SOROTI – The current population growth is threatening sustainable land use in Teso sub-region.
Figures from the National Population Council (NPC), a state agency that advises the government on population issues, show that Uganda has a population growth rate of 3.3 percent per annum, making it the third fastest-growing population in the world.
The country’s population is projected to reach 75 million by 2040 from the current 40 million people.
According to the National Population Council, youths below the age of 30 make up more than 78 percent of the 40 million people.
Teso sub region alone accounts for 7 percent of Uganda’s population of 40 million people, as per State of Uganda Population Report [SUPRE] 2020, which is an annual population of the National Population Council [NPC].
However, the locals don’t yet understand how their rising population will take a toll on sustainable land use in region.
As the population increases, the demand for land intensifies as everyone struggles to find space for their livelihood.
George William Apuda, aged 85 years old and a resident of Akoboi village in Ngariam sub-county Katakwi district, recounts that twenty years ago, farmers looked out at the forests and grasslands of Teso and saw endless virgin territory.
“A young man, upon starting a family, would clear a patch of wilderness near where he was raised and plant his own sorghum, millet, groundnut, or cassava,” said Apuda.
However, Apuda, a father of eight children, noted that after decades of unprecedented population growth; the land is running out, as in many parts of the region, people are bumping up against one another over land for cultivation.
According to him, cubicles of arable land can still be found, but only in malaria-ridden localities where nobody wants to live.
Apuda further explained that a number of people are clearing rain forests near their homes instead of relocating to distant locations. Tropical forests’ acidic soil does not favour growing grains, fruits and vegetables.
He added that land ownership in Teso sub region currently stands at two acres per household, which parents subdivide amongst their children, reducing it to a plot which is too small to feed a family.
Augustine Omare, the former Prime Minister of Iteso Cultural Union [ICU] argued that given the high number of children visa vie limited land, families in Teso region are no longer able to grow enough food for themselves.
He referenced the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey [UDHS, 2011 and 2016] that show that Uganda’s total fertility rate stands at 5.4 children per woman, a reduction from 7 children per woman in 1991.
“Given the high fertility rate, some parents are not able to feed their children properly, let alone afford their education, children thus grow up desperately poor and have huge families of their own, which is exerting pressure on limited natural resources such as land and forests,” stated Omare.
According to him, the shrinking farmland adds yet another burden, food production on a per-capita basis is declining and malnutrition is worsening, which means that children are likely to grow up even less healthy and less productive.
Omare, points out that Teso sub-region is one of the poorest regions according to Uganda Bureau of Standards (UBOS) and is stuck in a demographic trap.
Andrew Oboi, the District Agricultural Officer (DAO), revealed that people have abandoned land management techniques that they used previously to sustain the long-term fertility of their fields, such as allowing one of the fields to lie fallow each season.
“Three-quarters of all arable land in Teso today is severely depleted of nutrients because it has been overused” said Oboi.
This he said is a result of vanishing vast arable land due to population growth.
Oboi, wonders how the next generation is going to make it, if people continue having huge numbers of kids, and if farm sizes continue to shrink.
Factor responsible for population growth.
Mary Margrate Atukoit, a mother of nine children and a resident of Kipinyang village in Magoro sub-county in Katakwi district says, on an individual level, many women in the rural areas are currently unable to attain reproductive autonomy.
“Much as government is encouraging couples to embrace family planning, men still don’t allow their women to go for family planning,” she noted
Atukoit, lamented that when a woman cannot achieve reproductive autonomy, both individuals and society experience greater socio-economic burdens which is a significant problem.
“When women cannot determine whether and when to have children, or how many to have, their quality of life and their economic prospects suffer”, she explained.
Joyce Glades Alado from Ngora district said, women and girls still face incredible obstacles, including inferior status in their communities and relationships, gender-based violence, prejudice and discrimination in all aspects of society.
