Reforesting South Sudanese refugee settlements:
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 100,000 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. WildFF is currently conducting a landscape-scale initiative to understand how to protect and restore forests in and around refugee settlements. 

Understanding forest conservation best practices within refugee communities

Few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of forest conservation and restoration initiatives in refugee settlements. Palorinya sits adjacent to the Era Central Forest Reserve and, beyond that, the Otze Forest Sanctuary. These protected areas are biodiverse and the last refuge for many local plants and animals. Since 2018, WildFF, in partnership with Moyo District Forestry Services, has implemented environmental initiatives across the settlement. Through our research funded by the Conservation, Food, and Health Foundation and One Tree Planted, we are studying how the combination of the following three initiatives impacts overall protection of forests adjacent to the refugee settlement.

Reforestation

We built and maintain a tree nursery in the settlement with the refugees and our local partner in Palorinya, Moyo Forestry Services. To date, we have planted 300K trees, including moringa, jackfruit, and fast-growing timber species, with the long-term goal of providing a sustainable source of food, medicine, and firewood for the refugees. 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, we have funded  the construction of more than 2,000 cookstoves, which support about 10,000 refugees.

Educational  training

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 we collect 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.