Parklands, pasturelands, paddy rice fields, and coffee gardens as existing or potential agricultural socio-ecological production landscapes



  • Nature and Livelihoods


  • 25/08/2016

  • REGION :

  • Eastern Africa


  • Uganda (Eastern Region)


  • For conservation of biological diversity to be holistic, the diverse types of ecosystem and ecological communities occurring in a given landscape or country should be part of the conservation portfolio. Eastern Uganda has low protected-area coverage compared to other regions of the country. From the viewpoint of biodiversity conservation, the region is unique as it contains a vegetation belt (the Sudano-Sahelian photochorion) that is not adequately represented in Uganda’s protected areas probably has the most extensive and diverse wetlands in the country. Sustenance of the biodiversity in this region depends on conservation in farmlands. This study describes some of the ways in which conservation on farmlands in this region can be achieved in parklands, pasturelands, paddy rice fields, and coffee gardens, these being the main agroecosystems that have high potential to combine the goals of biodiversity conservation and agriculture-based livelihood. This case study is based on literature review and direct observation. Parkland and pastureland agroecosystems are considered existing Socio-ecological production landscapes (SEPLs), while paddy rice fields and gardens of shade coffee are regarded as potential.


  • Parklands, Pasturelands, Rice paddies, Shade coffee, Agroecosystems


  • William Olupot (Nature and Livelihoods)

  • LINK:


Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.

Natural and social background

[Note: this case study was originally published in the publication “Socio-ecological Production Landscapes and Seascapes (SEPLS) in Africa“]

A large amount of biodiversity occurs outside protected areas. In 1989, it was estimated that approximately 50% of the world’s terrestrial area is under agriculture, approximately 20% under commercial forests, and another 25% occupied by human settlements including cities, towns, and villages (Western & Pearl 1989). Only 5% was unmanaged or uninhabited land. Most species were reported to occur in land that is managed for agriculture, forestry, and human settlements. In addition to protecting the integrity of parks, therefore, it has been pointed out that efforts to conserve biological diversity must include agricultural, forest, and other managed ecosystems (Pimentel et al. 1992).

Success in that effort depends on making biodiversity an integral component of production at local levels. Nature and Livelihoods NGO has initiated these efforts in eastern Uganda (Figure 1). This region has the least protected area estate in the country. The likelihood of efforts to integrate biodiversity conservation into agriculture in this region has promise for four farming types: parklands, pasturelands (pastoral areas), paddy rice fields, and coffee gardens. Parkland farming and livestock grazing are traditional systems in which biodiversity is an integral component of production. In this respect, they can be considered as existing agricultural Socio-Ecological Production Landscapes (SEPLs) (Satoyama Initiative 2013). Paddy rice farming and coffee growing are relatively new systems that unintentionally benefit certain native species or have high potential to do so.

Figure 1: Map of eastern Uganda showing drainage and other features Source: Prepared for Nature and Livelihoods by the GIS Section of the Wetlands Management Department, Ministry of Water and Environment, Kampala

Parkland farming and livestock keeping are practiced in the drier northern areas of the region, which lie within the Sudano-Sahelian vegetation belt. Parkland farming is a dryland cropping system in which trees are left in gardens when virgin areas are opened up for cropping (Boffa 1999; Lovett & Haq 2000). In Uganda, the main crops grown under this agroecosystem are millet, sorghum, cassava, groundnuts, and peas. It usually includes leaving strips of uncultivated land between fields. Areas reserved for livestock grazing are usually seasonally flooded grass swamps. Upland areas dominated by rocky soils were, until recent years, reserved for livestock grazing. Paddy rice is grown in shallow swamps, usually in the wetter areas to the south of the region, though rice growing also occurs in the drier swamps to the north. Rice is cultivated in pure stands. Rice farming was introduced into Uganda in 1904 (Bigirwa 2005, cited in Odogola 2006). Thereafter, growing was limited until the establishment of the irrigated Kibimba and Doho rice schemes in 1966 and 1976 respectively (Odogola 2006). The wetlands of eastern Uganda are the main rice-producing area of the country (Haneishi et al. 2013). Rice is grown primarily by subsistence farmers as a commercial crop. Shade coffee (Coffea arabica) of a commercial variety was first planted in Uganda around 1900 (Brown & Hunter 1913). The main arabica coffee farming areas in eastern Uganda around the slopes of Mt. Elgon, where it is cultivated by smallholder farmers.

Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) farming is another agricultural practice in this region that has inherent potential to support biodiversity conservation when well managed. Such potential has been demonstrated (Rice & Greenburg 2000; Scroth & Harvey 2007). However, cocoa farming is not further discussed in this paper as it is still a relatively new practice in Uganda even though cocoa was introduced into the country in 1901 (Brown & Hunter 1913).

Functions and values of existing agricultural SEPLs

Globally demonstrated benefits

The importance of integrating biodiversity conservation into agriculture has been little demonstrated. However, available information points to substantial livelihood benefit. Although farming benefits certain indigenous species, those species also contribute to agricultural production. Pest, weed, and soil fertility control are thought to be some of the most important services of biodiversity in agroecosystems. Agricultural production is reported to be correlated with biodiversity in agroecosystems, within limits: as the biodiversity increases, so does agricultural production (Luo, Fu & Traore 2014). In coffee gardens, it has been shown by Classen et al. (2014) that exclusion of pest predators (birds and bats) reduced fruit set and inclusion of pollinators (bees and butterflies) increased the weight of coffee berries. For mosaic agroecosystems, beekeeping is reported to depend heavily on the biodiversity of uncropped pasturelands (Blair 2015). Even weeds are reported to be useful. Despite their negative competitive effect on crops, arable weeds have been reported to support various species of beneficial insects, especially crop pollinators, and high weed diversity is considered favorable in maintaining and regulating the microbial diversity of the soil as well as in reducing the effects of harmful weeds (Marshall et al. 2003). In parklands, natural trees left in plantings can also serve to improve soil fertility, for example as demonstrated for Faidherbia albida parklands. Parklands also supply edible fruit (Boffa 1999). In wet pastures, native fishes and other aquatic organisms account for a large share of residents’ intakes of animal protein, micronutrients, and essential fatty acids, especially for poor households (FAO 2004).

Ways in which these farming practices benefit biodiversity can be illustrated with a few of numerous examples. For rice fields, much of the available documentation comes from Asian countries (Kurihara 1989; Bambaradeniya & Amerasinghe 2003; Edirisinghe & Bambaradeniya 2006). The rice field ecosystem is potentially one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture that can contribute to sustaining rich biodiversity. In coffee agroecosystems, the requirement for shading of arabica coffee bushes affords an opportunity to elements of native biodiversity to survive in an otherwise degraded landscape. Unlike unshaded coffee, shade coffee has been documented to support, for example, conservation of arthropods, amphibians, resident and migratory birds, and mammals (Tejeda-Cruz et al. 2010). Many of the supported species would normally be dependent upon tropical forest. Pastures sustain native biodiversity by retaining native grasses, herbs, and shrubs, while parklands promote the maintenance of indigenous tree species richness and thereby act as reserves of native biodiversity (Fifanou et al. 2011).

Demonstrated and potential benefits of native biodiversity to local livelihoods

(a) Control of harmful species such as pests and weeds

This is a service that potentially exists in all agricultural types described in this paper. This study is not aware of documented evidence from Uganda that relates to this service.

(b) Pollination service

This service would be important mainly for parklands, pasturelands, and coffee gardens. However, crops dependent on this service and the main pollinators in Uganda need to be identified.

(c) Soil nutrient supply and retention

This service would be cross-cutting for the four agroecosystems. Tree retention in plantations in parklands (Photo 1), promoting heterogeneity of rice fields, and low-impact grazing of pastures have potential to facilitate this service. Anecdotal observations suggest that cropping of seasonal wetlands is degrading (Photo 2) lands that would normally support livestock. In non-seasonal wetlands, accumulation of rich black soils has promoted emergence of a booming rice industry (Photo 3).