As a result, she explained that many struggle to advance their position in society or determine their own future, adding that they often cannot decide for themselves whether to have children or the number of children.
Call for Action to slow down the rapid population growth.
One way to break the cycle of overpopulation and misery, Angela Anyumel, a primary teacher in Serere district said, government should increase the availability of both long- and short-term family planning contraceptives so as to increase family planning uptake among women in reproductive age.
She is one example of the many women in Teso who are affected by lack of choice, due to limited family planning methods provided at health facilities.
Anyumel explains that she tried using Depo-Provera as a birth control measure, but had to stop after realizing that the contraceptive increased her heartbeat.
“When I was given Depo-Provera, my heart beat increased and yet I had high blood pressure”, recounts Anyumel.
Anyumel said after taking Depo-Provera, her periods took a while to resume after her last child, prompting her to make a decision to breastfeed her child for a year thus relying on breastfeeding as a means of natural family planning.
She wishes there were other available methods of birth control, but every time she goes to the local government health facility, she is asked to use either pills or an injector plant.
“Whenever we seek family planning services from the government facilities, midwives end up providing short term family planning commodities such as pills and injector plants just because long term family planning commodities are always out of stock” Anyumel recounts her ordeal.
Evelyne Abiro, a mother of five and a resident of Arapai sub-county in Soroti district adds a voice to Anyumel’s concern saying, women need to have a wide range of family planning methods so that they can choose what works best for them.
Meanwhile, Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha, Communications and Fundraising Manager at Amref, urged the government to increase awareness about family planning among both women and men in rural areas because there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding contraceptives methods.
She is optimistic that promoting family planning by educating men and women about contraception will play a key role in reducing fertility rates, problems associated with overpopulation and decreasing poverty in Uganda.
“A reduction in fertility rate was achieved in the West over the course of a century of female education, national family planning services and the introduction of job opportunities for women”, therefore it’s important to empower women by giving them access to reproductive health service as well as better economic options”, said Kamanzi Mugisha.
Kamanzi Mugisha also stated governments must promote responsible parenthood and limit subsidies to the first two children unless the family is living in poverty.
This, she noted, can be accomplished by promoting child spacing and having fewer children. In certain urban regions of the country, there are posters showing happy couples with just one or two children.
Government efforts to harness Demographic Dividend
Last year, Cabinet approved the new National Population Policy 2020, which is aligned alongside Vision 2040 and Sustainable Development Goals.
Stella Kigozi, the Director, Information & Communications National Population Council Uganda says, unlike the past policy developed at the time when the country was battling the high fertility rates, maternal mortality rates and high incidences of HIV/AIDs, expect the new policy steers the country towards harnessing the demographic dividend.
“The new policy recognizes that in addition to infrastructure like roads, energy and Information Communication Technologies, the government needs to prioritize human capital development” states Kigozi.
She also reveals that the policy calls for more investment in the social welfare of the country so that as the population grows older, they are able to positively and effectively contribute to economic development.
Kigozi reiterated that the National Population Council [NPC)] is commitment to addressing high population growth rate by reducing total fertility rate to 2.5 percent from the current 5.4 percent, increase family planning uptake and address early marriages among others.
“No country can grow without tackling issues like population growth and fertility rate” said Kigozi.
The government has for long been divided between supporting or discouraging high population growth rates if it is to realize the required sustained economic growth rates, which will lead to development and social transformation.
According to the 2019 revision of the World Population Prospects Uganda’s total population was 42,729,036 in 2018, up from 34,856,813 given by the National Housing and Population Census 2014.
The proportion of children below the age of 15 accounts for 48 percent, while those 65 years or older are just 2.5 percent, making Uganda the country with the third youngest population after Niger and Mali.
Therefore, cutting exponential population growth will help Uganda harness her demographic dividends and achieve economic aspirations as stated in Vision 2020.
This story was produced with Support from the National Population Council (NPC) in Collaboration with Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
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