Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Treasured Natural Spring at Mount Moroto

Text and photos by Vincent Abura, MA student of class 2017

The Karamoja region of North-eastern Uganda has seen more than violent conflict for 40 years. As part of the Community Based Natural Resource Management Course in the Master of Arts degree program, Vincent looked at how stakeholders in a scarce and treasured water source are working together to protect the resource and share the benefits derived from it.  The spring and its watershed are located in the red shaded area in Uganda below.

The watershed provides protection for the spring water, which feeds an underground storage reservoir supplying fresh water to adjacent communities.  The spring and its watershed is habitat many forms of nature, including trees, grass, birds, and insects. The water and its watershed is used for various human activities including planting tree seedlings, watering animals, construction companies, beekeeping, green housing, and a water for urban and rural population of Moroto. The stakeholders are as below.

The spring has a Water Protection Committee, of which Margaret Lotee is the Chairperson. She manages a Committee of nine members, meeting monthly for the wellbeing of the spring. They monitor the fruit trees planted in the watershed by members. The Committee’s interests in the Spring include, water availability, accessibility, restricting access by big construction companies, sustainable fruit trees to improve on the environment and for human consumption. The Spring Protection Committee conducts monthly monitoring of the spring to ensure sustainability of the flow of water in the watershed. They recently restrained the government from constructing a dam downstream that would have interfered with sustained flow of water. 

Photo caption: Two women are standing right in the protected spring and talking about how they manage it.

At the district level, the District Water Officer, Mr. Musa Lowot, says the Water Department’s interest and responsibility is to ensure human and animal access to clean and safe water, protecting natural resources such as trees and vegetation etc. in the watershed, which ensures sustainability of natural resources and protection. In addition, the District Forest Officer, Mr. John Lotyang, says the Forest Office is mandated to protect and conserve forest natural resources through working in collaboration with Environment Office and police to protect natural resources in the watershed. The interest of the Department is to protect and preserve the natural resources downstream and ensure people with livelihood activities downstream such as beekeeping, vegetables growing, car washers, beer distillers and preserve wildlife, birds and domestic animals that depend on the water shade. The District Forest Department encourages protection of up and downstream for its biodiversity through public media awareness and working with police to apprehend perpetrators of natural resources degradation.

Mr. Joseph Nyimalema, the Area Manager for National Water and Sewage Corporation (NWSC), informed me that NWSC operates under the Ministry of Water and Environment and is mandated to supply water to urban and rural communities. NWSC pumps 15,000 liters of water per hour to supply to the urban-rural populations. NWSC is a strong benefiting stakeholder of the watershed, without which it cannot meet its obligations.  The interests of NWSC towards the watershed is legal ownership of land for its 2 water generators, security and safety of its equipment. NWSC recruited security guards to provide security for the assets and safety of water pumped for public consumption.

Arok Jimmy, the Chairperson of the 20-member Resilience Adaptation Committee (RAC), promotes greenhouse and sack gardening as well as soil and water conservation through terracing. They teach communities to grow vegetables and adapt to dry land cultivation. RAC’s interest in the spring is to access water for the greenhouses and sack gardens in homesteads, also in the availability of land in the watershed to control run-off water through terracing.

A local tree nursery is also interested in the spring. An attendant, Mr. Lokoru Bernard, informed me that they are planting different types of seedlings including: K-apples, Eucalyptus trees, papaws, mangoes, and indigenous species that are adaptable to drought in Karamoja. There are approximately one million seedlings planted this year. When converted to monetary terms (assuming a seedling is sold at UGXs 500) 1 million seedlings would amount to 500 million Uganda shillings, an equivalent of $143,000 US.  The interests of the planters is to raise income for their households, which can only be done sustained spring water, employing as many boys and girls as possible and to seek popularity to attract financial support from various programmes.

Photo caption: The tree-nursery garden where the attendant is weeding the unwanted plants from the nursery.   

