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Pastoralism is a natural resource-based subsistence pattern in which the people of the Karamoja sub-region make their living by keeping herds of animals in a communal, free-range land system. It involves mobility to track seasonally available natural pastures.  Nomadic pastoralism is a major land use in the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Karamoja. The Pastoralists typically rely on animal husbandry for their economic activities. The Pastoralists’ land tenure is based on customary traditions and they historically hold their land under communal tenure. This communal property regime is important because it creates pastoral rights of access, providing the best framework for pastoralists to exploit the available resources across various agro-ecological conditions, thereby reducing their levels of vulnerability. Mobility between seasonal resources is, therefore, a key element in pastoral production systems in the Karamoja subregion. During their seasonal movements, the pastoralists manage access to required resources through their customary systems. The seasonal movements of pastoralists means that pastoral land use can be described as migratory land use, with property rights to land applying across different spaces in time. Land issues are therefore important to Pastoralism in Karamoja sub-region.

The Land dilemma in the Karamoja subregion

Karamoja sub-region which is predominantly populated by pastoralist communities has experienced decades of violent conflicts due to protracted inter and intra-clan conflicts over cattle and access to pasture, water, and other natural resources. However, due to both internal and external peace-building efforts as well as extensive disarmament campaigns by the Ugandan Government, a considerable level of security has been achieved in recent years.

Despite the achievements, the Karamoja region faces a new type of challenge in the form of land-related conflicts; conflicts around borders, both internally and externally, are on the rise given the fact that traditional grazing areas and other communal lands are increasingly targeted for acquisition and investment. Communities have for example clashed on a number of occasions with state agencies like the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) over the management and use of protected areas especially in the sub-counties that are largely close to the animal corridors or wildlife habitats.

In addition, the land conflicts are exacerbated by the increasing migrations and returnee populations who are claimants of numerous pieces of land particularly along regional, district and Sub-County borders that are rife with complaints of unclear land transactions and grabbing of communal lands.

The situation is also not helped by the current tilt of the populations into agro-pastoralism which requires greater swaths of land initially owned by clans or sections of society.  Similarly, Trends of sedentarization, requirements for the acquisition of Certificate of Communal Ownership (CCOs), the rush to settle into open lands and the drive to establish Community Forest management structures in the previously gazetted forest reserves which have been survival habitats for the pastoral communities has heightened the conflicts.

Customary lands are also under attack from a number of outsiders including investors who are in need of chunks of land and speculators passing for middlemen acquiring communal lands and selling it off to the highest bidders. Following the commercialization of land transactions and the appreciating value of the land, encroachment of institutionally surveyed lands by both communities and prospective investors is not uncommon. Incidences of individuals reclaiming lands initially gifted to institutions by their parents as an inheritance forcefully resettling in them or selling off to interested parties are common.

Environmental degradation as a result of the felling of trees in logging areas and the increase in mining activities has also affected the communities through depletion of grazing areas.

KDF interventions on issues of land rights

KDF is cognizant of the fact that the pastoralists in the Karamoja region face the highest incidence of poverty due to limited government attention. There an increased threat to the land that has sustained the livelihoods of the pastoralists since time immemorial. In response to the land challenge therefore, KDF has a goal of providing information to the Karamoja communities about their land rights and to propel their involvement in protecting, maintaining and utilizing their own land. To achieve this goal, the following strategies have been employed:

  • Lobby and Advocacy – The land policy and related legislation is yet to be rolled out in Uganda. KDF is, therefore, lobbying among legislators to advocate for the inclusion of community concerns in the land policy briefs.
  • KDF is also advocating for the inclusion of land and pastoralism issues into government planning processes at the DLG and LLG level;
  • Provision of legal aid services on land matters: Where the only option available to the community is legal redress, KDF is supporting certain cases in partnership with key legal aid partners;
  • KDF is also carrying out Mobilization and sensitization of the local communities on tenure security and pastoralism:
  • KDF is employing both local and advanced technologies to disseminate and seek for information from the relevant stakeholders. Local radios, cultural events, social media and KDF publications on the website are used to mobilize the people.