One of the best parts of life in Uganda is its natural beauty, which can be found across the country. It’s amazing how quickly the landscapes can change! It’s also neat to see how some areas reflect views similar to home. This is particularly true of the agricultural lands that are found all over Uganda.
Working with the Food Rights Alliance (FRA) has afforded me multiple opportunities to take in these changes in scenery. The organization works with farmers’ groups in the eastern and northern parts of the country – both of which I have been able to visit. Most of these field visits, however, have been spent in two districts in the eastern region of the country – Soroti and Katakwi (which I think is possibly the coolest place name ever!). But the landscapes aren’t the only changes I’ve witnessed throughout my six months in Uganda.
One of the projects FRA has been working on focuses on farm planning. Over the past year, the organization has been slowly introducing the concept of crop separation to farmers’ groups in both Soroti and Katakwi. Now, when I say slowly, I don’t mean this as a criticism, but as an intentional method of launching this program.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of crop separation, let me explain. Basically, farmers in Uganda (and many other parts of the world) historically produced for subsistence, rather than for sale. Those who do grow for market have struggled to differentiate between what to keep for household consumption and what to sell. This has lead to instances of food insecurity. The program FRA has been introducing teaches farmers to essentially plant two gardens – one that provides food for the home, and the other for sale.
Although I had no part in this programs implementation, I was fortunate enough to participate in the follow up component of the project. In November, I made my first trip to the field. It was during this time that I learned about the project, as well as the challenges farmers in these areas had been facing. Most of these challenges related to drought and flooding, pests and diseases, and lack of knowledge and education as it related to agriculture (they carried a wealth of knowledge in how to grow crops, but not always on how to market what they produced).
A few weeks ago, I returned for my final trip (I did four trips in total, ranging from one week to two). Aside from the excitement of returning to the field and getting to spend some time with the farmers I’ve grown to know, there was also a bonus of hearing how the program had changed their lives. I heard tales of farmers earning enough income to send their children to school, to pay for medical fees, and even to begin saving to build a home. I heard participants detailing how they’ve shared the knowledge given to them with surrounding communities, and how proud they were to see change as a result. And all of it made me proud to be a part of it, even if indirectly. To see the change in their faces – from worry or uncertainty when I first arrived, to pure happiness, confidence and pride as I left – it gives me hope. And I can’t wait to see where they will all be, should I be lucky enough to return!