The Ugandan cattle corridor covers an area of about one third of the country, extending from the southwest to the northern and northeastern borders. Although ideally suited to livestock production, overgrazing aggravated by charcoal production led to a complete breakdown of the natural pastureland. Repeated efforts to rehabilitate the vegetative cover had failed because of high termite populations that destroyed grass seedlings.
People and livestock shared the same water sources such as valley tanks, wells, ponds, swamps, rivers and lakes. Livestock keepers in the pastoral communities travelled long distances to access water for both livestock and domestic use especially during the dry seasons. These movements reduced livestock productivity as available energy was spent on walking to water sources, and the incidence of livestock and human diseases increased.
The situation exemplifies a typical situation where the ecosystem passed a seemingly irreversible threshold and was trapped into a non-productive degraded state from which recovery was not possible.
Ugandan animal science researchers at Makerere University brought an idea from Ethiopia and worked with cattle keepers to corral their animals together at night so as to concentrate manure. Doing this for two weeks before reseeding enabled reestablishment of grass after many years of failed effort. Apparently termites prefer to eat the manure, not the seedlings. Once grass cover was established, rainfall infiltration greatly improved, pasture production increased from nil to about 3,000 kg/ha dry weight and soil erosion virtually stopped.
Restoration of the pasture also resulted in reduced surface water runoff and evaporation, prevented sedimentation of valley tanks (a water-harvesting practice), and enabled maintenance of higher quality and volume of reservoir water. In response to the development of these technologies, local communities have passed by-laws to protect the riparian vegetation and water quality.
Local livestock keepers are now investing their own resources in the development and maintenance of common property pasture and water resources.
In terms of resilience analysis, this ‘re-greening of the Ugandan cattle corridor’ is a good example of how transformative management of an agro-ecosystem can reverse a non- linear and seemingly unrecoverable shift. This transformation opens opportunities for increasing ecosystem services and animal production. Maintaining this positive outcome will require improved vegetation management especially through restrictions on grazing pressure and charcoal production that were the likely shocks causing shift in ecosystem structure and function. One key to resilience lies in maintenance of the food supply of termites through better vegetation management.
For more information go to the Project on Livestock Productivity in the Nile