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Losing wetlands to grow crops

Getting enough to eat is a basic human need – but at what cost to the environment?

Research published in BioMed Central's journal Agriculture & Food Security demonstrates that as their crops on higher ground fail due to unreliable rainfall, people in countries like Uganda are increasingly relocating to wetland areas. Unless the needs of these people are addressed in a more sustainable way, overuse of wetland resources through farming, fishing, and hunting will continue.

In 2009 it was estimated that about a third of Uganda's wetlands had been lost to growing crops and grazing. While the environmental significance of wetland loss is important, so are National Food Security targets and the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. In order to evaluate how people are using the wetlands researchers from Makerere University, Uganda, with financial support from IDRC surveyed residents living in either Lake Victoria crescent, Kyoga plains, and South Western farmlands.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of people in these areas use wetland resources including collecting water, catching fish, hunting bush meat (Sitatunga, a type of antelope, and wild rat), and harvesting wild fruits and vegetables. Some of these they consume but others they sell in order to be able to buy food. Over half admitted to growing crops in the nutrient rich soil wetlands with its ready water supply. The families who were most likely to use the wetlands in this way were the ones who had the least access to other sources of food.

The locals blame their bad harvests on global warming, and as global weather systems change this can only get worse. Dr Nelson Turyahabwe explained, "Food insecurity is a real problem across the world. In Uganda the families most at risk tended to have younger or female household heads, or were less educated. Large families were also at high risk of not having enough to eat. In these cases use of wetlands allows families to survive. In designing sustainable use policies for wetlands the needs of humans also needs to be considered."

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Dr Hilary Glover
Scientific Press Officer, BioMed Central
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1. Contribution of wetland resources to household food security in Uganda
Nelson Turyahabwe, Willy Kakuru, Manson Tweheyo and David Mwesigye Tumusiime
Agriculture & Food Security 2012, 2:5 doi:10.1186/2048-7010-2-5
Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request on the day of publication.

2. Agriculture & Food Security is a peer-reviewed open access journal that addresses the challenge of global food security. It publishes articles within the field of food security research, with a particular focus on research that may inform more sustainable agriculture and food systems that better address local, regional, national and/or global food and nutritional insecurity.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. @BioMedCentral

Hilary Glover | EurekAlert!
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