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‘I want the world to know’: Ugandan women sound the alarm on climate change

Amid stunted crops in her family’s garden, Ajina struggles to find vegetables to harvest. Down from three meals per day, her family can currently only scavenge enough for one meal daily. Photo: Katumba Badru/CARE

Amid stunted crops in her family’s garden, Ajina struggles to find vegetables to harvest. Down from three meals per day, her family can currently only scavenge enough for one meal daily. Photo: Katumba Badru/CARE

Ajina Amuga, 66, sits on the ground outside her home in a village in Okere, in the Otuke District in northern Uganda. The mother of six and grandmother of five holds baby Ajina, her one-year-old granddaughter and namesake, on her hip. She looks at her garden, a few feet away, and thinks about how things used to be different.

“It’s afternoon, and we haven’t started the fire yet, because we don’t know…” Ajina says, trailing off.

What she doesn’t say is that she doesn’t know if they’ll find vegetables to harvest in the garden. She doesn’t know where they will get food, or whether it will be nutritious, or how she will cope with the mounting pressure to provide for her family amid changing weather patterns which have led to food insecurity.

She doesn’t know if it will even be worth it to even start a fire to cook a meal.

Ajina Amuga holds baby Ajina, her granddaughter and namesake, in her arms. As residents struggle to cope with climate change in northern Uganda, food insecurity has become an increasing challenge, she explains. Photo: Katumba Badru/CARE

The Greater Horn of Africa where Ajina lives is suffering from the longest and most severe drought on record, according to the UN. The region has had six consecutive “rainy seasons” without rain. Millions of people are facing acute hunger, and over 1.75 million people have fled their homes in search of food and water.

In Uganda, increasing variability in weather patterns and rising temperatures have hurt crop production, livestock, and access to water, threatening lives and livelihoods, including Ajina’s.

Unpredictable weather patterns have made it difficult for farmers to harvest crops, and the last two years have been particularly challenging, Ajina says.

“We have bleak prospects. Things are several times worse than they were before,” she says. “If you came a few years ago, you’d find me drying millet in the compound.”

‘Nothing to store’

Anjina has 10 granaries on her compound, all used to store grains and other crops she harvested. Over the years, they have become obsolete “because there is nothing to store,” she says.

Her family used to eat three meals daily but now can only scavenge enough food for one. As the situation worsens, much of the responsibilities to provide have fallen on women.

She has experienced that firsthand. She says her husband has turned to alcohol, spending his days drinking while she fends for the family. Her sons have done the same, leaving her and her daughters-in-law to provide for the children. She said this practice is rampant, with substance abuse increasing as men intoxicate themselves with locally-made alcohol to cope with the pressure of increasing poverty and hunger.

“The women feel the brunt of climatic changes because the men can run away.”

Ajina Amuga

Mary Ocen, who is experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, stands amid her farm. While she harvested 500 kilograms of sesame in 2021, she could only harvest 100 kilograms in 2022, and is not expecting any harvest this year. Photo: Katumba Badru/CARE

Adaptation and investment

A few minutes away from Ajina’s home, one of her neighbors, Mary Ocen, 68, is dealing with her own challenges from the climate crisis.

To combat the longer dry spells, Mary and other Okere residents are turning to managing livestock, since keeping cows, goats, and chicken is less dependent on rain than growing crops. Village residents have also designed a 50-acre irrigation project involving drilling underground for water and incorporating solar power to support residents in farming.

The proposed project, which would be developed in phases, would be managed by Okere City, a local sustainable development organization. It would support 50 households to produce food year-round for their families and sell the surplus to generate an income. The first five-acre phase is estimated to cost $30,000.

According to Mary, receiving support from people and organizations outside the village is one possible solution “because as small-scale farmers, there isn’t much we can do.”

Okere City

The alternative to climate resiliency, Mary explained, is divine intervention:

“The second solution,” she said. “Is that the almighty God will come to the rescue.”

Ajina’s grandchild walks in the family’s compound next to crops which have been stunted due to climate effects in northern Uganda. Photo: Katumba Badru/CARE
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