Collin, one of the women in Okere who derives her livelihood from collecting Shea nuts, making and selling Shea oil.
Shea trees, which once formed the densest vegetation cover in Otuke District have been cut down – mostly for charcoal burning. This hasn’t only destroyed livelihood options for millions – especially women who directly depend on the trees for income and butter, but it also destroyed the natural ecological functions played by the trees. 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 changes. In fact, rural communities in Otuke District are already bearing the brunt of climate change. For instance, according to the Uganda National Meteorological Authority - UNMA (2018), Otuke district receives the least amount of rainfall in the Lango sub-region. Low rainfall, coupled with extensive deforestation has led to adverse climatic conditions.
Moreover, this deforestation practices have mostly affected women who immensely benefits and have been traditional custodians of Shea trees. Since Shea trees provide economic benefits that contributes towards the fulfilment of certain aspects of women’s rights, their deforestation exacerbates the already existing gender inequalities in Okere making it difficult if not impossible for them to thrive.
In September 2020, we started implementing Our Shea Project with the major objective of strengthening the intricate relationships between Shea trees, the economic empowerment of women and building resilience to climate change in Okere village. Just a few weeks into its implementation, 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.
During one of our community engagement forums, one of the participants suggested that all members present at the meeting had to make a commitment pledging never to cut down any Shea tree. This idea was seconded by all the members and they pledged to not only cut down any shea trees but to also become ambassadors for the community protecting and conservation of the trees.
Thus far, the community of Okere are holding up to their pledge of not cutting shea trees but they also reporting cases of shea destruction. For instance, in the past weeks, two cases were reported and one of the culprits was arrested and penalized by the local unit of the Uganda Police Force in Adwari Sub-County.
As we strive to conserve Shea trees, it is increasingly becoming clear to us 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.