“We value the trees and will never cut them again” – Okere Community
Shea trees are indigenous fruit trees in Uganda. The nut trees typically grow wild, and are mostly found in Karamoja, West Nile, Teso, Lango and Acholi regions. The trees take about 25 years to mature, however it was discovered that the trees sprout well under domestication. The development basically means that, the tree that many feared that could be facing extinction, has a lifeline added to it. The fruits resemble plums and once harvested, they can be used for various commercial values.
In Otuke district, in Northern Uganda, shea trees once formed the densest vegetation cover, but most trees have been cut down routinely for charcoal burning. This has not only destroyed livelihood options for millions, especially women who directly depend on the trees for income and butter, but it has also destroyed the natural ecological functions played by the trees.
These deforestation practices have mostly affected women, who have been traditional custodians of the shea trees. The deforestation exacerbates the already existing gender inequalities in Otuke district, making it difficult and impossible for them to thrive.
With a richly endowed and ecologically friendly natural tree species like Shea destroyed, rural communities who rely on them face significant threats of reduced resilience to mitigate the dangers of climatic change. In fact, rural communities in Otuke District already bear the impact of climate change. According to the Uganda National Meteorological Authority - UNMA (2018), the district receives the least amount of rainfall in the Lango sub-region. Low rainfall, coupled with extensive deforestation has led to adverse climatic conditions.
Okere city project is a community development program that was envisioned by its residents, to undertake, influence and direct all-inclusive rural development initiatives geared towards elimination of poverty in okere parish, Adwari sub-county, Otuke district, to become a self-sustaining settlement.
In 2020, As part of the save shea trees movement, the community started implementing ‘Our Shea Project’ with the major objective of strengthening the knotty relationships between Shea trees, the economic empowerment of women and building resilience to climate change in Okere city.
Fast forward to 2021, the project is significantly contributing towards the protection, regeneration and conservation of shea trees, while at the same time bringing together a community of women to build a movement to ensure promote the sustainability of Shea trees and harness its socio-economic and natural benefits.
At one of the community engagement forums, a participant suggested that all members present at the meeting had to make a commitment pledging never to cut down any Shea tree. The idea was unanimously seconded, and members pledged to protect the shea trees and become ambassadors for the community protecting and conserving of the trees.
Thus far, the community of Okere city are holding up to their pledge of not cutting shea trees and are vocal in reporting cases of shea destruction. In Adwari sub-county, some cases have been reported and culprits were arrested and penalized by the local unit of the Uganda Police Force.
As they strive to conserve Shea trees, it is increasingly becoming clear to the community members, that the involvement of local community members in monitoring, surveillance, sensitization is a key mechanism for ensuring sustainable management of the shea natural resources in Okere City.