Reforesting South Sudanese refugee camps: Palorinya, Uganda

The advent of rising sea levels, superstorms, and other extreme natural disasters will see a rise in climate change refugees over the coming decades. Sudden, high-density refugee settlements can leave an undeniable ecological scar because the basic need for food, shelter, and energy oblige refugees to rely on nearby forest and water resources.

Palorinya in northern Uganda is the second-largest refugee camp in Uganda, home to more than 180,000 South Sudanese refugees. In dryland areas like Palorinya, further loss of trees in dry forests leads to desertification, increased drought, and decreased food security due to irreversible soil loss and productivity. After a successful small-scale pilot, which demonstrated how community tree planting and tree care training can increase food security, WildFF has begun a landscape-scale research initiative to understand how to protect and restore forests in and around refugee settlements.

Understanding conservation best practices within refugee communities

Few studies have focused on the long-term consequences of refugee settlements on the environment. Palorinya sits adjacent to the Era Central Forest Reserve and, beyond that, the Otze Forest White Rhino Sanctuary. These protected areas are biodiverse and the last refuge for many local plants and animals. Since 2018, WildFF, in partnership with the Moyo District Forest Office, has implemented environmental initiatives across the settlement and are actively collecting data to understand its impact on protecting surrounding forest cover.

Reforestation

A tree nursery was built in the settlement and more than 150,000 seedlings were planted, including moringa, jackfruit, and fast-growing timber species. Once the trees are ready for harvest, about 130,000 refugees will have access to sustainable food sources and firewood. As of late 2019, an area of 267 acres within the settlement has been reforested through our efforts.

High-efficiency cookstoves

The goal of this sustainable initiative is to help provide basic needs for refugees while protecting the local forests. Made from local materials like clay, grass, and water, the cookstoves are smokeless with high heat retention, providing a steady fire with regulated airflow. The purpose of constructing high-efficiency cookstoves is to decrease demand for fuelwood, as well as reduce indoor air pollution due to cooking fires. Currently, 2,000 cookstoves have been constructed by local artisans and are actively being maintained. The cookstoves support about 10,000 refugees.

Educational workshops and trainings

Both the reforestation and cookstove initiatives were led by refugee volunteers, providing them with additional income. There are about 275 volunteers who are trained in seedling care and/or cookstove construction. They also receive climate adaptation training so they may transfer this knowledge at monthly sensitization meetings. Attendance at these community workshops range from 200 to 500 attendees. Here, the volunteers educate on agroforestry best practices, reforestation efforts, and climate change resiliency. These topics are discussed within the social context of existing conflicts, such as the local firewood crisis and food scarcity.

In total, the data collected from these initiatives seek to improve the
efficacy of efforts by relief agencies and government agencies to conserve forests when people are displaced. The knowledge we generate in northern Uganda will not only
help to conserve local forests and improve the lives of tens of thousands of people but enable WildFF to contribute to the development of improved conservation practices worldwide.