Lake Bunyonyi (the land of “many birds”)
Lake Bunyonyi, situated in the Kigezi Highlands, contains a unique ecosystem that is experiencing notable losses in food production and environmental biodiversity. This area, bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is characterized by high tropical forest and montane woodlands, and possesses extraordinary scenic quality, beautiful lakes and biologically diverse marshlands. The highlands are considered to be one of Uganda’s prime tourist destinations thanks to the rare mountain gorillas and many threatened and endemic birds of the Albertine Rift area.
The environment surrounding the lake has been used for a very long time by the Bakiga, a physically strong agricultural group who speak Rukiga, a Bantu language. Their homesteads are often in the lower hillsides and high population pressure has led to increased farming on the steep sloping and marginal areas. Beans, maize, wheat, sorghum, peas and potatoes are the most important staple crops. Due to increased population and high demand for land (over 300 persons per sq km) greater demands on fragile land, steep slopes and valley bottoms has increased. Fallowing strategies whereby land was rested for several years before reuse have changed and instead continuous cultivation is practiced with short fallow periods. Increased population has led to a reduction in individual land holdings through the subdivision and transfer of land through customary inheritance processes. This reduction in land holdings and increased land fragmentation is causing increased overcropping and overgrazing and less fallowing. These changes are leading to: 1) increased deforestation and land degradation, 2) greater soil erosion, 3) reduced soil fertility, 4) declining agricultural yields, 5) reduced carbon sequestration, and 5) most importantly an overall decline in the communities’ lives and livelihoods.
Increased cultivation on the steep slopes surrounding the lake and continuous downhill cultivation with absence of soil nutrient replenishment technologies has increased soil erosion into the lake, nutrient depletion on steep slopes and increased incidences of poor yields. Currently, the soils are low in major nutrients and appear to be in high demand of nitrogen and phosphorous. Many of the valley bottoms once covered by papyrus swamps are drained and either replaced with pasture grasses or used to grow crops. Use of yield increasing inputs such as commercial fertilizers to offset damage and loss due to depletion and erosion is limited because rural farmers are constrained by capital. Additionally, commercial fertilizers could cause irreversible impacts to the lake’s fragile ecological biodiversity.