Over 2000 livestock drink from this spring on a daily basis. This is the most accessible and available safe water for livestock in the district. Other options include boreholes, which are shared with human populations and are overcrowded. To get the attention of the cattle keepers, I had to walk with them and their herds. According to one, Kotol Patrick, their interest is availability of water for livestock. He strongly asserted that, ‘without this source, there is no life for human beings who depend on animals for survival. We shall do everything possible, including fighting to death to ensure water is sustained for their main livelihood.’

In summary, many stakeholders depend on this spring and its watershed for their livelihoods and wellbeing. Many are actively involved in protecting the water, and each plays a unique and important role in the current use and future availability of this invaluable water source. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

University Launches Multi-Country Peacebuilding Research Study

This study is being overseen by Dr. Meike Schleiff; text and map prepared by Meike in collaboration with Firew Kefyalew

Rationale for the Everyday Peace Indicators (EPI) study undertaken by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and built on by Future Generations University

One persistent challenge to peacebuilding is the extent to which communities affected by conflict can transform their circumstances. Many become passive recipients of prescriptive interventions by external actors, or top-imposed conceptualizations and interpretations. The bottom-up role has immediate benefit to day-to-day lives. But how to measure peace (or, more helpfully, change whether it comes nearer or becomes more distant)?

Typically, methods used to study peace yield complex, scholarly results that are not directly useful (or sometimes even intended for) community use. Through development of ‘indicators of peace,’ this project through local participation and local ownership, seeks to produce sensitive local understanding of interventions in peacebuilding and conflict transformation. The assertion here is that communities are best-placed to measure and interpret their own peace.

What are indicators of peace?

These are signals that communities develop through participatory action research on their perceptions of their own circumstances/conflict – what peace actually entails to them.
As Roger Mac Ginty and Pamina Firchow detailed in their recent article,[1] “[Developing indicators of peace] is participatory action research that seeks to find out people’s perceptions of their own conflict rather than impose narratives on them. The research asks local people, through focus groups, to develop their own set of indicators. …[T]he research questions are identified and designed by local people. …The research is designed and administered by local researchers and communities as a way of encouraging the identification of issues that are relevant to communities at the neighborhood or village level.”

Examples of indicators identified in USIP's Everyday Peace Indicators project from multiple countries around the world include: 
  • Children are in school without disruption by rebels
  • Being able to hold social events without police disruption
  • How many dogs are barking at night
  • Roads and other key infrastructure get repaired
  • Women feel safe walking in the streets
  • Able to access primary health care center 
Why is Future Generations University interested in EPI?

Peacebuilding is an area that the graduate school has been engaged in for a number of years. There is in-house research and academic work that the graduate school wants to build on. Development of indicators for peace is consistent with the community change ideals that the graduate school has been teaching. Moreover, development of indicators of peace is in line with what is taught and practiced in SEED-SCALE. The graduate school is keen to pursue a research agenda in developing indicators of peace, an effort that will be augmented by the partnership it has with USIP.

Photo caption: This map shows the 12 country sites (listed below) that are included in the current study.
What does the Future Generations University adaptation of USIP’s work look like?

This a very exciting project that currently has twelve country sites—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Guyana, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe—where study implementers are alumni and current MA students. In addition to USIP’s series of focus group discussions to determine community perspectives on peace indicators, we have added a series of key informant interviews with regional/country experts on peacebuilding in each country in order to triangulate community- and expert-identified indicators with top-down global and regional indices and priorities. The study is in full swing now, and we will complete the first phase of indicator identification, verification, and review of potential uses by the end of June 2017. From there, we are seeking additional funding and avenues to further this work—in the field of peacebuilding as well as across other sectors in our institutional research strategy.

[1]  “Everyday Peace Indicators: Capturing Local Voices Through Surveys” in Shared Space: A research journal on peace, conflict and community relations in Northern Ireland. No date.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Musings of a Naturalist II: Gondwana Gardens

Text and photos by Dr. Bob Fleming

On our first day in northeastern Australia, in the Centennial Lakes Park in Cairns, we found an arrow pointing to the Gondwanan Evolution Garden.

A Gondwana Garden?  I’d never heard of such a thing.

Gondwana, the southern part of the ancient supercontinent of Pangea, is a name well-known name in geological circles, but a garden? This was a first.