Photo 1: Example of parkland cropping. Parkland remnants like this can be bases for revitalization of the parkland farming system. Photo taken in Toroma County in Katakwi district Photo credit: William Olupot

Photo 2: Wet pastures in the northerly areas (Teso Subregion) of eastern Uganda. Retention of grass swamps for pasture as opposed to cropping benefits biodiversity and is probably the only livelihood practice that is sustainable in the long term for these landscapes. Photo is of a major wetland draining into Lake Bisina. Photo credit: William Olupot

Photo 3: Paddy rice agroecosystem. Kibimba and Doho Rice Schemes support a stunning array of species, particularly the avifauna. Other rice farmlands have potential to support biodiversity in a similar way if appropriate measures are taken to integrate biodiversity conservation into rice farming. Photo credit: William Olupot

Depending on the species, shade trees in coffee gardens (Photo 4) may contribute to maintaining good soil conditions in this system.

Photo 4: Coffee garden agroecosystem with shade trees on the slopes of Mt. Elgon. If managed properly, the practice of including native trees in plantations has potential to sustain a cross-section of native biodiversity, particularly species that promote berry yield. Photo credit: Paul Okullo

(d) Food provision

Native trees left in parklands and pasturelands provide this service (Olupot 2015). A recent study by Nature and Livelihoods has shown that fruits from parklands and wooded pastures contain certain essential nutrients that occur in limited quantity in certain agricultural fruit (Olupot & Omujal 2015). Wet pastures are a source of fish, and both parklands and wooded pastures are a source of edible mushrooms that contribute to the food security of people in these areas. In Kibimba Rice Scheme, a dam created to support the irrigated paddies has become a source of fish for the local people (Personal Observation).

(e) Forage and water retention value

The wetlands of the northern part of this region are mainly grass swamps. As such, they are an important source of both water and pasture for livestock. Experience gained by Nature and Livelihoods while working in this region points to wetland reservation for this service as opposed to cropping has contributing to the sustenance of the native aquatic and floral diversity in this area.

(f) Amenity value

Irrigated rice paddies and wet pastures have a high amenity value owing to abundance of birds and a beautiful scenery. However, these esthetic values have not been promoted for recreation to the level that they might be.

Challenges and responses


(a) General

Increasing human populations and changing societal values and practices in Uganda are leading to loss of traditional practices that sustained biodiversity in parklands and pasturelands, while rice and coffee farming are new practices that have high potential but have no built-in mechanisms to conserve biodiversity.

(b) Use of agrochemicals

In many types of agroecosystem around the world, the use of agricultural chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers has been demonstrated to be harmful to biodiversity, and in some cases has resulted in extinction of certain species (USDA 1969; Reid & Miller 1989). In addition to reducing biodiversity, they pollute the water and soil environments (Luo, Fu & Traore 2014). Such pressures and their impacts have largely not been documented in Uganda. For agroecosystems considered in this paper, chemical application has been reported for the irrigated paddies (Namaalwa et al. 2013) but not for other farming systems.

(c) Heavy livestock grazing

Evidence of heavy livestock grazing and its impact has not been documented in the pasturelands of eastern Uganda; yet such evidence is needed to guide local people towards sustainable practices. Anecdotal observations of bare patches in grazed areas however suggest occurrence of this practice. Elsewhere, heavy livestock grazing and trampling have been shown to reduce rare plant species, especially palatable ones (West 1993; Holden 1992). From the viewpoint of livestock production, heavy grazing results in gradual reduction of fresh grass yield, grass species composition, and quality of forage (Zhang et al. 2002). Intensive grazing pressure on rangelands has been reported to lead to poor biomass production for both livestock and wildlife over many years (Blench & Sommer 1999).

(d) Burning of pastures

Pasture burning is a common practice in grass swamps and also occurs in papyrus swamps to a lower level during the dry season. Nature and Livelihoods’ working experience is that unplanned, uncoordinated burning results in severe shortage of pasture during the dry season, leading to loss of condition and increased mortality of livestock, but this effect remains to be demonstrated through systematic investigation. Effects of burning on biodiversity are also pronounced. Several rare tree and shrub species (such as African ebony, Diospyros mespiliformis which furnishes edible fruit, and the knob wood, Zanthoxylum chalybeum, which residents value highly as for medicine and spice) have been severely depleted by wildfires occurring during dry seasons.

