Women Empowerment in Sustainable Land Management (WESLAM) is a project in western Uganda, that aims to contribute to reduced land degradation in Bugiri and Mayuge districts through reforestation, reduction of deforestation and sustainable agriculture land management by 2021.
The last 25 years Uganda has lost 2/3 of the natural forest. There is a high risk that the country will have lost all the natural forests by 2030 if deforestation continues. In Mayuge district, over 90% of the forest cover is gone. As a result of the deforestation, the land degradation rate for both forest and agricultural land is very high, especially in Mayuge and Bugiri districts. The population growth rate in the two districts is high and has exerted a lot of pressure on the natural resource when it comes to the need for firewood, timber and extension of agricultural land. In combination with unsustainable land management practices and limited knowledge in sustainable agricultural land management has resulted in land degradation. Which left farmers with no option other than encroaching on forest land for fertile soils. Women are the most vulnerable and affected by land degradation and increased deforestation. Reduced productivity of the soil often leads to famine, escalating poverty and thus impacting on the livelihoods. Families living close to the national forests used to be dependent on the forests. In the forest, they could find firewood and raw materials for crafts sold to substitute the low yields from their agricultural lands. The forest was also used as a resource to find medicine and other nutritional supplements for the families.
Following the land degradation due to increased deforestation it has brought about famine due to low productivity of the soils and soil erosion, escalating poverty and all these have impacted on the livelihoods of people in the 2districts and Eastern region as a whole; women who are the majority of the population are mostly affected because they are the tillers of land to get food and income for their families; women used to go to forests to collect firewood, medicine, mushrooms to improve their nutrition, raw materials for crafts as to substitute to low yields from their agricultural lands; this is no longer the case as forests have been cleared and some forests have been hired to private entrepreneurs to plant eucalyptus and pine trees thus replacing the natural forests rich in biodiversity. These plantations are protected from the surrounding communities. Limited number of extension staff and their lack of knowledge in Sustainable Agriculture Land Management (SALM) practices has left farmers with no option other than encroaching on forest land.
Through collaborative forest management approach, farmers will restore degraded forest reserves by planting the trees while conducting forest-friendly businesses of bee honey production and mushroom growing. Through a long-term leasing agreement between the farmer’s organisations and the government, the farmers will gain access to the forest reserves to use and enjoy the benefits.