Using a participatory and experiential learning approach to incentivize and increase the adoption of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) measures in Eastern Uganda

Jaymee Silva
Published: 08 January 2021
Last edited: 08 January 2021
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Sanzara parish is located in the lower region of Kapchorwa district, bordering the dry Karamoja region. The parish lies in the rain shadow of Mt. Elgon, exposing it to both prolonged drought and increased flooding due to changing precipitation patterns. These conditions, coupled with a growing population, have affected the agricultural potential of the area, causing chronic food insecurity and abject poverty. In many cases, communities struggle for basic survival, as demonstrated by the high rate of ecosystem degradation and the slow uptake of ecosystem restoration interventions. This solution is about incentivizing adoption of EbA measures in Sanzara Parish. It is based on a case study from the Flagship Mountain EbA project, which was implemented on Mt. Elgon from 2011 to 2015. Lessons from this project are the basis for work done under the follow-on project, “Scaling up Mountain EbA project; building evidence, replication of success and informing policy” within the same landscape.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Gender mainstreaming
Outreach & communications
Sustainable livelihoods
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030


Kapchorwa District, Mt Elgon Region, Eastern Uganda


Sanzara Parish is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to high levels of poverty and continuous population growth. Some of the identified impacts of climate change at this site include prolonged droughts, flooding, and soil erosion. Community members depend mostly on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, due to the high population in the Mt. Elgon region, land pressure and ecosystem degradation are a central challenge for the sustainable development of the region. Some of the challenges this solution addresses are:


Environmental: Water stress, pollution of rivers, flooding, drought, soil erosion, and land degradation.


Social: Low adoption rates of EbA measures due to the extreme vulnerability of the community, poor social cohesion and organization, and ethnic and land conflicts.


Economic: Extremely low levels of household income, limited livelihood options, high costs of knowledge transfer, and a widespread lack of money management skills.


The measures help the women of Sanzara Parish (pop. 8700) to better provide food and water for their families, offer men more opportunities to increase household income, and reduce the burden/danger of collecting water and firewood for children.

How do the building blocks interact?

Building Blocks 1 (BB1), 2 (BB2) and 3 (BB3) interact in several ways:


  • BB1 provides the information on key issues and challenges that will be addressed in BB2 and BB3.
  • During BB1, the community and other relevant stakeholders work together to identify possible EbA solutions that can be demonstrated in BB2 and included in farm plans in BB3.
  • The challenges identified in BB1 help determine the characteristics required for choosing the site for BB2. In other words, the demonstration site (BB2) needs to be representative of the issues identified during BB1.
  • Stakeholder mapping during BB1 identifies the resource people who will support the design, implementation, and management of BB2.
  • BB2 provides feedback on BB1. The evidence generated and lessons learned during BB2 contribute to the evaluation of BB1. BB2 provides an opportunity to analyze whether the correct approaches, processes, and tools were used during BB1. 

BB2 provides the knowledge and skills that are applied on farms in BB3. 


Overall, the solution had a positive impact on the adoption of EbA measures in Sanzara Parish. Over 100,000 trees were planted (with an 80% survival rate as of Dec. 2015), and 3,450 meters of soil and water conservation structures were established to control soil erosion and flood water on farms. Sipi River's water quality improved, with decreases in chemical oxygen demand, turbidity, and nitrates of 39%, 10% and 36%, respectively.


At a social level, community members organized themselves into groups and taskforces to jointly implement the EbA measures. For example, during the construction of the gravity flow scheme (established to address water stress), communities provided free labor, reducing establishment costs by 30%. With improved access to clean water, women and children were spared the dangers associated with traveling long distances to fetch water.


Adoption of soil and water conservation practices improved land productivity and increased yields, which improved food security and household incomes. Action learning revealed that 15% of the community had shifted from the “very poor” category to “average” within two years.


The community provided land on which a demonstration centre was established. This increased the number of adopters, as well as provided the basis for the creation of a revolving fund governed by the community.


Jaymee Silva

Felista Chemusto, better known in the community as “Mama Kelele”, is one of the lead women in the community and a beneficiary of the project. Since the introduction of EbA measures in Sanzara, she has participated actively and mobilized others. She was very welcoming to the project and promoted it strongly, even composing songs to encourage others to participate. Mama Kelele was particularly motivated to adopt the EbA measures because her land was extremely degraded. There were no trees or shrubs, and much of the land around her property (which is near a ridge) was burned regularly to get rid of vermin (baboons, squirrels), to hunt for small wild animals (wild rabbits, antelopes, and edible rats), and to get new pasture for grazing livestock. Because of the burning, her husband had to travel far with their cattle to find pasture. With the introduction of EbA measures, and the incentive scheme, people in her neighborhood stopped burning, and instead planted trees on the ridge and constructed trenches within the river bank.  The gravity flow scheme was also an incentive to stop the burning, since there was fear of burning the plastic water pipes. Now that the burning is controlled and EbA measures have been implemented, Mama Kelele’s land has greatly recovered. The trees provide shade, lowering the local temperatures and acting as windbreakers. Mama Kelele appreciates much her trees, especially her mangoes, as they are now producing fruits that she can sell in other towns for extra income. Her son is also actively involved in the EbA measures, and has helped install an irrigation system on the property.


“Before the project, we were full of problems. There was too much wind that came and destroyed peoples’ houses. Now we are seeing some changes since we planted the trees. Strong winds are no longer there. Also, there was too much drought and now this has reduced. Back then we didn’t even know that we could plant vegetables here. Thanks to the trainings, now some people get money from the crops they plant during the dry season, like tomatoes and sukuma wiki (collard greens). (Comments from Mama Kelele during an interview in March 2019).

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Jaymee Silva

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