(e) Farming of marginal areas

Population growth appears to be driving arable farming into marginal areas with low soil fertility and hence not suitable for cropping. Such areas were traditionally reserved for livestock grazing (Photo 5). Direct negative impacts of claiming marginal areas for cropping are becoming apparent. For example, in addition to resulting pasture shortage, water scarcity for both people and livestock was reported during Nature and Livelihoods’ survey of the status of gray-crowned cranes in the wetlands of this region in 2014 (Olupot 2014). In one case, it forced a community to restore wetland that they had converted to rice fields back to native grass cover. This action resulted in increased availability of water but had by that time not fully restored the lost pastures, as the wetlands were still dominated by sedges and other grasses
not palatable to cattle.

Photo 5: A cultivated wetland/upland interface along the shore of Lake Bisina. Soil on such interfaces is usually infertile and their cultivation neither benefits biodiversity nor livelihoods. Water is visible near the top right corner of the picture. Photo credit: William Olupot

(f) General change in societal values and overexploitation of biodiversity

Reduced appreciation of the food provision value of native plants is leading to loss of trees traditionally left in gardens through parkland farming. The trees are being lost to commercial charcoal and timber production. Loss of uncultivated field borders (hedgerows, shelterbelts) is also ongoing. In wooded pastures, there is an increasing trend of woody cover loss and use of destructive methods (such as application of chemicals to mounds) to control termites. In paddy rice fields, the necessity of clearing all trees from paddies that goes with rice growing has led to loss of nesting and roosting grounds for birds. Non-consideration of soil conservation is leading to a progressive loss of soil fertility in rice fields, as evidenced by emergence of infertile soils along wetland edges years after cropping. Killing of birds also occurs in paddies outside the irrigated schemes (Olupot 2014) and in wetlands of the drylands, various pressures include overstocking and cropping leading to undesirable impact on fish, pasture, and
water provision services

(g) Monocultural tendency

Rice growing is the only monocultural practice among the agroecosystems described in this paper and is expanding. Although its effect on biodiversity and livelihoods has yet to be demonstrated in Uganda, studies from elsewhere are informative. According to these studies, widespread clearing of fringing natural habitat and indiscriminate use of broad-spectrum biocides leads to the destruction of natural enemies, causing a resurgence of primary and secondary pests and development of insecticide-resistant pest populations (Bambaradeniya & Amerasinghe 2003; Luo, Fu & Traore 2014).

(h) General non-integration of biodiversity into farming practices

Although there are many opportunities to integrate biodiversity into farming, such efforts are still limited in Uganda. Traditional farming practices such as maintaining uncultivated field borders and leaving native trees in cropped areas are not being retained. New practices that have potential to do so in rice paddies are little encouraged. In rice fields, the only ongoing effort to integrate biodiversity into agriculture, though still limited, is that by the rice schemes (Kibimba and Doho). The proprietors of these schemes discourage hunting of birds and other wildlife. In coffee gardens, the only response is an effort by local CBOs to popularize tree planting. However, this is primarily for stabilization of the landslide-prone soil soil (Kato et al. 2015) rather than for integrating native biodiversity into coffee farming.

Responses to the challenges

Nature and Livelihoods has been documenting challenges and opportunities to determine avenues for integrating biodiversity conservation into farming in these agroecosystems. This has only just started. We are not aware of any other organization engaged in such, or systematically integrating native biodiversity into livelihood effort in these agroecosystems. As a step toward addressing the challenge of loss of traditional values attached to biodiversity, we recently analyzed nutritional values and conducted high-value market product formulation trials for 10 types of native edible fruits collected from the parklands and wooded pastures. The results indicate superior values for some of the essential nutrients compared to fruits commonly grown in the same areas, and a high potential for use of native fruits in producing products such as jam, juice, and wine (Olupot & Omujal 2015). This information is expected to support awareness raising and community education efforts, thereby reinforcing the traditional practice of leaving native trees on farmlands and wooded pasturelands where they grow naturally.


