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Climate-Resilient Livelihoods in West Nile Thrive Amidst Challenges

Environment

Climate-Resilient Livelihoods in West Nile Thrive Amidst Challenges

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption and a two-year dry spell in 2021 and 2022, West Nile farmers, particularly women, are reaping bountiful harvests, thanks to the support provided by the Climate-resilient Livelihood Opportunities for Women Economic Empowerment(CRWEE) project by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In the face of adversity, the CRWEE project has emerged as a beacon of hope for West Nile farmers. The project, in collaboration with partners including the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ministries of Water and Environment, Ministry of Local Government, and Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, with support from the Swedish Embassy, has empowered farmers by providing them with improved seeds, chicken, and goat varieties. These resources have not only bolstered their agricultural endeavours but also significantly contributed to their financial well-being.

Under this initiative, farmers have received a diverse range of resources, including cassava, beans, groundnuts, mushrooms, various tree species, goats, and enhanced chicken breeds. Dr Kennedy Igbokwe, the Project Manager and Team Leader of the Climate Change Program at FAO, emphasizes that the core objective of the project is to empower women within households to ensure both food and financial security for their families.

The Azile Avani Farmer Field School, located in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Arua district, stands as a testament to the project’s success. With 30 members, comprising 20 women and 10 men, this group has undergone transformative training under the FAO’s guidance. They have learned various techniques, from apiary management to advanced farming methods and biogas construction.

Ms. Angopalu Sanura, the secretary of the group, highlights their achievements. They have not only mastered energy-saving cooking stove construction but have also constructed 10 local beehives and enhanced their post-harvest techniques. These efforts translated into a bountiful harvest of sim sim, yielding an entire sack from just half an acre of land during the previous season.

This extensive progress stands in contrast to their earlier yield of only three basins of sim sim from the same land. Their journey also includes the successful harvesting and selling of 75 kilograms of honey from five beehives.

The project’s impact extends beyond agriculture. The establishment of a village savings and loans group has enabled members to pool resources, leading to improved financial stability. This collaboration has even fostered gender equality, with men and women sharing domestic responsibilities in unconventional ways. With renewed hope, the group envisions ventures such as a poultry farm, a maize mill, and individual beekeeping operations. They aspire to replace their grass-thatched dwellings with more durable iron-sheet houses.

Yet, challenges persist, among them being water scarcity. Water accessibility for domestic and agricultural purposes remains a daunting issue, forcing residents to traverse up to 4 kilometres daily in search of water.

“Water here is a big challenge. We walk to the institution every day to fetch water and this is about 4km away. By the time we return, a lot of time is wasted, yet we would have spent it in our gardens. We also have a challenge of stray animals which drive away bees from the apiary. This is why we set up the apiary within the community, yet this is dangerous,” says Angopalu.

Across the region, FAO’s initiatives have catalyzed progress. In Maracha district, women have embraced mushroom cultivation, significantly enhancing their livelihoods. Notably, FAO’s provision of a motorcycle for transportation has facilitated training by experts like Jessica Kyotushabire, the proprietor of JB Mushroom International Training and Resource Centre.

This initiative has led to the establishment of a demonstration centre, a store, and a laboratory, relieving the previous need to transport materials from distant Kampala.

However, challenges persist. Water scarcity, for instance, hampers the growth of the mushroom industry. Asumpta Debaru, a beneficiary of the mushroom growing project, shares her success story while acknowledging the vital need for a consistent water supply.

Ms. Susan Muwanga Nassuna, representing the Commissioner of Gender and Women Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, noted the importance of addressing domestic water needs alongside agricultural concerns.

“We have realized they concentrate mostly on water for agriculture but for us as a gender, we know very well that a woman in the household cannot just concentrate on that when you do not have water for domestic use. The basic things must be taken care of,” said Ms Muwanga.

The struggle for water also plagues the Ogwengere Field Farmer School in Pukanga East village, Nebbi District.

According to the members of the field school, they were trained in the management of the goats and one of the most important things is providing water for them at home. “Previously, we would let the goats wander off and find water in the bushes. Unfortunately, we now have to walk at least 5 kilometres in search of water, not only for our own use but also for the goats” says Ayomirwoth Jackline, the chairperson of the group.

She, however, says that several residents have benefited from the goats. “209 local goats from the community members have mated with the improved males and so far, 76 kids have been born, while 133 local females are pregnant,” she adds.

Contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, a severe disease affecting goats, poses a considerable threat.

In goats, it is manifested by anorexia, fever and respiratory signs such as dyspnoea, polypnea, cough and nasal discharges. According to Ayomirwoth, she has so far lost 6 goats to the disease.

Dr Abedkane William the District Veterinary Officer for Nebbi says last year, over 30,000 goats died due to the disease. Nebbi district has a goat population of 140,000 goats.

“Last year, we lost over 30,000 goats because it affected all our sub-counties and we have a goat population of over 140,000 in the district. We are educating our farmers on how to handle any outbreak, they can treat using medicines and vaccinate those that have not been affected should be vaccinated,” says Dr Abedkane.

Unfortunately, the vaccine cost is very high, posing a challenge for many farmers who struggle to afford it. Despite this financial hurdle, farmers are pooling their resources to collectively purchase the vaccine.

According to Dr Abedkane, a single vial capable of treating 100 goats is priced between 60,000 to 70,000 shillings when sourced from veterinary shops in Kampala. Unfortunately, the government cannot distribute the vaccines to farmers without charge.

Ayomirwoth shares her own experience, revealing that she faced the distressing prospect of losing her entire herd of 21 goats. Thankfully, the collaborative effort of her group members enabled her to obtain the necessary vaccines. This intervention allowed her to save 15 out of her 21 goats, although unfortunately, 6 goats did not survive. Given her success in safeguarding a significant portion of her herd, she has advocated for an extension of the project.

Although the project has achieved considerable success, challenges linger, with the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to the hurdles. Dr Igbokwe acknowledges the disparities in progress and cites the pandemic’s impact. With optimism, he looks toward the possibility of extending the FAO project to ensure the fulfilment of its objectives.

The Climate-resilient Livelihood Opportunities for Women Economic Empowerment project by FAO has sparked transformative change in West Nile’s agricultural landscape. Despite the setbacks posed by the pandemic and climatic conditions, farmers, particularly women, are now equipped with the knowledge, resources, and determination to thrive. As the project evolves, it stands as a testament to the potential of collaborative efforts to overcome challenges and empower communities for a brighter future.

Sarah K. Biryomumaisho is a Multimedia journalist (Broadcast & Writing) with 11 years of experience. She holds a Diploma in Business Administration from Makerere Business Institute and a Certificate in Media Management from Women in News. She completed a Course in Wikimedia in 2020, making her one of the very few Wikipedia Editors in the country. She also has a certificate in Gender Justice Reporting from The International Women's Media Foundation, IWMF. She has worked with a number of media houses including 6 Radio stations, most recently Galaxy fm 100.2 & Radio 4. She has worked with Andariya Magazine as a writer. Sarah worked as a Digital Communications consultant for the newly revived Uganda Airlines and is also a Digital enthusiast. She owns a Media Organization called TheUgPost that publishes in Uganda and has a global reach. Twitter; https://twitter.com/BiryomumaishoB

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