Today Magdalene Amujal, Executive Director of Kulika, a Ugandan NGO specializing in organic agricultural training talks about their experience of working with refugees in one of the countries oldest camp settlements. Richard Pinder, a Lecturer in Development Policy and Practice at The Open University introduces this work explaining how the OU and Kulika have been in partnership for over two decades. He has been responsible for overseeing the OU's Commonwealth Scholarship programme, run in Uganda by Kulika, since it first began:
The relationship between the OU’s MSc in Development Management and the Kulika Trust stretches back to the late 1990s, when Kulika itself was able to sponsor a small number of Scholars to take the MSc. That experience put us in a good position when, in 2006, we for the first time applied for Scholarships from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. We were successful that year, and have been almost every year since then, with well over 100 Ugandan development workers benefiting from taking the MSc, some twenty of them doing so currently. Evidently our success with the Scholarships – which, funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development, are part of UK Aid - owes something to the excellence of our teaching! But that success is also grounded in the qualities of a partner organisation, Kulika, which is both an important (primarily agricultural) Ugandan development agency in its own right and a base and ‘home, offering social and pastoral care, for our Scholars’.
Kulika Uganda is a national NGO that was established in 1981 in the UK. Our mission is to provide relevant skills and technologies to help empower rural communities to achieve the vision of enhancing livelihoods. Those we work with are skilled so as to optimize their use of local resources, improve farm yields, increase household incomes, save labor and promote unity within the communities. Kulika believes that livelihood strategies, especially those with agricultural technologies at their center, must be promoted in a manner that emphasizes self-reliance over dependency, asset mapping instead of deficiency planning, local knowledge and skill-building rather than external expertise, and cross-pollination of ideas over one-way technology transfer.
Back in September of last year we worked with PADEAP (Pan African Development, Education and Advocacy Programme) and academics at the Open University exploring ways to skill refugees and the communities hosting them in the Oruchinga settlement in south-west Uganda. The intent was to support and improve food production because refugees are given a small plot of land by the Uganda government as a way of promoting self-sufficiency but, we were keen to see if we could bring people together and provide skills that could encourage entrepreneurship. What were eager to see is if this land could become income-generating for these very impoverished communities. Our visit was greeted with enthusiasm and a warm welcome. Everyone who attended our training saw great potential for this project.
Uganda has always been open to receiving refugees but recently, with the unrest in South Sudan, refugee flows have escalated so as a country, we are now facing numbers on an unprecedented scale. Working with refugees has been an aspiration of Kulika’s for a number of years so this project was an opportunity for us to test some of our ideas and training, to see how we can best benefit these communities.
We conducted a 2-day training to determine the willingness of the intended beneficiaries to participate. The training attracted a lot of interest but, for practical reasons, we had to limit it to 25 people from across the refugee and hosting community. Participants were randomly selected through the help of Implementing Organisations working in Oruchinga. After talking with these partners on the first day, we were approached by a representative of one of the NGOs asking for advice on a demonstration garden and piggery unit they have. We took this as a clear sign that there was an opportunity for us to support current ongoing work with these refugees. From discussions with the demonstration group, we noted that they are a population constrained by insufficient food ratios, a degraded environment with limited agricultural skills, limited opportunities for apprenticeship and internship and a lack entrepreneurial and life skills. However, they are willing to learn and improve their situation; eager to grow their own crops, improve crop and livestock yields and develop skills to increase employment opportunities. Unfortunately, for many refugees, the skills they have acquired in their countries of origin are not always easily transferable to their current situation. If refugees are farmers, the new environment they find themselves in might not support the types of crops they are used to growing, for example, rendering their skills useless. During the training, the farmers took an active part in looking for local materials (including grass, ash and small stacks) that were used for making compost manure and construction of vegetable nursery beds. Many did not speak English as their first language, coming from DRC or Rwanda, which highlighted the importance of needing a good translator to support the full training programme once it gets started. In such a situation, the training has to be highly practical and as visual as possible to enable the learners to grasps the various techniques we are teaching. The training materials we will look to develop will include simple images to reflect low literacy and language skills that are likely to be prevalent in these groups.
We received very positive feedback. Participants appreciated it because they said they had never had this type of training before. They were inquisitive, asking lots of questions and were very engaged, taking turns during different steps of the training i.e. laying different materials in the compost heap, digging plots for the nursery garden, erecting nursery shade and planting the seed and fetching water for the compost heap. When you are delivering practical training, this kind of cooperation is essential because it makes the training move faster and shows that people are committed to what you are teaching. In fact, we learnt after our trip that many of those who took part were already replicating these practices at home.
During our interaction with the refugees, one of the key things that kept being discussed was that the food rations refugee receive insufficient to support their families. One person mentioned that rations were meant to last a month, yet are often not sufficient to last a week. It was important for us to assess the type of foodstuff sold in the local market as it would determine the type of crops we focus on. What we learnt from our interactions in the market is that most of the food that is sold could be grown in the small plots of land the refugees are given. What they require, therefore, is highly integrated crop production coupled with adequate manures to enable increased productivity, good seed for planting and complete adherence to good agricultural practices.
At Kulika, our training is founded on Ecological Organic Agriculture principles and practices. It embraces the idea of biological diversity that is grounded in global agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity that recognizes the importance of traditional knowledge in the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Ecological agriculture and biodiversity also foster resilience to the impacts of climate change. An EOA approach helps sustain ecosystem services as well as the knowledge, practices and innovation of local communities leading to more reliable and increased food security and incomes. Over the years, we have tried and tested these ideas, embedding them in our training with a range of communities’ such as smallholder farmers, schools and hospital gardens. We encourage simple but effective technologies to protect the environment while increasing productivity and would contribute to environmental protection around the settlements, which is why we thought this approach might be well suited to working with refugees.
It was obvious from our visit that the refugees and local Ugandans are eager to learn new skills and, hopefully, we can bring some improvement in their lives. However, being a part of this work has also been a learning experience for us at Kulika. Through this project we hope to reach 120 refugees and members of the hosting communities but we also hope it is a doorway for us to be able to go on to work with many more of the 1.4 million who find themselves displaced in our country.
This blog was written for The Open University by Magdalene Amujal, Executive Director of Kulika