Rural communities chart a new development path

In rural villages across north-eastern Uganda, drought is the most feared threat. Despite the Karamoja region receiving rains every season for the past three years, farmers and livestock keepers are apprehensive.

In Tokora Parish in the Nakapiripirit district, Loise Lemukol, a 38-year old mother of seven, says she is ready for it. “I have enough food to last me till the next harvest, and I can still get more from our ‘bank’,” she says.

Loise is one of the 20 people running a community grain store in Tokora. Currently, the store has 16 bags of maize, 10 bags of sorghum and 6 bags of beans in storage; and the community is buying more stock.

“We buy grain from farmers during the harvesting season and sell when markets are less saturated and prices are higher,” explains Jecinta Namer, the group’s chairperson. Profits are ploughed back. Needy members can get ‘emergency loans’ from the kitty.

Tokora community group is in its second cycle of buying, and the cash book looks healthy. “In the last sale, we made a profit of UGX 480 000 (€ 140); as our profits grow, we will continue to increase our stocks and perhaps later diversify to livestock trade,” explains Jecinta.

The group also stores grain for community members at a fee, just like a bank. Due to its central location, this grain store serves a wide area, as a source of seed and food.

Jecinta and her team came together in 2010. With the technical help of ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development), they identified the hazards that most gravely threaten their lives and discussed ideas best suited to overcome these risks. This is how the Tokora cereal bank was born – to fight the effects of drought.

The seed money, € 5 000, came through a grant from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). Over the months, the group has received training and technical support to enable them run the project effectively. ACTED has also connected this group to the local government officials for regular support.

Michael Mangano, Area Coordinator at ACTED says this group is independent and can readily continue with only minimal external support. “The committee running this project is now well trained and can make sound decisions to suit the changing food security situation,” says Michael.

The Tokora cereal bank is aiming to improve food security across the Parish with a population of close to 6 000 people. The group has given 200 poor households seeds and taught them how to grow vegetables.

Peter Awas, a 32-year old father of two was trained on growing tomatoes. In his first attempt, he made sales worth UGX 9 000 (nearly 3 euros) enough to pay for his son’s school books. He is getting ready to plant a second time.

Further east in Kakres village, Amudat district, a group of women chose to rear goats as a buffer against the effects of drought. The group bought 55 goats in June 2011 and today the herd has doubled.

“Goats can withstand drought. We don’t have to migrate when the pasture reduces since goats can survive with salt-lick and little fodder,” explains Sylvia Bakan, the group’s leader.

This vibrant herd provides 20 families with milk everyday, giving the children especially a great source of nutrients. Anna Cheputero, a widowed member of the group, says that getting some milk everyday takes a huge burden off her back.

The women have recently sold four goats and invested the money in beads. The group has other grand investment ideas, including building rental houses in Amudat town. They plan to start selling the male goats soon, before the herd becomes too large to manage.

Across the Karamoja region, ECHO has supported 23 community groups to practice ‘community-managed disaster risk reduction’ or CMDRR. With requisite skills and funding, rural groups can build coping mechanisms strong enough to tame the hazards they face every so often.

In total, ECHO has given € 2.6 million through a consortium of its humanitarian partners led by the Danish Church Aid. Part of these funds has gone to equipping these groups with skills and helping them start their projects.

“CMDRR gives people a chance to take control of their own development agenda. It is an empowering process in which a community systematically takes charge over its own disaster risk reduction measures that make it safe and resilient,” says Judith Munyao, a DRR specialist at ECHO.

Most groups in Karamoja are generating some income and giving the communities skills and options needed to build resilience.

The 23 community groups have developed contingency and development plans, most of which are now deposited with the local governments. These plans carry the priorities outlined by the community.

These ‘blueprints’ ought to form the basis for any new intervention, either from the government or from development agencies. “You know your priorities by heart, and speak them out when development agencies visit you,” advises Judith.

In Karamoja, government services are gradually improving, but are still far from ideal. The development agenda outlined through the CMDRR plans gives the people a platform to engage with the local governments and demand for services.

By Martin Karimi
Regional Information Assistant in Nairobi, Kenya