series event

Refugees and Trees: Why tree leaves are not famine food and natural resources matter


About: Since 2016, over a million refugees from South Sudan have fled into one of Uganda’s poorest regions. Initially they were welcomed, but the influx has caused immense pressure on natural resources, particularly the need for firewood. This had grave consequences for the availability of water, nutrition and shelter, the ability to generate livelihoods and grow food (refugees are expected to become self-supporting), and refugee-host community relations.

Drawing on a project in this area and others in the Sahel, Cathy Watson will propose a new paradigm for humanitarian crises, key to which is preventing landscape degradation and protecting the biodiversity that provides critical micronutrients. Jennifer Palmer, Deputy Director of the Crisis Centre, will host the seminar.

The seminar, part of the Crises Centre series, will be recorded and available afterwards in a link on this page.


Biography: Cathy Watson is the Chief of Programme Development at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). She studied biology at Princeton, nursing at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, and agroforestry at University of Missouri. She has lived in East Africa since 1986, working first as a journalist and then setting up Straight Talk Foundation, which pioneered social and behaviour change communication in Uganda through newspapers for 25,000 schools, radio in 17 languages and face-to-face programmes. The initial focus was HIV prevention among youth, but it broadened into other challenges and demographic groups and was recognized as a best practice by The Lancet. She also set up Mvule Trust with a grant from philanthropists Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It provided education to over 3400 young Ugandans, including hundreds of health workers, agriculturalists, foresters and teachers, and was The Guardian’s 2009 Christmas charity. Made an Ashoka fellow, her work at ICRAF involves travel to many countries, where she sees repeatedly the importance of traditional diets and indigenous crops to health and the power of trees on agricultural landscapes to provide livelihoods for youth, buffer climate shocks, and help ensure water for cities.


Images (L-R): Cathy Watson (© Isaac Yao); Balanites fruit (© Cathy Watson); and South Sudanese refugees collecting balanites leaves (© Clement Okia).


Free and open to all