Comparison of measured multi-decadal rainfall variability with farmers’ perceptions of and responses to seasonal changes in western Uganda
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Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are not only dealing with decreased production from land degradation, but are also impacted heavily by climate variability. Farmers perceive decreased rainfall or shortened rainy seasons throughout SSA; however, the link between perceptions and climate variability is complex, especially in areas with increasing land degradation. Moreover, little is known about climate variability and farmers’ perceptions in central equatorial Africa. The purpose of this study is to quantify interannual rainfall variability from 1983 to 2014 in western Uganda and to relate the rainfall variability and associated changes in soil moisture to perceptions and coping strategies of local farmers. Surveys of 308 farming households and 14 group interviews were conducted near Kibale National Park, and daily satellite-based rainfall data for the region were extracted from the African Rainfall Climatology version 2 database. Results indicate a decrease in the long rains by approximately 3 weeks throughout much of the region; thus, soil-water deficits have intensified. Farmers perceived later onsets of both the short rains and long rains, while also reporting decreasing soil fertility and crop yields. Therefore, farmers’ perceptions of rainfall variability in the Kibale region may reflect more the decrease in soil fertility than the shortened rainy seasons and decreased soil moisture. Expanding croplands has been the farmers’ most prevalent coping strategy to decreased yields; however, nearly all the unfarmed land in western Uganda is now in protected areas. Consequently, western Uganda is facing a crisis at the nexus of population growth, land use change, and climate change.
KeywordsClimate variability Tropical rainfall Africa Smallholder agriculture Perceptions
This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Coupled Natural-Human Systems Exploratory grant (NSF-EX: 1114977). Makerere University Biological Field Station, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Council for Science and Technology, and many local government officials provided support and granted permission for this research.
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