Parklands and pasturelands are existing SEPLs that should be revitalized. Paddy rice fields and coffee gardens are farmlands that have high potential to be SEPLs if biodiversity considerations are integrated into livelihood effort in these agroecosystems. Priority actions for engagement of the local communities include addressing threats at all scales (e.g., burning in rangeland, demand for charcoal leading to loss of trees in parklands, increased erosive power of water in paddies at landscape and regional scales, and high demand for more arable land, leading to clearing of marginal areas at microscales). Actions also include enlightening farmers with respect to benefits realized at microscales (e.g., food provision, pest control value, and pollination value of biodiversity in gardens) as well as those that occur at the landscape scale (e.g., income from tourism, soil erosion control value of heterogeneous habitat in rice paddies). From the standpoint of existing knowledge of these farming practices, the following are some of the specific actions that should be implemented, arranged in no particular order:

  1. Biodiversity inventory and documentation of use values. As for protected areas, documentation of biodiversity in SEPLS is needed to guide actions. Unlike protected areas where assessment of use values of individual species may not be as urgent, such is required for farmland SEPLs, as these form the main basis for motivating landowners to sustain at least a cross section of indigenous plant and animal populations. Such assessments should include determination of non-extractive values that can be realized at local levels; for example, aesthetic values.
  2. An effort to identify organisms that can serve as a focus of action (e.g., pests, pollinators, weeds, keystone or link species, threatened, and endangered species) in each agroecosystem.
  3. Documenting beneficial and of needlessly destructive practices.
  4. Awareness raising and education to counter the perception that all wild species are harmful to agriculture. For example, insects, fungi, and other organisms that are pests of humans and crops make up less than 1% of the species in a given location (Pimentel et al. 1992).
  5. Research to reinforce existing good practices and traditional values locally attached to biodiversity; for example, those that promote retention of species of high socioeconomic value such as those that provide food or medicines, improve soil fertility, or serve as sources of nectar and pollen.
  6. Promoting integrated pest management to curb overuse of insecticides, reducing their toxic impact on biodiversity as well as on human health. The philosophy of maintaining a mosaic of habitats within each agroecosystem should also be promoted by demonstrating its effect on soil fertility and the beneficial effect of species such as natural predators and parasitoids of crop pests.
  7. Promoting sound soil management practices such as retaining crop residues, use of cover crops, diversification of crops in gardens, intercropping, use of shelter belts, use of livestock manure, and agroforestry particularly in parklands. These practices would serve as a disincentive for farming of marginal areas that sustain wildlife and remove parkland trees for short-term financial gain.
  8. In pasturelands, promoting pasture management that prevents overgrazing and wildfires, and retain native bushes in balance with grass cover. Farmers need to be educated about the damaging effect of unsustainable practices on forage stocks and consequently livestock production. They also need to be sensitized. Research is needed to generate information that can support this.
  9. Conducting educational activities to counter unsustainable farming and resource exploitation practices that have depleted woody and other natural vegetation buffering wetlands and uplands. In places where they have been lost, these can be restored through revegetation. As soils of wetland edges in this region are typically infertile in this region, this revegetation of such sites would not constitute loss of farmland.
  10. Restoring, in manageable densities native trees that naturally occur in wetlands but have been eliminated by rice growing. Such trees would support particularly avian fauna, many species of which appear harmless to rice.
  11. Establishing uncultivated buffers of natural vegetation along courses of rivers such as Namatala, Manafwa, Malaba, and Mpologoma to regulate water speed that in turn reduces erosion and to supports functions such as water retention in the wetland for various livelihood purposes.
  12. Discouraging indiscriminate exclusion of wildlife and its overhunting for food through education of local communities and relevant policies.
  13. Promoting, through farmer education and provision of seedlings diversification of native trees in shade coffee gardens.
  14. Conducting research to assess the potential of other agroecosystems to serve as SEPLs; systems such as cocoa fields and sugar-cane plantations. In one area expansion of sugar-cane growing has indirectly promoted restoration of lost populations of species such as guinea fowl for which the crop has provided suitable breeding, foraging, and roosting habitat (Gilbert Isabirye-Basuta, personal communication).


The author thanks the GIS section of the Wetlands Management Department, Ministry of Water and Environment, Kampala for preparing the map. Some of the insights about rice paddies were developed during mapping of threats to and status assessment of grey crowned cranes in the wetlands of this region financed by the North Carolina Zoo through the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Partnership. The author is grateful for this support.


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