South Sudan refugees in Adjumani District have embarked on commercial maize production and are optimistic that they will reap big from the harvest in August.
By last week, the refugees and members of the host community had completed weeding 100 acres of maize gardens which they planted last month.
In November 2020, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) launched Uganda’s first commercial farm for refugees and host communities at Aliwala Village in Mungula parish, Itirikwa Sub-county, Adjumani District.
This followed a memorandum of understanding between the refugees and host communities last June in which they agreed to engage in commercial maize production for seven years on the 2,000 acre piece of land.
Mr Muhammed Mungu, the refugee farmers’ representative, told Daily Monitor that besides making income, the project will also help improve their diet since they are inter cropping maize with beans and tomatoes.
“Even before the harvest season, we are already experiencing change in our livelihoods. We are paid according to the work done and are using the money to supplement food rations we receive from UNHCR,” Mr Mungu said.
He added: “As members of Mungula I and Mungula II Settlement facilities we decided to venture into farming in order to fight redundancy and also increase food production in the country,” he said.
He revealed that they expect to harvest at least 150 tonnes of maize and sell it to World Food Programme (WFP).
Last year, the United Nations (UN)cut its food ratios to refugees in Uganda citing lack of funds.
The farm is located about 15km from Zoka Tropical Rainforest and stretches along the Mungula River at the border of Amuru District.
Mr Mungu said they plan to start a Savings and Credit Cooperative scheme so that members can borrow money to finance micro-businesses and be able to sustain their families in the long run.
“We don’t know how long we shall stay in Uganda but it is important for a refugee to invest in certain assets such as livestock and land to help them during emergencies,” he said.
Mr Ali Jumah Angelo, a South Sudanese refugee, also a mechanic at the farm, said they want to be independent and capitalize on the good relationship with the host communities to carry out economically viable activities so that they can change their lives.
Mr Angelo said the levels of gender-based violence among the refugees were reducing since women and men are earning money from the farm that is helping them provide for their families.
“Fighting is reducing in our families because when one receives like Shs100,000 they will prioritize it for food, medicine, school fees,” he said.
Dr Geoffrey Mamawi, the Adjumani production officer, said they are trying to establish similar initiatives across the district since the land allotted to refugees at the settlements is insufficient and the local communities too have a lot to learn from the model.
“While UNHCR provides the financial resources, the district provides the farm with technical support, the refugees and the host community (landowners) provide labour. When the maize is sold and the proceeds will be evenly shared among them,” he said.
Dr Mamawi said negotiations are going on with UNHCR and WFP to secure market for the maize which is expected to be ready in September.
In April, the Minister for Relief, Disaster preparedness and refugees, Mr Hillary Onek, said the UN should buy food from Ugandan farmers to feed the refugees or relocate them to countries supplying it.
He said claims that the local produce lacks quality is an excuse to ringfence lucrative food supply for foreigners.
He was responding to remarks by the UN resident coordinator, Ms Rosa Malango, that the WFP was unable to purchase locally grown food because it did not meet the required quality.
There are approximately 220,000 refugees settled in 19 facilities spread across Adjumani, according to UNHCR.
Mr Titus Jogo, the Adjumani refugee desk officer, said refugees and host communities will be constituted into groups and provided with approximate chunks of land, seeds and expert advice.
Mr Jogo said the partnership model will enhance farming as well as give a chance to the refugees to become self-reliant.
Ms Felicitas Nebril, the head of the UNHCR office in Adjumani District, said they supported the partnership to establish the farm in order to increase food security, household income among refugees and host communities.
Ms Nebril revealed that UNHCR had changed ways of assisting the refugees and was focused on creating initiatives where refugees and host communities work together to improve their lives.
“This innovative public-private partnership is a ground-breaking initiative that we already see as addressing the food and income insecurity of the refugees and also the host communities. It is also enhancing peaceful coexistence,” she said.
Ms Nebril said the initiative was not limited to agriculture only but also looked at developing refugees and the host community’s talents and skills in other sectors such as garment and facemask production.
Meanwhile, the same model has also worked for South Sudanese refugee families in the Kiryandongo District who grow and sell food grains such as maize, sorghum, beans and peas to WFP.
To empower the refugees to produce a surplus for sale, WFP partnered with Self Help Africa (SHA) and equipped more than 4,000 families with agricultural skills and provided market for their corn (maize), beans and other crops to them.
Once sold to WFP, the UN body processes and stocks the food grains at its storage facilities in the district and rations it to the refugees.
According to the WFP operation framework, 30 per cent of intervention and support is targeted to benefit the host communities while refugees benefit 70 per cent.
In a month, WFP requires at least 120,000 metric tonnes of maize to feed approximately 1.1m refugees the country is hosting.
The amount of grains WFP buys from small scale farmers around the country and the pricing for the grains depends on the prevailing price on the market and the quality of the grain produced.
During a recent visit to Adjumani, Ms Malongo, applauded the initiative and pledged more support towards it.
“This is phenomenal, I have been to places where this is not possible, refugees are not allowed to have access to land, they are locked in certain places, and refugees cannot be able to work, sell things or go to school,” Ms Malango said.