In Uganda, Investing in Women Farmers as a Force for Change
Two decades ago, Northern Uganda was a war zone. Violent conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda forced more than one million people from their homes. In August 2006, the government of Uganda and the LRA agreed to end the hostilities, and the LRA moved out of Uganda, although no peace agreement was ultimately signed. Displaced people began to return to their villages, and Action Against Hunger transitioned its programs from emergency response to rehabilitation and recovery.
One of our most successful projects has been "Purchase for Progress," an initiative funded by the World Food Program. The initiative provides women formerly displaced by LRA violence with training in agriculture and business to help them achieve economic self sufficiency. That's where we met one of the project’s biggest success stories, Margaret Akello.
Uprooted by violence
Margaret is a widow with four children from Kilak County in northern Uganda. Like many women in this part of the country, she has experienced the trauma of both civil conflict and gender-based violence.
“When I was first married, things were good until tragedy struck and my husband passed away in 1988,” she explains. As local tradition demanded, after her husband's death, she was obligated to marry her late husband’s brother. "I knew no peace in that marriage," she says. "Domestic violence loomed around every corner of our house. One time in 1994, I was beaten so badly I almost didn’t survive. After that, I made the decision to leave and return to my childhood home. But the LRA was striking there, destroying everything and leaving us with barely anything to survive on. With no other options, I went with my children and relatives to live in Pagak [a camp in Northern Uganda for people displaced by violence] until 2008.”
A new chapter begins
In 2010, Margaret returned to her childhood village. There, she heard about Action Against Hunger's Purchase for Progress project.
“I decided to join,” she says. “I’d had enough of this miserable life. I wanted so much to provide for the basic needs of my children.”
As part of our project, Margaret got a crash course in agriculture and business. She learned basic planting techniques and other agricultural practices, and she also learned how to grow high-quality produce and manage a harvest, and how to market her crops and earn income from her farming business. Together with her close relatives, she started a management group linked to the Lamogi Wanen Anyim Farmers Association. Thirty-seven members strong, her group boasts 25 women and 12 men.
In 2011, Margaret became one of the first farmers in the region to bulk her produce at the Lamogi Satellite Collection Point. Beans, rice, and millet were jointly sold at a well-negotiated price per kilogram, and she earned $463 USD, or 1,613,000 Ugandan shillings (UGX) . She then joined a village savings and loan association group, enabling her to save part of her income for future investment. In the group, she saved $55 USD (190,000 UGX), which grew to $69 USD (240,000 UGX).
Achieving self-sufficiency: “This was a turning point in my life!”
Margaret is extremely proud of her achievements, and says she is grateful to Action Against Hunger and Purchase for Progress.
“This was a turning point in my life,” Margaret says. “I can’t believe that I am doing so well now, all from the sale of my little bulked produce, which led me to my savings group. My debt is so much lower, and I have the courage to work even harder.”
She turned to a new venture: pig rearing. She used $34 USD (120,000 UGX) to buy four piglets. In 2014 she sold them for $144 USD (500,000 UGX), and when she combined that income with her earnings from the savings group and from selling bulked millet and pigeon peas, she wound up earning a total of $401 USD (1,396,000 UGX) last year.
“I can manage my basic needs now,” Margaret explained. “I have enough food to stock my house, I’ve sent my youngest child back to school, and I’m able to manage the hospital bills for my son, who suffers from sickle cell disease.”
Applying technology and innovation
Margaret’s latest investment from her earnings? An ox plough to help increase the acreage she can plant upon, which she can also rent out for added income. She also procured a plastic silo to safely store harvested crops, as well as seeds for the next planting season. Action Against Hunger and the World Food Program introduced the silo technology to Margaret's community, and it helps small-scale farmers cut post-harvest losses and damage from pests.
Access to savings and an increase in income has allowed Margaret to branch out. She recently invested in a motor fuel business near her home, and bought four goats that she plans to raise and sell. She continues to invest in her savings group, too. The rest of her money she saves in the local Post Bank: Action Against Hunger educated her about financial institutions and the advantages of saving with the banks. She says she’s also grateful that the Purchase for Progress program has taught her good recordkeeping to track the expenses and profits of her varied business ventures. What’s next for this enterprising businesswoman? Margaret says she plans to expand her businesses, buy more ox ploughs and oxen, build herself a permanent house, educate her children to the highest levels possible, and help fund her elder son’s wedding. She says she can't express how lucky she feels to have participated in the Purchase for Progress project, which gave her the confidence, skills, and support network to take control of her future. Margaret now actively encourages her fellow community members to believe in their potential and take action to invest in their futures like she did. Overcoming crisis is possible: Margaret is living proof.
Written by Action Against Hunger USA