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Boosting Household Resilience in Uganda How IFDC's REACH-Uganda project brings together farmers, buyers, processors, and researchers to realize Uganda's agricultural potential.

Uganda's landscape – from the shores of Lake Albert to the peak of Mount Stanley – paints a viridescent palette of vegetation and crops, streaked by the dark waters of the Nile and the great lakes of East Africa. The "pearl of Africa," boasts considerable amounts of natural resources and fertile soil conditions.

The country’s geographic and climatic conditions set a perfect stage for an agricultural powerhouse, with a variety of crops ranging from marsh-grown papyrus to mountaintop coffee, the hills covered by rows of climbing beans, potatoes, and tea.

It's no surprise that agriculture is the dominant supplier of work for the country's individuals: 72% of the country’s workforce is dedicated to agriculture, numbering more than 11 million farmers, millers, traders, and other stakeholders, each aware of the potential energy throbbing in the rich soils, each working to earn every last shilling the land will give.

But despite the economic potential, Uganda’s agriculture sector contributes only 28% to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This points to a significant disparity between the amount of work put into the agriculture sector and its economic output and indicates not only the low productivity level of the nation’s individual farmers but the agribusiness sector as a whole. Nearly one-third of these farmers are classified as impoverished – and a single poor cropping season could devastate a family’s livelihood. Unfortunately, there are many impediments to the achievement of household resilience, including limited market information, low access to finance, lack of appropriate farm inputs, and poor rural infrastructure.

The Resilient Efficient Agribusiness Chains in Uganda (REACH-Uganda) project, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Uganda, seeks to address these impediments to Uganda’s agricultural productivity, to strengthen household resilience in such a way to enable these families to “resist, absorb, and transform in response to shocks and setbacks.”

The Approach

By employing a market systems approach to development, REACH seeks to bolster local markets so that they will function more effectively, sustainably, and beneficially for poor farmers. Instead of approaching a solution to these issues that might simply provide inputs or services, REACH aims to develop linkages between low-income rice and potato farmers and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). These relationships benefit firms and farmers both, resulting in enhanced productivity and higher value addition.

Additionally, the project seeks to integrate productivity, profitability, and resilience through providing technical assistance, capacity building, and market facilitation, enhancing the productivity of smallholder farmers and farmer business groups. To build resilience, REACH increases the profitability of all value chain actors, from farm to table, by supporting farmers in operating in a market-driven manner, so they do not simply hope to produce a profit but intentionally grow crops that are able to be sold profitably.

Across three regions in Uganda, REACH has engaged with nearly 30,000 farmers to increase household resilience. To do this, REACH employs training and interventions in four resilience measures to help producers prepare for potential shocks. These include climate-smart agricultural practices, diversification of income sources, joint decision-making, and access to finance.

Resilience Pillar 1:

Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices

Climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices not only prepare farmers for potential climate shocks but, for REACH, are part of the project’s objective to “enhance productivity of market-oriented farmers in the target commodity value chains.” That is, REACH aims for a win-win – for CSA practices that not only assist in mitigating and preparing for climate shock but also are economically beneficial to producers. Nearly all (99%) farmers that REACH works with are implementing one or more climate mitigation or adaptation techniques.

As a part of climate-smart agricultural practices, a number of REACH farmers, and the farmer business groups (FBGs) they are a part of, have been trained in farming as a business (FaaB) and good agricultural practices (GAPs). Of these farmers, 40% are already achieving optimal crop yields and are profiting through linkages to 19 MSMEs, whose action plans are resulting in an average revenue growth of 27%.

10 Times More Rice

“We used to harvest two bags in an acre of land. Now we harvest 20!”

Azarikah Naikoba (left) is a member of the Idudi Rice Farmers Cooperative Society in Budaka district in Eastern Uganda. She, along with the other members, were trained in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices such as applying fertilizers from the right source, at the right rate, at the right time, and at the right place; planting in lines; and water management.

Not only did she harvest more, but she was able to earn a higher price by aggregating her rice with the cooperative for collective bulking and marketing. Responsible Suppliers Industries (see story below) was linked to the cooperative by IFDC and can grade rice at no extra cost.

With the extra income, she has built a new house and sent one of her children to university.

High-Quality Rice-Milling, Better Profits

After receiving a grant from a previous IFDC project to purchase automatic milling equipment, Responsible Suppliers, with assistance from REACH, has been linked to REACH farmer groups. Responsible purchases crops from these farmers at higher prices because of their ability to grade rice, through which they garner up to 35% value addition in Eastern Uganda. Because of these achievements, over the last four years Responsible Suppliers has grown in storage and processing capacity and has hired 12 new employees.

New Roads to Markets

In addition to supporting farmers in achieving resilience measures, REACH engages in “win-win” public-private partnerships (PPPs) focusing on improving food security. The project is partnering with several District Local Governments (DLGs) to develop better market infrastructure by rehabilitating 44 kilometers (km) of roads with three DLGs: Kween, Butaleja, and Kanungu.

In the Eastern regions, two projects are each benefiting more than 30,000 individuals.

Butaleja

At the Doho Rice Scheme in Butaleja, rehabilitation of 10 kilometers of roads has increased farmers' access to markets and social amenities. This enables farmers to access affordable transportation of crops, as well as the ability to easily aggregate crops at the end of each season to sell in bulk.

Duse Asuman, secretary of Kyadongho Hwegate Farmers’ Group stands in his field at the Doho Rice Scheme.

Project partners such as Kyadongho Hwegate Farmers’ Group, which received FaaB and GAPs training from REACH, can participate profitably in markets. According to Duse Asuman, the group’s secretary, farmers now feel empowered to set higher prices for their rice harvests. While farmers can now transport their crops at a better price, their families and communities will also have better access to healthcare and education, creating a win-win for the whole of Butaleja.

Kween

A jackhammer breaks up rocky sections of road in Kween District.

In Kween, the second of the eastern district road projects, transportation tends to be perilous, as the roads winding up Mt. Elgon can be either rocky or, in the rainy season, extremely muddy to the point of being impassible. Rehabilitation of 26 km of roads includes leveling of the rocky sections and the installation of culverts to allow for rainwater to flow.

Ox Plow farmers' group is one of many that will benefit from rehabilitated roads in Kween District.

Kanungu

In the southwestern region of Uganda, the roads around Kanungu are heavily worn by timber trucks and heavy rains. Switchbacks up the mountain would easily wash away. Farmers may be employing GAPs, but their harvests were not economically beneficial.

“We were selling potatoes as if we were selling dead cows: at a giveaway price,” recalls Dinavence Kobusingye, chairperson of the Mugarika Bakyala Twimyuke Women's Group. But now, in partnership with the Kanungu District Local Government, the rehabilitation of 8 km of roads brings new hope for these communities. “Now we can bargain for higher prices [for our potatoes],” says Kobusingye. The group benefits not only from better sale prices but access to affordable household items that come from outside the village, growth in timber business, specialized healthcare services, and education options for their children.

It is anticipated that the road rehabilitation activities will benefit a minimum of 76,988 persons in the road catchment area (32,895 in Butaleja, 30,515 in Kween, and 13,578 in Kanungu).

It Starts with Seed

Quality potatoes begin with tissue culture plantlets, a technology that allows for the development of high-quality potato seed. The plantlets are supplied by the Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research Development Institute (KAZARDI) under the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to screen house owners, such as Charles Byarugaba (right), who then produce minitubers and sell the high-yielding, disease-free product to farmers.

KAZARDI researches True Potato Seed.

Byarugaba, a highly successful screen house owner, harvests upwards of 50 tons of seed potato per season. While the high-quality product is beneficial for farmers, Byarugaba has increased his income enough, through producing minitubers and managing his own farm, to build a new house.

Resilience Pillar 2:

Income Diversification

When considering household resilience measures, the old adage comes to mind: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Unfortunately, for many small producers, the majority of whom are farming less than 1 hectare, resources can be slim. REACH, using experiences from past IFDC projects, promotes several ways in which households can diversify income streams without overextending resources.

Two Cows in the (New) Yard

Evelyn Kotoko, a 32-year-old member of the previously mentioned Idudi Rice Farmers Cooperative Society, increased her rice harvest by applying GAPs, including CSA practices, and bulked her produce with the cooperative society.

Her yields, along with those of other members of the cooperative society, have increased from 500 kg/acre to an average of 2300 kg/acre, garnering rice prices 28% higher than before. With the extra income, Evelyn not only was able to build a new solar-powered house, but she bought several cows as a means of diversifying her income.

In fact, she’s not the only one: 99% of REACH farmers have diversified their income streams. For example, many barley farmers in Kapchorwa district in Eastern Uganda, who are already selling their harvests to Uganda Breweries Ltd., have been trained in intercropping potato with their barley.

Resilience Pillar 3:

Joint Decision Making

Gender sensitization is more than a buzzword. More than 20,000 individuals have been trained in joint decision making through the REACH project. In Uganda, training on joint decision-making – that is, the meaningful involvement of women and youth in household and group decision making – is changing lives. Families are now working as a unit to cast and achieve a vision.

Equality Equals Earnings

Tumuhimbise Gertrude, treasurer of the Nyabyondo United Women’s group, and her husband grow potatoes and passion fruits in Southwestern Uganda. Before receiving training from IFDC, her family was unable to afford even basic household necessities, but after receiving gender sensitization training, she and her husband work together and are now “becoming rich.” Whether buying land or making marketing plans, they do so as a unit. Their teamwork increased their income, improved their household, and allowed them to send their five children to good schools.

Community Change Agents

Prudence and Avato Turyarangwa work together to teach other couples the benefits of joint decision making.

