soil erosion and theft of their farm products like firewood and fruits. This group realized that working together with the non-adopters (The Benets and non-Benets from lowlands) was the most appropriate way to deal with these problems. The non-adopters also realized that practicing what the adopters were involved in would help them to address problems of inadequate food, lack of fuel wood and low incomes.


There is a campaign by government to transform agriculture from subsistence to commercial status as a means to alleviate poverty. A core component of the campaign is high yielding varieties of crops and livestock. It was noticed during the study that this move is creating a syndrome of dependency; farmers are increasingly looking to external resources – seed, knowledge and inorganic fertilizers as a means to attain the commercial status. People’s traditional ways of farming, saving seed and storage are being eroded. Communities in Benet can undertake sustainable farming initiatives without necessarily using expensive inputs. Rajan (1992) notes that communities have creativity and power, and given the chance they are always able to help themselves.



5.3 The future.


As previously noted, lack of land tenure rights among communities in Yatui and the fringes of the national park, is a major stumbling block to sustainable agriculture and development in general. Any move to address this problem is however faced by numerous dilemmas.   First of all, the population of those who did not get land in 1983 has more than doubled. A household survey carried out by ActionAid Uganda in 2003 found that the total number of Benet families who did not get land in 1983 had increased from 700 to 1,771. These increments mean that more land is needed to accommodate this population compared to 1983 and the situation can only worsen over time. Yet the government cannot deny the responsibility of having to find land for this community as they were supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of the resettlement. The High Court in 2005 ruled that the government should allow the landless Benets to settle where they are living presently. There have been suggestions that land in the entire 6000 hectare zone should be redistributed with the priority to the Benets. The Uganda land act of 1998, however, states that once some body occupies a given piece of land for more than 12 years, he/she becomes the bona fide owner of that land. To prove their case, the interviewees we spoke to showed us land allocation deeds that they received from the forest department in 1983. Another suggestion is that those who got huge chunks of land in 1983 should relinquish part of it to accommodate the landless communities. But the situation has changed a lot; the huge chunks are no more, they have been divided into small pieces as a result of practices like inheritance. There are also suggestions that the landless communities should be allowed to settle permanently in areas where they are presently living – Yatui and Kisito. Management of the national park views this suggestion as destructive.


From a conservation point of view and also in general development terms, we argue that the interventions suggested above are only short-term. Long-term community development in Benet and safety of the national park depends on population stability and people’s farming practices. Degradation of national park resources is bound to continue as long as agricultural productivity continues to decline as population grows at the present rate of 4.3%. MacKinnon (1986) states that most of the threats and abuses to protected areas occur because communities simply have no alternative but to steal or poach. Watson (1989) further points out that the risk of total crop failure combined with the effort required to farm on increasingly marginal land can create a class of landless farmers who invade wildlife reserves and forest reserves just to survive.Waak (1996) contends that protecting wildlife is of secondary interest to hungry families. Uganda Wildlife Authority applies an authoritarian approach in the management of the national park. Several interviewees and PRA respondents maintained that if found encroaching national park resources, the consequences are grave; rape, heavy fines, battering and killings by park rangers. Although communities are very aware of these consequences, it is interesting to note that they often venture into the park for firewood, building materials, traditional medicine, honey and grass for livestock. There is no doubt that widespread destruction of the national park takes place. Communities in Kisito and surrounding areas acknowledged that, in the recent years, vast forestlands have been brought under cultivation. The pressure on forest resources is exacerbated by the demands of communities living outside the park. There exist very strong networks between encroachers and the consumers of the products living in and outside the park. The policing approach used by the national park authorities is unlikely to deal with exploitation associated with such rackets. Encroachment of national park resources is likely to continue even when the land ownership issue is resolved. There is a need to explore options that can improve the existing relationships between the communities and national park authorities. This paper follows much recent thinking on these issues in arguing that a top-down “preservationist” approach to national park conservation is not particularly effective and that what is necessary is a “community conservation” solution (Rutagarama and Martin, 2006).


For Kisito and other areas close to the national park, the following proposals are hereby made.


(i)                  Affirmative action to increase recruitment of local people as national park rangers and guides. This is advantageous in many ways. Firstly, local people are likely to do better policing and guiding than rangers from outside the region because they have a better understanding of the national park and existing social networks. Secondly, the income they earn will act as a source of living. In this way, the local people can easily be persuaded to abandon risky and unprofitable encroachment acts. They can even abandon farming if other income generating initiatives are available. MacKinnon (1986) states that making it clear to local people that they are getting preferential treatment because of their location close to the national park can pay off. He points out that in India, ‘preference in employment to local people led to improved welfare of people and better management of protected area resources’.


