Enhancing small farmers livelihoods and ensuring future sustainability in Uganda

by Michelle Nay, Switzerland, ELP 2014
Written on July 13, 2014.

Uganda is an African landlocked country where more than 70% of the people depend on agriculture. They are mostly subsistence farmers who own a small farm to sustain their usually big families. The climate in Uganda is very suitable for agriculture, with ample rainfall and good soils in most parts of the country. This is in addition to the geographic location that is beneficial with a high demand for agricultural products in neighboring countries such as Kenya and South Sudan. Uganda’s main export good is coffee; besides coffee, a lot of bananas are grown, some beans for protein, cassava, sweet potato and maize among many others. Livestock is also abundant with a few cows and some goats, chickens and pigs. Women and men both work on the farm, with women usually doing most of the farm work and men coming in at the time of selling. Despite the good environmental conditions, agriculture in Uganda is facing various challenges but also has various opportunities.

Poverty is widespread in the country and malnutrition is not uncommon. With improved farming practices and selection of crops, this could be overcome and a more resilient farming system established. This leads to more diversity on the farm and on the plate.

Although the soils in Uganda are fertile, through overuse, the quality is declining in large parts of the country. Facing climate change and located on the equator, Uganda will get hotter and drier. Increasing temperatures will increase pest pressure and threaten various crops, including the foreign exchange earning coffee.

Another difficulty is poor public service delivery; for example, there are poor road networks that would be useful for farmers to market their produce. Illiteracy is still a problem especially in rural areas in Uganda and this makes access to information very difficult.

Perez Muchunguzi is a multi-stakeholder specialist in the Humidtropics CGIAR program that is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. The Humidtropics program, which operates using systems thinking, aims at six outcomes: increasing farm productivity, increasing household income, improving nutrition and health among farmers, sustaining the natural resource base, empowering women and youth and promoting system innovations.

To approach the problems on a local scale, the program works through platforms where different stakeholders interact. Stakeholders include farmers and farmer organizations, researchers, government extension workers, local government, private sectors and NGOs. This global program is planned to run for 15 years and in Uganda, two platforms have already been established and have been running for eight months now.

Image iconNay-Michelle-Blog-1-2-1024x768_2.jpeg Stakeholders discussing in the demonstration field of maize and soybean.

The program is designed to not work on a top down basis, which has proven to be ineffective. The goal is to work with the stakeholders to identify the challenges they face and jointly agree on the solution. Overall, through joint work, the program seeks to provide the different stakeholders with information that helps them to make better decisions. One example is how farmers decided to work on improvement of maize production systems. To implement this, researchers initiated trials of maize with and without fertilizer, soya with and without fertilizer, and intercropping of maize with soya, which is shown to the farmers. Experiencing the difference between fertilized, non-fertilized and intercropping systems can help them decide which techniques they want to adopt in their farm. This is also expected to inform the other stakeholders, like public service providers, on how and where to best invest the available resources.

In a similar way, soybeans have a great potential to overcome the protein deficit in the family’s diet and can also double as a livestock feed. The knowledge on how to process soybean is, however, lacking. Therefore, within the platform, meetings are organized between farmers, universities, livestock feed sellers, livestock holders and processors to identify opportunities. To close the knowledge gap, training on how to process soybean and how to use it for feed mixing instead of fish as a source of protein, is planned for this month.

Within the platform, Perez’s role is to facilitate the dialogue between the different stakeholders for purposes of promoting social learning and experience sharing. Growing up on a farm in Uganda and with his extensive knowledge in biology, training in multi-stakeholder processes from Wageningen and project management, he is a very qualified and dedicated member of the Humidtropics program. His dream is to run a farm himself to sustain his extended family, including fifteen children (three of them biological) and educate the communities in modern system farming techniques.

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While some families will have a very good understanding between man and woman on farm issues like the picture left, the picture on the right tells another story: Women are sitting at the back while men take seats in the front during the meeting. This highlights the need to look for local solutions to local problems and confirms the need of having a local based dialogue. This practically illustrates why empowering women and youth is part of the outcomes that Humidtropics seeks to see.