RUFORUM Has Given Life Line to My PhD Journey

My name is Jackson Bunyangha from Uganda. Having completed my MSc in Environment and Natural Resources at Makerere University, I was eager to further my studies in Environmental Science particularly in the field of wetlands but in a new environment. Thus, I secured an admission at the University of Nairobi to do my PhD in Hydrobiology. However, I had no idea about where I would get the tuition. I contacted a friend who had been helped by RUFORUM during his studies. So, with his guidance I browsed RUFORUM website and got in touch with a staff member at the RUFORUM Secretariat who gave me hope that they (RUFORUM) would try and see that I get some scholarship. My heart leapt with joy at the sound of that news. The process started of exploiting the Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) window and after RUFORUM working expeditiously, I received a long-awaited email that I had been awarded the GTA contract. I could have been the happiest person in the whole world on that day.  

After about an hour from Entebbe Airport, I was already at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) ready to start my fundamental study journey. Luckily, I had a friend in the land who gave me an orientation about the new environment including the people and life in Nairobi. I also received a warm welcome from the School of Biological Sciences and was quickly assigned supervisors whom I worked with to develop the thesis research proposal to completion. To add to my Joy, I won another research scholarship from RUFORUM under the Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture (SENTINEL) Project, which is funded by the UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).  My study entitled Landscape transformation of fragile ecosystems in Uganda, the case of Mpologoma catchment in eastern Uganda, examines the historical land use and land cover changes in Mpologoma catchment and models their future dynamics. It then zeroes on the practices in each farming pathway in Mpologoma wetlands with a particular interest in how wetland farming affects soil invertebrate diversity. The study then ends with a choice experiment aimed at unearthing the values of the community around Mpologoma wetlands that could be incorporated into designing the sustainable management Mpologoma catchment. The aim is to generate information on the current and future state of Mpologoma landscape and use community perspectives to guide the design of a flexible catchment management strategy for Mpologoma catchment. The overarching aim is to identify possible tradeoffs between wetland farming and environmental conservation for sustainable management of Mpologoma wetlands.

Jackson doing field at Mpologoma Catchment, Eastern Uganda

Despite being a Ugandan, my fieldwork in the same land was not a bed of roses. The local people were hard to convince that I was doing a purely academic research. Many thought I was grabbing their land when they saw me using the GPS, camera and pick soil samples for invertebrate collections. Fortunately, however, I had informed the local leaders and showed them my university clearance and student ID which I dared not to forget during fieldwork and would present to whoever was confrontational. Secondly, I used local research assistants (like the one handpicking macroinvertebrates in the pic) whom they were familiar with and this eased the tension. I ensured that I sorted some soil samples by the roadside to reduce stranger anxiety. Endless explanations here and there and the official clearance helped in navigating fieldwork hurdles. Nevertheless, there were logistical issues where some farmers demanded that before they could participate in my study or I accessed their land I had to pay them, which for the sake of creating peace, I obliged.

Both quantitative and qualitative data has been collected using remote sensing, questionnaires and observations and is intended to be used in thesis writing. Of course, articles will be teased out for publication. So far, I have one land use and land cover manuscript which I submitted for publication. One key finding is that subsistence farming is the major land use causing unprecedented pressure on Mpologoma catchment. Modelling results revealed that farming will continue to change the landscape of Mpologoma catchment by the end of the first half of the 21st century. The study is cognizant of the increasing pressure on natural resources caused by the population bulge and underscores the key role of proper land use planning in driving sustainable land use in the catchment. I find this information handy in improving land use management at the local level. I intend to share my findings with the local environmental officers and land use planners. No new technology have I developed but modified Swift and Bignell’s monolith (2001) method upon observing that the 15 – 30 cm depth in wetland soils barely contained any soil macroinvertebrates. So, I adjusted and adapted the soil monolith depth to 15cm, hence 30 X 30 X 15 cm was the monolith used in this study. I still have lab work to do which I intend to finish by the end of January 2021 and then embark on data analysis and writing. Any opportunity to present at conferences will be much appreciated and I will be glad to write a policy brief at the end of the study.

Everything seemed to be moving on well until COVID-19 shattered the world. It started like a joke and no one, except the chemists who invented it, ever knew that COVID-19 would hold the whole world on tenterhooks. The rich died, the poor died, wildlife took to some streets in Europe and money could not help. I had just returned home to oversee the progress of some of my sample analyses at Makerere University and meet the GIS expert when while I planned to travel back to Nairobi over that weekend, a lockdown was declared on March 18, 2020 followed by a ban on public transport a week later! It was a surprise that sent chills down my spine like a horror movie. Oh, I froze! I was psychologically tortured for some time although I later gathered my wits knowing that I had some work with me that could keep me busy. I resolved to finish my first paper. Writing went on sluggishly though. Nevertheless, I had the manuscript ready and submitted it for publication in October. Although I haven’t fallen sick of COVID-19, I will always remember how the pandemic squandered my study time and messed up my opportunities.

In a nutshell, although it came later than was much needed, I appreciate the skills enhancement training in Remote sensing and GIS organized by RUFORUM in early September 2020. It helped me to improve my mapping.  Of course, time was short to receive a comprehensive land use analysis package but all was not lost. The AMOS training was also interesting and I will most likely use it in my analysis. The training in qualitative methods and data analysis by Sentinel researchers was also fine and gave insights despite intermittent network and power outage at the time.

For more details, please contact Mr. Jackson Bunyangha via email:


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