(ii)                Establishment of buffer zones to provide essential items such as firewood, traditional medicine and building materials, which otherwise are being obtained illegally. This initiative works well if the entire community of specific villages is targeted. A village cooperative in which all households have a share can be established to ensure fair harvesting rights and equitable sharing of profits. In this way, exploitation can easily be checked. In Nepal, management of Royal Chitwan National Park allows local people to harvest grass for thatching and feeding livestock. In the USA, authorities of Grand Canyon National Park permit native Indians to harvest wild nuts. MacKinnon (1986) points out that such interchanges have built good relationships at little cost and prevented local populations from engaging in activities that are more damaging to the protected area.


(iii)               Development of forest gardens. This consists of indigenous farming systems that are compatible with the forest ecosystems. A diverse range of plants can be grown in the forest without causing any harm; climbing vines, herbaceous plants and perennial crops like coffee. Limited numbers of livestock can also be reared under conditions like zero grazing. Compared to the current farming practices in Kisito and other areas, such farming systems are ecologically more sustainable as they allow natural process like water cycling and organic matter to be maintained. Reijntjes (1992) states that in Indonesia, the Javanese communities have practiced village agroforestry farming in the forests since the tenth century and this farmed forest makes up 15-50% of total cultivable land.  


The proposals suggested above can improve livelihoods and management of the national park resources. They are also likely to lead to attainment of the mission of Uganda Wildlife Authority which states: ‘To conserve and sustainably manage the wildlife and protected areas of Uganda in partnership with neighbouring communitiesand stakeholders for the benefit of the people of Uganda and the global community’ (Uganda Wildlife Authority, 2005)


 It was noted in the previous sections that the beneficiaries of encroached national park resources include communities living in the 6000-hectare zone. This is an indication that despite the secure land tenure rights, communities in this area are unable to engage in farming practices that enable them to meet their basic needs. Improved livelihoods in Benet and long-term management of the national park also depend on the farming activities in the 6000-hectare zone. There is need for communities in this area to practice farming that enables them to; (a) acquire basic materials such firewood, pasture and food (b) improve and sustain productive capacity of natural resources (c) earn decent livelihoods. The following proposals are thus made.


(i)                  A critical analysis of community needs and capacities should be used, as a basis to determine required farming interventions and practices. The current interventions are certainly not helping communities to meet their real needs; firewood, pasture, incomes and food. It has been proved that if used sustainably, 7 hectares of land can provide a household of 6 people with firewood, pasture, food, income and settlement land. Examples of technologies that can help to address problems of fuel wood, soil productivity and pasture include; contour strips with vetiver, agroforestry especially along the streams and steep slopes, strips of fruit/nut/timber/fuel tree belts with legume inter plants, zero grazing and conservation of grazing lands and cropping fields with cover crop legumes such as Mucuna pruriens.    


(ii)                A strong focus on community capacities as opposed to the top-down approach that seems to favour external resources/inputs as a means to attain sustainable agriculture. There is evidence that communities in Benet and the surrounding areas have vast indigenous knowledge, skills and resources. Agriculture projects will succeed easily if interventions aim to exploit the existing community resources. The gist of interventions should be creating space that allows communities to envision their future.   


(iii)               Reorienting current extension services and other interventions to respond to social and governance issues that contributes to the declining productivity. By concentrating on technologies only as a means to improve the status quo, the current interventions are only servicing the symptoms of the problem. Integrating aspects of family planning and other social issues in ongoing natural resources management interventions is paramount. 


(iv)              Emphasis on collective participation of farmers at landscape level. Interventions to address declining soil productivity have largely concentrated on farmers at individual level. Much as farm-by-farm interventions can cause soil productivity improvements, a shift in focus to catchment level will bring more desired changes. The small land holdings in Benet mean that problems like soil erosion and pest infections spread easily from one farm to another. During the study, farmers in the low-lying areas accused those in the upper areas of the landscapes of triggering soil erosion and flooding, implying the need for a catchment solution.


The authors are confident that solutions, which target land insecurity and the relationship between the Benets and the national park, are a necessary part of dealing effectively with the problems of this region. However it is equally necessary to consider issues that are relevant to farmers in this region who do have land security. Their failure to implement effective agricultural strategies suggests that the broader issues must also be dealt with – monocropping; gender relations, effective extensions services, population issues, catchment management and bottom up participation.  




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