Yesterday, Magdalene Amujal, Executive Director of Kulika, a Ugandan NGO specializing in organic agricultural training, and a valued Open University partner, discussed how their project with the OU in Oruchinga was an opportunity to explore how their training may benefit many refugees flooding into Uganda. Today, she tells about a subsequent related project.
A large focus of what we do is farmer training, specializing in ecological organic agriculture, which we provide through a scholarship scheme. We believe that if we can build farmers' capacity, improve their knowledge, inform better practices and encourage proactive attitudes, the farmers will be able to produce more food and, hopefully, sell any surplus for income. Through our scheme, we are aiming to transform lives and contribute to better food and income security within our country.
Recently, we have had the chance to formally expand this programme of training to refugees. In partnership with Enabel, (formerly, the Belgian Development Agency), and the Danish Refugee Council we have been able to offer our training to 4 groups in the Alere Settlement, a camp in the Westnile region of Uganda. We selected 25 people. These individuals were picked as leaders in their community, so the idea was for them to then go on and train others – transferring the skills throughout the community. For the training, we were specifically focusing on piggery. The main reason for targeting pig farmers was because a previous DRC project in the camp had provided refugees with the tools and resources to establish piggeries, which was viewed as a viable livelihood strategy for the settlement environment. The refugees had not, however, been given vital management skills to make the project sustainable or arm them with the knowledge to help make piggery an income generating activity. Filling this gap was our objective. Pig keeping is also a good way of improving and promoting good nutrition because they breed very quickly, in prolific numbers, and are a good source of animal manure (using pig waste for soil fertility).
Kulika specialises in promoting Ecological Organic Agriculture for the health of the people and planet. Training refugees in this approach means that we can improve their livelihoods – increasing food production and offering a way to earn money but, they also gain much-needed skills to sustainably maintain their agricultural enterprises. The refugee crisis in Uganda is putting immense pressure on the land and local environment where refugees settle creating a range of negative impacts: deforestation, poor practices degrading soil quality leading to unproductive land and, at worst, desertification. There is also a spill-over effect of bad refugee farming activities, usually taking the form of conflict with nearby communities. There have been a number of instances of late where Ugandan communities close to resettled refugees have chased them off the land, seeing presence as a threat to local resources such as water, forest products, grasses for thatching, grazing land etc. The skills we provide are used to retain and even improve the productivity of the soils and can increase water availability in and around the refugee camps, keeping people productively busy and working together. Through our training, the refugees were shown how to better understand and respond to the challenges they are facing using the resources at hand. A core part of what we are teaching is to show refugees how to live in harmony with, what is for many, unfamiliar surroundings so they adapt to the environment.
Our approach to the training was participatory, to let the farmers lead the process to ensure we were responding to their needs and expectations. Some of the key challenges they were facing centred on the types of feed they had access to for the pigs, its quality and quantity. How to effectively prevent diseases and parasites, especially African swine fever and intestinal worms, was a critical issue as well. By working with the farmers in such a close way from the outset it allowed us to tailor the training, ensuring we are responding in the best way to what was going to work for them. In our early conversations, it was clear that the main priority for many of the farmers was optimizing their profit, which led to us concentrating on husbandry and management skills, showing how to integrate pig farming with crop production, business planning, marketing, farm record keeping, and financial management.
As we mentioned yesterday, working with refugees is new for Kulika and so delivering the training was a learning experience for us. A few issues arose we hadn’t anticipated that impact on the training that we need to consider for any future work. Our sessions are very practice-based and we rely on easily and readily accessible materials sourced around the community. What we found though was key resources were in scarce supply – it was dry season so grasses weren’t growing and all the local trees had been cut down and used for building material. Refugees had to walk to the neighbouring villages 5 kilometers away to look for building materials. Also, the intense heat meant the afternoon sessions were challenging as the concentration of participants dropped. We found that the female participants struggled with attendance, coming late because they first had to attend to household chores and those who young infants could be a distracting influence, so for any subsequent training we need to think carefully about session timings and providing childcare. Managing expectation is also critical because many came expecting us to provide tools or pay them for their participation.
On a more positive note, an unexpected finding is that some of the refugees came to the training with a hope of getting certificates that could be used to gain employment when they get back to their own countries. Several refugees who had previously taken part in Training of Trainers exercises by other NGOs had received more formal accreditation, so this is something we will be thinking about carefully and possibly engaging government about.
We hope that armed with the new skills they have received through our training we can give a boost to the livelihoods of these new pig farmers. There was already talk amongst the refugees of how they could use this knowledge to take advantage of new market opportunities if they can organise transportation to get the pigs to surrounding districts such as Moyo, Amuru and Gulu. In large urban areas, they should be able to get better prices. Also, what was really encouraging to hear is that many were excited at the possibility of additional income, which they could use to pay fees so that they can send their children to school. This project and the Oruchinga work we talked about yesterday has been a great chance for us to expand our work to help severally disadvantaged groups who desperately need it because of situations they find themselves in beyond their control. The greatest lesson for us though has been the scale of the problem, the sheer numbers of refugees in Uganda means trying to improve something like livelihoods is far too big and complex for one organization. While there is great potential for us to create positive change within these communities, we cannot do it alone and, so, as we move forward, we are hopeful of continuing our partnership with Enabel, DRC and others who we can collaborate with to try and alleviate some of the problems refugees face.