Context, conflict and climate change
By Wendy Okolo, and Kelvin Shikuku
The area of Nwoya district, Northern Uganda, was wracked by civil war for two decades. Today, the area is highly vulnerable to climate change, as farmers rely on low-productivity subsistence crops such as sesame, sorghum or beans. Increasing the resilience of communities and their food security – while also mitigating climate change – remains a challenge.
Especially since the adaptive capacity of communities often depends on socio-cultural contexts. “Blanket approaches” to tackling climate adaptation are untenable – and should be shaped depending on different contexts across agricultural spaces.
To understand how national policies support or undermine adaptive responses to climate change, we traveled to Nwoya district, to hold focus group discussions and conduct interviews with farmers and agricultural experts and sub-county officials.
Taking complex socio-cultural contexts into account is vital
Nwoya district is one of the thirty districts in Northern Uganda with a population of 128,094 and characterized by large farm sizes and pieces of idle land. Most farming is done at smallholder level by women.
As food providers as nurturers, it is doubly important that women understand how adaptive responses are adopted or not. Gender differences therefore need to be taken into account, and the role of women needs to be understood in Climate Smart Agricultural (CSA) strategies.
Many previous approaches have relied on design of appropriate technology, economic instruments and complex computer modeling  to address climate change – without careful consideration of the local, social context.
Land ownership and war-torn context
Those results have been largely unsuccessful, because technological fixes that overlook the complex workings of socio-cultural power in shaping roles and behavior are not often adopted. Nwoya district is a good case in point.
According to the cultural traditions of the Acholi people, women do not have direct access and ownership of land. This means that women at a small scale level may not be motivated to take up adaptation or mitigation strategies on land they do not own or control.
Indeed, focus group discussions revealed that women are more concerned with investment in land as far as it can feed their families. Because they do not own the land, adopting strategies to enhance sustainability was not a clear concern.
The civil war in Northern Uganda also provides some context. The war has been significant in shaping how land is accessed, controlled and owned. In the pre-civil war era, land was accessed, controlled and owned through clan-kinship ties.
But this has shifted. Now, individual men instead of clans own, control and transfer land to women through male-kinship ties. In addition to the shift in land control and ownership dynamics, interest in the monetary value of land has increased.
This has led to conflict around land ownership and unclear land boundaries. Focus group discussions with men revealed that land is a highly contentious topic. While boundaries in the past were marked by elders, many of these gatekeepers of knowledge died during the civil war.
Now, clear demarcation of pieces of land, and land boundaries, have been replaced by often highly contested memories and natural landmarks.
Settling disputes and moving forward
District officials found it challenging to implement land ownership through issuance of title deeds, as stipulated in land policy. They reported that much of this process was left to settling disputes rather than issuing title deeds.
Framing this challenge in technical terms fails to consider the underlying historical process of how land is owned, accessed, transferred and controlled – and implementing land policy has the potential to reproduce inequality or exacerbate conflict.
As the team left Nwoya that cold morning, it was evident that unpacking local, socio-cultural contexts, have to be at the core of our approach to get mitigation or adaptation practices adopted. To understand better, we are using participatory processes to include marginalized voices and views of the whole community.
To establish a link between the adoption of CSA practices and a clear understanding of the local context, our approach is participatory and inclusive – as the implementation of demonstration plots and the monitoring and evaluation exercises that are to follow will show.
From this learning, we developed research information briefs that were useful in informing policy makers in Uganda of the significance of local context in policy formulation and implementation. You can find them below.
- Increasingly, researchers in the agricultural sector are using participatory methods not only as way of including marginalized voices, but also as a way of contextualizing their approaches and providing tailor made solutions for farmers.
- Context specificity allows researchers to expand the scope of their approaches from a singular technological approach to a more inclusive approach that recognizes some of the structural conditions that underpin the challenges farmers face.
- An approach that considers the socio-cultural context is meaningful in creating sustainable solutions since it promotes a consideration on the researcher’s technological interventions. This process of reflection allows researchers to take into account the realities which farmers face, heterogeneity, needs and wants.
Gender and climate change in Uganda: Effects of policy and institutional frameworks
Barriers to successful climate change policy implementation in Uganda
Reference:  Terry, G., (2009) No Climate Justice without Gender Justice: an Overview of the Issues, Gender & Development. 17(1).pp. 5-18.