Laudato Si Making Uganda’s Palabek a Garden

African societies are largely agrarian societies. Most people of the continent live on subsistence farming. For their daily sustenance many of them have to physically till their garden so as to find food in their homes. Fortunately a good portion of land is blessed with fertile soil, enough water, favourable climate and most countries have millions of young people who are in their productive age, able to engage in the agricultural sector. With better planning and utilization of resources Africa can do better than what it is now. If they do not pay attention to the global environment degradation, Africa can suffer the negative impact of pollution and wastage of resources more than any other continent. Monitoring the continuous degradation of natural resources makes us realize that the imminent environmental disaster is coming sooner than later. The rapid population growth and the related mismanagement of resources may quickly become an environmental tragedy for the coming generations. For instance, in every 15 years the population of Uganda doubles and this puts a great stress on the country’s natural resources. For example, there is an ever increasing need for fuel energy for domestic use. Out of the current population of 44 million, 95% use either wood or charcoal for fuel energy. This has led Ugandans to destroy their forests indiscriminately. Districts and vast areas of land which had natural forests are no more. Charcoal trade has become a lucrative trade for persons who are either in high positions or have links with highly placed officials. It is estimated that over a quarter of Uganda’s trees were cut down between 1990 and 2005. It is further estimated that since 2005 over 2% of forests have been destroyed in Uganda every year. Some even claim that 80% of forests and natural vegetation has been destroyed in the last five decades. (Deforestation Rates in 2000-2005: Annual change in forest cover: -86,400 ha; Annual deforestation rate: -2.2%; Change in deforestation rate since ’90s: 21.2%; Total forest loss since 1990: -1,297,000 ha; Total forest loss since 1990:-26.3%. See It is needless to say that we have already begun to suffer the consequences of climate change caused by this devastating deforestation in Uganda. Rains have been irregular, water levels in our lakes and rivers are too low, floods and landslides have become a common feature, and not forgetting the rise in temperatures. Furthermore deforestation in Uganda has a doom for the income earning tourism which brings in hundreds of millions of hard currency. In many other hidden ways, Uganda has lost many other valuable resources due to deforestation such as medicinal plants and trees, depletion of timber, fish, animals, flora and fauna, and not forgetting the beauty of Uganda which is proudly considered as “the Pearl of Africa”. Thus Uganda is a leading country in deforestation in Africa and the world. Districts such as Lamwo in the northern end of the country have cut down nearly 70% of its trees. It is very common to see huge trucks ferrying hundreds of sacks of charcoal to Kampala, which has a population of over two million people. Except for a small number of people who use gas or electricity for cooking, most people use charcoal for domestic cooking. It is also reported that a few small scale industries owned by Asian investors and factory owners use charcoal for industrial heating. Besides cutting trees for charcoal vast areas of forests are destroyed to plant sugarcane and other cash crops such as palm trees for oil, tobacco, coffee and tea. Due to friendly investment policies many expatriates venture into agro-production and destroy the environment indiscriminately and punitively. Deforestation directly and indirectly affects traditional livelihood activities of poor people such as those who live in Lamwo district and the thousands of refugees hosted in the district. Now poor people who rely on subsistence farming get low return from their gardens, thus greatly affecting their subsistence farming. The district has begun to experience irregular rains, people are unable to sleep due to extreme heat, and people have lost their traditional trees and plants used for medicine and other domestic purposes. Impacted by these dramatic changes the Salesians of Don Bosco Refugee Project has launched a tree planting drive by planning several thousands of trees in their land and encouraging tree planting among their students and beneficiaries. On 16th August on the birthday of their saintly founder Don Bosco, Salesians of Palabek inaugurated “Laudato Si Garden” with 25 acres of newly planted trees, both traditional and exotic. The refugee students of our Vocational Training Center (VTC) have planted at least 4,500 trees. This is in addition to several hundreds of trees that were planted in the public places in the Refugee Settlement Camp such as hospitals, schools, markets, etc. The VTC land also has a few acres of fruits and vegetable gardens. The produce is often generously shared by the students who planted and cared for them. It also helped them to change their routine diet of maize and boiled beans meal. It was a happy sight to see students taking home a big water melon and a bunch of onions each, with a big smile on their faces. At a function held on that day the students vowed to care for their gardens by watering them, take turns to care for them, manage wastes in the right ways, and care for animals under their care and never to cut trees aimlessly. Among the practical resolutions young people made are: To turn of lights when not in use, close taps when not in use, use water sparingly, reduce use of plastic and collect them for recycle, not to waste paper, not to waste food, make compost manure and grow our own vegetables and fruits. At the end of the Launching Day of Laudato Si Garden, refugee students were given fruits and vegetables to take home. Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
Salesian AGL-Provincial House Planning and Development Office 45 KN 14 Ave, Kigali-Rwanda Telephone: +250787683426 Website: Email: