7 July 2010

Uganda: War Survivors Take the Poverty Bull By the Horns

Kampala — Eunice Odok is a well known woman in Abilonino village, Apac district. The 26-year-old mother of four is known for her high pitched voice, which has been her signature for a long time.

When visitors come to the village and the village choir that is full of women is asked to perform, Eunice's voice shores above the rest.

'Wuulululu!' She goes, while dancing away. All the visitors turn to see the source of the high pitched scream. They see a medium height woman. But very soon, Odok will achieve another milestone.

"I want to be the first woman in the village to construct an iron roofed house," she says. Her fellow women ululate. She will also buy new clothes so that she is 'respected.'

Odok's dreams are not far fetched.

Very soon, she will be harvesting from her sunflower field, from which she will earn sh1.4m! Very soon too, she will be getting her share from the sale of two acres of onions that belong to the Field Farm School (FFS), to which she is a member. The school has about 30 members.

As a group, the women hope to earn about sh3m from the onions. This means that each of them would take home sh100,000.

According to FAO's Emmanuel Niyibigira, FFS are set up like adult education schools.

However, they are practically oriented to give an array of knowledge to farmers, with emphasis on 'how' and 'why' questions.

The system was adapted to the way of life in the north, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returning populations. Odok is a former IDP.

To think that these achievements are happening in an area that was under war a few years ago is impressive. In the Lango sub-region, many women have taken the hunger and poverty bull by the horns.

Not far from Odok's home is Aboke sub-county, where school girls were abducted by the Lords Resistance Army in 1996. By then, Odok was 12 years old.

A simple stroll on the village paths shows an impending bountiful harvest of maize, cassava and vegetables.

"We can rightly say that we are now food secure," Odok says. This is a big move that was almost impossible to make a few years ago.

However, thanks to the efforts of FAO, UWESO and local governments, the women of Lango no longer worry about food. They worry about constructing mabaati houses, buying clothes from the distant Lira market and taking their children to better schools.

Abilonino Farmers' Field School has also got two acres of cassava. The cassava is to help the members multiply cuttings to plant in their own gardens.

According to Joseph Egabu, a FAO National Agronomist for the Lira office, growing cassava had become impossible because of the cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic diseases.

However, through collaboration with the National Agricutural Research Organisation, NARO research institutions, a resistant variety was found.

"I got sh50,000 from the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) to buy seeds for my garden," said the happy Odok as she held her breastfeeding baby on her chest.

She then borrowed another sh30,000 to cater for the final preparation of the land.

The VSLA is the group's bank where members keep their savings.

The women save from sh2,000 to sh10,000 per week and can borrow money to invest. They have so far saved over sh800,000. Odok's sunflower is now ready for harvest.

"I have heard that the price will be sh700 per kilogram," she said.

For a mother of four who sleeps in an old grass hut, the sh1.4m she expects to get from the sunflower is a fortune.

This money will turn my life around completely, Odok said.

In Odok's village, women do most of the chores, including supporting the family financially.

Another woman, Helena Apur borrowed sh70,000 from the group bank a few months ago. Her target was to grow maize on a commercial scale.

"We never used to grow maize at this scale, but after receiving training, we realised that we could grow maize for money," she said.

Apur said growing maize has helped her solved one big hurdle in her life.

Every start of the school term, the schools were my children go ask for several kilograms of maize to cater for the children's lunch and break fast.

"I have been begging for this maize and sometimes failing to find it. But now, I will just get some of mine," she said.

About three kilometers away, is another FFS group called Lobolekere.

The group is engaged in growing soya and keeping bees.

The group, which has 28 women and two men, has a total of 48 acres of soya and 35 acres of maize.

"When we harvest we shall use some of the money to improve our lives," said Judith Awor, the group treasurer, adding that the group has 10 improved bee hives.

According to Joseph Egabu of FAO, each of the hives can produce about 30kg of honey every year.

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