In many Ugandan societies, peasant farmers use granaries to reserve food rations for home consumption.
But in Karamoja, the facilities have been refined to generate incomes as well, writes Moses Mugalu.
Traditionally, Karamoja homesteads, known as manyattas, have granaries where they store dry grains. But they are small and vulnerable to rodent and pest attacks, which destroy much of the produce. Normally, such granaries run out of rations quickly during the dry season, exposing families to severe food shortages.
During this period of scarcity, especially between May and July, finding food can be a trying exercise. Usually, the only option is to buy from shrewd businessmen, whose prices can be rather high. It is against this background that a business model has been developed and successfully tested in Lolachat, Nakapiripirit district, where granaries are modified to stock large amounts of grain for sale during the dry spell.
As a village savings and loan (VSL) group, farmers buy grain at a fairly low price during the harvest season. The grain - mainly sorghum and maize - is stocked in large granaries, collectively constructed and aptly named 'cereal banks', in the middle of the manyattas.
After stocking, group members seal their 'cereal banks' until the need to open and sell off the produce arises, making profits for the VSL scheme and raising money to restock at the same time. Group members are given priority, with the option of borrowing food from the cereal banks and paying back in kind in the subsequent harvest season.
Under such arrangements, families are able to save some money, which is spent on other necessities. Lucia Nauthe, a mother of five, is one of the beneficiaries of cereal banks enterprise. She borrowed sorghum worth Shs 50,000 from her Natapaali Agro Pastoral Farmer School cereal bank.
Last season, she used part of the sorghum to make local brew (kutu kutu), from which she earned Shs 150,000. This is thirty times the amount she used to make while doing petty jobs. Recently, Nauthe harvested her sorghum and repaid Natapaali cereal bank to restock.
According to Loese Atibu, the coordinator of Natapaali VSLA [village savings and loan association], the group raked in Shs 2.4m from selling grain to its members and outsiders this season. At the end of the year, members of the group share the profits. Some of them decide to invest in different collective ventures.
In its current stock, Atibu says the group has bought grain equivalent to 40 bags, each weighing 50kg. To kick off the enterprise, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) provided Shs 2m initial capital for the group to buy sorghum and maize from local farmers.
Using local materials such as reeds, wood and mud, they built large granaries in the middle of their manyattas. This collective business and savings approach has been applauded because it saves peasant farmers from the unscrupulous middlemen who take advantage of the food scarcity to charge farmers high prices.
A similar business concept has been adopted by a group of livestock farmers in Lokilala village in Moroto district to make mineral lick blocks for cattle and goats.