Redefining Our Relationship With Nature

World Environment day is always commemorated every 5th of June. This year the theme is “Only one Earth” which was the motto for the 1972 Stockholm conference and it reminds us of actions we can take to sustainably use the earth given the raising impact of climate change that is affecting every living organism on the Earth. Scientists estimate that there are at least 8million species of plants, animals living on the earth today, including humans. These species live together in what we call an ecosystem. An ecosystem can be as large as desert or small as a pond and containing living and non-livings things like rocks, sand and humidity and all these depend on each other like a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, a change in temperature will have an effect on animals and plants. We live in a connected ecosystem however, due to the growth of the human population, we are seeing encroachment on it, which in turn has limited the ability of the ecosystem to deliver vital services to humanity. In 1972 the UN General assembly designated 5th June as World Environment Day(WED). the day is aimed to create awareness on the problems facing our environment such as air and plastic pollution, deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, sustainable consumption, rise in sea level and food security among others. World environment day helps to drive change in consumption patterns and in national and international environment policies. Refugee context Uganda continues to be the largest refugee host country in Africa with a refugee population of approximately 1,500,000. Palabek refugee settlement alone hosts over 63,000 refugees and 14 asylum seekers (UNCHR data as of Feb 2022). While forest degradation is not new in Uganda, increased influx of refugees may pose a threat as refugees and hosts will have an increased demand for firewood, timber and charcoal. The ecosystem has the potential of providing both the hosts and refugees with opportunities and security nets for alleviating poverty but there is need to sensitize both hosts and refugees on sustainable methods of harnessing nature while preserving it for future generations. The reduction of food ratios for refugees has forced refugees to supplement their incomes and food by encroaching on the environment to secure their subsistence needs. Refugee Law Project with funding support from the Ministry of Foreign affairs of the Kingdom of Netherlands, is working towards restoring the degraded landscape within the districts of Adjumani, Kiryandongo and Lamwo through growing assorted trees of nutritional and environmental value in partnership with schools and institutions in and around the refugee host communities. Over the last four years RLP has grown over 207 acres of woodlots established and managed under the supervision of the organization. This has enabled the communities to tackle some of the ecological challenges affecting them. What does the theme “Only one earth” mean to us? As we commemorate WED , we are reminded that if we do not protect the only natural resources we have then we are bound to loose all we have, including our lives. The earth is the only home that we humans have that sustains and nourishes us. But most certainly as humans many of us have embraced a path of self-destruction by destroying the many aspects of the earth that are important for human survival. This year’s theme hence reminds us that we need to take care of the only home we have through ecosystem restoration. Promote farmer managed natural regeneration. Although several initiatives have been practiced by different actors, there is need to build on the capacity of the local land owners on how they can allow Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). This is a low cost sustainable landscape restoration technique that aims to improve the productivity of agricultural lands while increasing tree cover and biodiversity. It allows proper site species matching and conservation of the indigenous tree species that have several benefits to community in terms of fuelwood, medicine and shade. This approach being low cost can best be promoted in the settlements since it has no costs of acquiring planting materials like seedlings which are scarce and expensive for refugees. Such costs discourage refugee participation in landscape restoration activities. Promote enrichment planting of both the natural and artificial forest. Population increase has put immense pressure on our natural resources. Forests covers 31% of the Earth’s surface, 32 million of forest are lost annually and yet now 300 million people live in forest where they all depend on the forest for food, medicines, water among others yet no one is worried about the impact of the activities on the forest which we think there is a lot of need of enrichment planting to allow these forest to regain back the lost ecosystem. Involve the local communities in the restoration decision making and activities. Natural resources are at the heart of rural communities social, political and economic life as the primary source of livelihoods, nutrition and employment. But often restoration activities have ignored indigenous knowledge from the locals yet they understand better how the ecosystem has been lost and what have been some of the challenges and activities leading to their restoration. This has led most restoration initiatives to fail to achieve the targets because locals end up not owning some of these projects. Farmers remain pivotal to any successful land restoration and we also acknowledge the local actors have a wealth and depth of knowledge about where they live and tapping into the knowledge is key to long-term success of restoration projects. Secure land tenure rights to achieve restoration neutrality. Many of the worlds estimated 2.5billion indigenous people, afro-descendant and local communities lack secure land rights and at the UN Convention to combat Desertification (UNCCD COP15) discussions have been going on the importance of securing land rights for success of tackling land degradation. The Refugee Law Project has seen these challenges with the schools and institution where we partner on landscape restoration. Most sites have no ownership of the land because the partners have no land titles. This affects the progress of the restoration activities at various project sites. From the SRHR – EP project that RLP is currently implementing, there is evidence that Land Rights are the critical mechanism that allows people to find, implement and scale the most appropriate solutions for themselves and also for their communities. Tenure security also increases people’s motivation to protect and restore land over the longer term. Enhance youth and women’s rights and lives through gender equitable restoration. Women and youth play a critical role in managing natural resources and are most certainly the ones who get affected by climate change effects. In Lamwo for example, women in the settlement walk not less than 8Km to find firewood, spending at least 6-9 hours away from home on days when they have to collect firewood, Moreso they face constrains in implementing restoration practices as they don’t enjoy the same rights and resources as their male counter parts due to entrenched gender norms. Their limited access to and control over land mostly hinders their engagement in restoration activities. Limited rights to land are as result not only of formal policies but also customary rules which vary according to ethnicity, village, social status and position of youth and women in polygamous families (Konate 2006). Unequal ownership of assets like fertilizer, tools and improved seeds coupled with long standing disparities between women and men in access to formal education, information and agricultural extension also has negative impacts on youth and women farmer’s ability to adopt to innovative restoration practices (Njobe and Kaaria 2015). There is need to understand what motivates youth and women to invest their efforts in restoration of land and forests. Important to also understand what obstacles they face in implementing land and forest restoration activities and how restoration activities affect the living conditions of women. This would give guidance to stakeholders on how to best work with women and youth as key partners in restoration processes. Manage native bush encroachment. Bush encroachment in the East African region has largely been driven by overgrazing, rampant wild fires, change in rainfall pattern and increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These need to be managed with high level of technical restoration practices. Climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste are evidence that the earth is “coded red” . The way out of the dilemma is to transform our economies and our societies to make themselves inclusive, fair and more connected to nature which means we need to shift from harming planet to healing it. This year’s themes “Only one earth” calls for collective, transformative action on global scale celebrate, protect and restore our planet which means everyone should take action to restore the only earth that we have.  

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