Is building climate resilience feasible in a refugee context?

The importance of climate resilient farming for refugees

Climate resilience in a refugee context

“Water is to adaptation as energy is to mitigation,” Prof Saleemul Huq

Anyone can become a refugee. Today, the world is witnessing the displacement of four million Ukrainians resulting from the Russian invasion. Just like a war, climate change is a major contributing factor to migration. A 2021 World Bank report predicts that up to 216 ml people could become displaced due to climate change by 2050. Uganda is host to many refugees from neighbouring countries, the majority fleeing from violence in their home countries of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Stephen and I spoke to some of the refugees resettled in Uganda’s Kiryandongo district, who acknowledged receiving food aid but described it as often insufficient.”

To supplement the food aid that the refugees receive from humanitarian support, the Ugandan government offers refugees about an acre of land to farm. While some refugees have taken up rain-fed agriculture, they have not been spared by climate vagaries. Rainfall has become far less reliable, a trend predicted to worsen in the foreseeable future.

The area has also been profiled by the National Risk and Vulnerability Atlas of Uganda as recently as 2019 as being highly susceptible to drought. Cassava and maize, two of the main crops grown, are ranked as very high in their vulnerability to drought conditions, significantly increasing the chances of crop failure. Samuel Acidri, a member of the host community confirms it. “Last year, we lost everything we had planted during the first season because there was no rain,” he says.

Catalytic grants to support the refugees

Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, adapt, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disruptions related to climate. Through a catalytic grant award jointly organized by ICCCAD, GRP, and CJRF at the Fifteenth International Community Based Adaptation Conference (CBA15), we set out to train 50 refugees in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement on adopting climate-smart agriculture as one way to supplement the inadequate humanitarian food aid during the COVID pandemic. We were inspired to act by news in the media that showed that food aid had been disrupted by COVID-19, as lockdowns affected supply chains and funding worldwide, meaning refugees were facing hunger and malnutrition.

Climate-smart agriculture, a solution to building climate resilience

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps guide actiond to transform agri-food systems towards green and climate resilient practices. To demonstrate the effectiveness of climate-smart practices, we partnered with Global Refugee Initiatives, a local non-governmental organization active in the settlement. A shallow well was constructed before the training to offer water for irrigation. Mulching, irrigation, agroforestry, integrated pest management, and planting quick growing high value vegetables, were chosen as the relevant climate-smart agriculture practices for demonstration.

Mrs. Gloria Drani Ahmed is a refugee who has been in the settlement since 2014 due to an attack on her home area in South Sudan by rebels. During the first day’s theoretical session, Gloria remarked that “irrigation is good, but using which water?” Alas, her fears became a reality during the practical training, when the new shallow well dried up after collecting only 80-litres of water. At least 400 litres were required for the demonstration but water was not available in the well.

Using their knowledge of the area, the participants moved to another shallow well further away, but the same thing happened. Gloria, who lives very close to the demonstration garden, offered water from her well, a product of her husband’s own hands. It, too, dried up. It soon became clear that this occurrence was normal. The challenge remained as how the refugees would water their crops during the dry season when the shallow wells dry up?

With less than enough water, the participants wet the ground just enough to seed the vegetable beds and apply mulch material. Every participant engaged in the activities during the demonstration, including fetching water, mulch material, and preparing seedbeds. The experience was a steep learning curve for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who back home received rain nearly all year, thanks to the country’s dense forest cover.

As part of the project, the refugees also received training on the importance of energy-saving through the practical construction of energy-efficient stoves that help reduce deforestation, which is commonplace in the settlement.

Can the refugees do it all on their own?

Building climate resilience among growing vulnerable refugee communities, including Kiryandongo refugee settlement, requires urgent and sustainable action from various actors, including businesses, development partners, and the government. Resilience building in a refugee settlement is possible, but only with anticipatory action and synergies by different actors is required.

Originally this article was published on August 1, 2022  at Dhaka Tribune


Susan Nanduddu

Stephen Bright Sakwa