Then, on our last day in Australia, this time on Bruny Island off Tasmania’s east coast, we again came upon the concept of a Gondwana garden.  Here on the 600 hectare (1,500 acre) Inala Private Reserve we explored their Jurassic Garden dotted with plants whose ancestors once grew on Gondwana.

Photo caption: This Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) grows on the Atherton Tableland in northeastern Australia and is a representative of the southern ‘pines,’ a group that likely originated in wet and cool western Gondwana. Today, Araucarias occur in an arc from southern Chile around to New Guinea, a ‘strange’ distribution pattern attributed to the fracturing of the original supercontinent.   

As Australia is a continent isolated from others, it is quite understandable that many Australians are aware of the concept of plate tectonics and that continents move, ideas that were considered rubbish during my university days in the 1950s-1960s.

But how to explain the presence of kangaroos in Australia when they are not seen anywhere else in the world?  The answer lies in the history of our planet.

Earth’s geological record shows that some 250 million years ago (mya) most of the world’s landmasses were melded into one supercontinent, now referred to as Pangea.  Later, beginning around 185 mya, rifts appeared in Pangea and the huge landmass gradually split into two divisions, the southern section named Gondwana.  In the ensuing millions of years Gondwana also fractured into parts and Australia is one of those remnants.

Today, much of the flora and fauna found south of the equator speaks of Gondwana. For example the Southern Beech, Nothofagus, survives today in an arc from southern Chile around to New Zealand, Tasmania and north into the mountains of New Guinea. Another example is the early cone-bearing Araucaria ‘pines,’ the distribution of which traces a similar arc from Chile around to New Guinea. Thus one now encounters the Monkey Puzzle tree in southern Chile (and as a garden ornamental commonly planted round the world), the Hoop Pine in Australia, and the Klinki Pine in New Guinea.

Both Nothofagus and Araucaria likely evolved in what was western Gondwana as an Araucaria fossil dating to 185 mya and Nothofagus fossil dating to about 135 mya have been found in beds from that region.  Later, due to favorable conditions they continued to evolve and today survive on far-flung remnants of Gondwana.

Photo caption: This Protea roupelliaea is found in southeastern Africa and this individual was at ~1220m (4000’) in the Drakensbergs mountains of KwaZulu-Natal. Members of the Proteaceae, a plant family that includes over 1600 known species, predominately grow in southern Africa and Australia. A limited number of other species live in india and additional fragments of the original Gondwana supercontinent.

Another Gondwana connection is seen in the Proteaceae family, illustrated by the colorful Banksias in Australia and the related Proteas from southern Africa.  The parrot family is yet an additional link as members proliferate primarily in two areas of the world - Australia and South America.  And then there are spiders. The closest relatives of the primitive Tasmanian Cave Spider (Hickmania troglodytes) are seen in Chile.

Species that evolved early may be driven extinct by climate change or out-competed by later arrivals but on isolated continents and islands with favorable conditions, protection may allow them to proliferate. As an example, 13 of the 19 recognized Araucaria species grow only on remote New Caledonia Island.

Kangaroos are the pride of Australia, the symbol of the Qantas, the national airline, and pictured on the Australian Coat of Arms.  These pouched mammals (marsupials) speak not so much of a Gondwana connection but of continental isolation. Indeed, the flora and fauna we find today on whatever continent is the result of a combination of factors including genetic and geological history as well as both ancient and modern climates.

On our last morning in Australia, while admiring the plantings in the Inala Jurassic Garden, all arranged in family clusters, and thinking about the biological threads that connect these southern lands, we were watched all the while (albeit from a distance) by a Bennet’s Wallaby and a Forty-spotted Pardalote, representatives of families found only in Australia.  The natural history of this continent is very special indeed.

Photo caption: Southern Beech (Nothofagus) trees front the Pia Glacier, an ice river that drops down the western side of the Darwin Range on Tierra del Fuego Island in extreme southern Chile. The distribution of Nothofagus  is from here east to  Tasmania and New Zealand and then north to elevations above 2200m (7,000’) the mountains of New Guinea. Fossils indicate that Nothofagus orginated in western Gondwana and today’s disparate distribution is attributed to the breakup of that southern continent.