Mbiwa Constantine Isebahasa, 73, is a farmer from the Kasese District, in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. In recent years Constantine has had to change his everyday life to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Worryingly for Constantine, as a father and a husband, this has not only meant dealing with less water and learning to plant new kinds of crops, but has also meant coming to terms with the spread of a deadly disease: malaria.
WWF Photo journalist Simon Rawles spent three days with Constantine, getting know him, his family, and how his daily life has had to adapt to climate change.
This is Constantine's Climate Witness testimony as witnessed over three days by Simon
DAY 1, 15.11.2009
Constantine goes to church every Sunday, and says his faith is central to his life.
He is a scholarly man. In his spare time enjoys reading and working on his lifetime personal project: Researching and chronicling the history and customs of the Bakonjo people, the mountain tribe to which he belongs.
His home is Kigoro village. He has a written record of his children, all 32 of them, but has lost count of the number of grandchildren he has. After church, he goes to the market. The price of food, he says, has soared in recent times owing to widespread crop failure. Many farmers have switched to growing fruits (those often grown in semi-arid conditions) which they sell to buy staple foods. WWF is encouraging this switch from farming to trade as one way to adapt to climate change.
Constantine began farming 50 years ago and today he grows cotton, coffee, beans, maize and bananas, and owns three goats. He demonstrates how his maize, cotton and beans are growing at lower yields, which he attributes to late and inadequate rains. The yellowing of his crops is a clear sign that they are growing poorly. Withered crops are sadly a reality for farmers here.
DAY 2, 16.11.2009
Constantine has an onion farm which benefits directly from the local irrigation scheme. As a result his onion bed is doing well. Every morning he goes to water the bed.
However, one of the damaging aspects of warming temperatures, says Constantine, is the increase in pests that attack their crops. Pests are forcing farmers to turn to intensive pesticide use. ‘Pests are more prevalent today,’ he says. ‘We can’t survive without pesticides.’
Farmers here can no longer rely on the predictability of the seasons. ‘We wait until it first rains and then we plant.’ Like other farmers in the region, he has switched to planting varieties of fast-yielding crops like potato, maize, beans and bananas.
One way of adapting to climate change is to encourage farmers to switch from farming to trade, and some farmers in the region are now planting drought-resistant crops like pineapple, oranges and mangoes – fruits often grown in semi-arid regions – which they sell to buy maize and other staple foods. Mango farmer Slyvester Mudusu has seen his life transformed since switching to fruit farming. Not only does selling fruit provide food and shelter for his family, Mudusu has been able to put his children through private education.
Madusa’s mangoes are celebrated in Kasese. His farm benefits from the water irrigation scheme. He puts their fine taste down to the fact that the Rwenzori mountains provide fresh water with a high mineral content.
Much of the forest has disappeared over recent decades. The government continues to hand out licenses to harvest trees. ‘I have seen so much forest lost over the years. Up to 25 large trees per day are cut down in the Rwenzori region.’ People harvest the timber to service the local limework industry at the local factory.
WWF sponsors small-scale farmers, like Constantine, to plant trees on bare, abandoned hills. It’s a 5 year landscape and restoration programme that involves 82 farmers. So far they have planted 700,000 trees in the region. 500,000 have survived. The trees planted are indigenous and exotic, and include mahogany, pine, Bodo Carpus and Brunus Afrikana.
The trees are carefully selected to help mitigate the effects of climate change. They have discovered that the Pinus Carribaea, a pine species, grows well here. It is also ‘fire-resistant’, owing to its large and flakey bark that falls to the ground if burned.
The scheme is also helping farmers to install fuel efficient wood burning stoves.
DAY 3, 17.11.2009
Constantine’s daughter, Rebecca Ithungu, is a nurse at the local health clinic which has seen an increase in the number of cases of malaria and cholera in recent times, a result of increasing temperatures and flooding. ‘In the past,’ says Constantine, ‘people would go up to the mountains to avoid malaria. Now people from higher altitudes are coming down to use the medical services in the lowlands. Everybody is suffering.’
‘The mountains were once very healthy places for children to grow up in.’
The water markings on the bridge above the Mubuku River, where women wash clothes and cattle drink, shows how low the water flows today in relation with times past.
Cows, seen grazing and drinking from the river, are clearly bony and weak, a sign that fodder is scarce.