REACH implements a community change agent (CCA) model not simply to reach more farmers but to impact them at a meaningful level. CCA is an innovative approach to gender transformation in which the project works through influential partners or individuals within the community to reinforce positive social change. This is based on the belief that farmers are not just recipients but active participants who effect their own change. The change agents may be youth, female, or couples from farmer groups that can influence others for positive change.

One such couple is Prudence and Avato Turyarangwa who live in Rubanda district in Southwestern Uganda. The Turyarangwas learned that by working together, they could farm potatoes as a business rather than just for food. They also learned how to manage and minimize expenses. The gender training they received taught them how to cooperate as a couple and as a household by communicating better, sharing household responsibilities, and making decisions together.

“Before we do anything,” says Avato, “we sit down and decide together what we should do.”

The Turyarangwas now meet with other couples to counsel and inspire them, telling them how they work together to save money and achieve their household vision. They meet with couples several times to convince them of the benefits of working together and encourage them to make changes within the household, to reduce household violence and increase equality in decision making. By the end of 2019, they plan to have worked with more than 40 couples to pass on their experience and wisdom.

Of the farmers REACH is engaging, 60% of female farmers now contribute input into most or all of the farming decisions that are made at the household level.

Resilience Pillar 4:

Access to Finance

Many smallholder farmers in Uganda lack access to affordable credit options from financial institutions, whether because of high interest rates or banks’ unwillingness to lend for agricultural endeavors.

Financial literacy is the first step toward increasing farmer access to savings.

The first step in increasing access to savings is education. In 2018, REACH trained 1,305 farmer groups and 16,548 farmers on financial literacy and business skills. Participants learned about personal financial management, savings and loans, investment, and financial service providers.

REACH implements an inclusive approach through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). This local option offers an entry point for farmers, especially women and youth, for financial services. VSLAs promote cohesion among farmer groups and create a culture of savings. More than 904 VSLAs were set up in 2018, 80% of which were actively saving.

Savings School

The Bukimbiri Potato Growers and Marketing Cooperative Society in Kisoro District in Southwestern Uganda has been undergoing financial literacy training to enable the group to wisely use their newfound earnings. In cooperation with local partners, REACH trained the farmer group on managing their incomes, making sure to budget for school fees, tuition, medical costs, and other day-to-day expenses. The group has established a VSLA, that collects from and lends to cooperative members. In the beginning, savings started small at 150,000 UGX (about US $40), but now the group is saving more than 7,000,000 UGX (about US $1,900).

Farmers drill each other on financial knowledge.

The practice of saving and lending among the group has produced benefits such as members’ children attending university, helping community members in hard times, and helping entrepreneurial-minded individuals start up new businesses. Additionally, the VSLA has also served as a launching point to help the farmer group have collateral to access loans through other financial institutions.

The group has a vision for its members to each own a house and have electricity, own 20 goats (for diversified income), and be able to send all their children to university, among other goals.

Investing in Success

Niber Twahirwa used his newfound knowledge and savings to reinvest in his education.

Niber Twahirwa, a 27-year-old member of Bukimbiri, is a young entrepreneur who has received training from IFDC as a spray service provider (SSP). His experience sparked a dream to study agronomy and pass on what he learns to others.

So he came up with a plan. He opened a small restaurant, started a poultry farm, and began growing potatoes. Bukimbiri's VSLA made it possible for him to increase his business.

After borrowing 100,000 UGX (about US $27) from the VSLA, Niber invested in land and labor to grow seed potatoes. Using the techniques he'd learned from his trainings, he was able to harvest eight 50-kg bags of seed potato. From this, he sold three bags for 100,000 UGX each, tripling what he had invested, and kept back five bags to grow potatoes in the next season. With his earnings, Niber paid back the loan and reinvested in his business and his own personal development, using the additional money to pay his school fees as he pursues a certificate in agronomy.

While a true test of resilience can only occur after a shock or setback, REACH believes that these core approaches will build a solid foundation for its farmers, 38% of whom are implementing all four approaches. More than 70% of REACH households have adopted three of the approaches.

Despite the transitional nature of introducing a market systems approach (in contrast to traditional “hand-out” projects), these numbers indicate a great degree of buy-in from the farmers engaged by the project. REACH is preparing these households not only for bouncing back from potential shocks, but more than that, giving them the tools to experience improved livelihoods leading to a brighter future.

Farming families are growing more crops. Households are working together. Children are attending school. Dreams are being achieved. Communities are being transformed.

The Resilient Efficient Agribusiness Chains in Uganda (REACH-Uganda) project, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Uganda, is a €10.8 million agribusiness project implemented by IFDC that aims to improve farmers’ market engagement, strengthen household resilience, and increase availability of agricultural support services for 40,000 farmers and businesses organized into 800 farmer groups in the rice and potato value chains in Eastern and Southwestern Uganda. The project will complete its work in 2020.
Created By
James Thigpen
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All Photos © James Thigpen and Josephine Zhane / IFDC

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