Lessons from Ugandan Farmers

The Ugandan countryside is stunningly beautiful with lush landscapes and rolling hills of tea and sugarcane plantations, an antidote to the bustling metropolis of Kampala. Colourful markets line the roadside offering up their wares. On the surface, there appears to be an abundance of food in this country. And in many respects there is. Agriculture plays a significant role within the economy and food system, with 66 percent of all households engaged in agriculture (FAO and IFPRI, 2015).

Most of the farmers in Uganda are smallholder farmers, working just a few acres of land, most often with a hand hoe and at the mercy of the rain. Food Rights Alliance (FRA), the organization I work with, supports many of these farmers through their projects. In a recent field visit to the Soroti and Katakwi districts in eastern Uganda, we had the opportunity to survey farmers from three farmer groups about their crops, their agricultural challenges and their food security.

My colleagues consulting with the Asuret farmers’ group about the second phase of a project that is helping build capacity to address agricultural challenges such as drought, pests and diseases. Drought was by far the most common challenge mentioned. Some farmers said that due to the lack of rain, they would not reap any harvest this growing season. As a result, they would cope by eating only one meal a day (instead of two) and they may not be able to afford school and/or hospital fees.

Meet Max, he’s a citrus farmer. Here I’m interviewing him about his agricultural inputs, production and challenges. The resilience that these farmers have is remarkable. Can you imagine doing physically demanding work all day long and the only reward you earn is the ability to eat that day? Maybe your children would be able to go to school. I grew up on a dairy farm in Canada and everything was mechanized. It was a small family farm so we didn’t have the latest technology, but it was mechanized all the same. We had running water at the twist of a tap and if the rain didn’t come when we needed it, we could water the vegetable garden so we could continue to feast on the bounty of the seasons.

These farmers have reinforced, in a shockingly poignant way, the absolute necessity of water. They embody the notion that water is life; if the rains don’t come there is no harvest. Driving down the road you see women and children carrying yellow jerry cans of all sizes. Sometimes you see five of them, somehow strapped onto a bicycle that is slowly being walked up yet another one of the rolling hills. They’re all filled with water. So much time and energy is dedicated to the collection of water, yet in developed countries we take advantage of our access to it. We are willing to compromise the access to this vital resource, for the economic gain of a few.

Farmers like Max, remind me of the value of the things that I often take for granted. I’m sure they have a lot more to teach me over the next four months!

A maize field in Soroti district during the rainy season. (FAO and IFPRI. 2015. Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in East Africa (LANEA), Country Report – Uganda)

Emily Murray is working as an Intern in Food & Nutrition with Food Rights Alliance in Kampala, Uganda.