21 April 2017

Uganda: Why Butaleja Farmers Rejected the Shs26 Billion Rice Scheme Project

Photo: Fred Muzaale/Daily Monitor
A farmer in a rice field. A significant increase in production is from the smallholder farmers.
opinion

An article was published in Daily Monitor (March 14, 2017) about Butaleja District residents rejecting a Shs26b project. Before anyone can jump to conclusions and call these residents all sorts of names, it is important to realise that short of following recommended procedures when dealing with communities, even well-intentioned projects are likely never to see the light of day.

The Lwoba-Bwirya Irrigaton Scheme is located in the outlying areas of the Doho Rice Scheme, which was renovated a few years ago as Phase One.

The Phase Two involves upgrading the outlying rice schemes. Some of the benefits of this intervention are improved water management and increased yields.

In the second half of 2016, the Butaleja District administration begun pushing for the implementation of the second phase following readiness on the part of central government and the donor agency.

The approach taken by the authorities was crucial in shaping people's perceptions. With very little information being put out about the planned project, the farmers were merely informed to get ready for the works.

The lack of clarity of issues gave room for the usual detractors to step in and fill the void.

Due to the guarded manner the district administration and some political leaders took when releasing information, the affected farmers became apprehensive hence making them suspicious of the intentions.

Matters were made worse by the previous intention to sell off the rice scheme to an unindentified investor in 2016. It took a concerted effort of multiple stakeholders to stop this. So, once bitten, twice shy.

At this juncture, one can safely conclude that the project has stalled. But why?

This gives us lessons to learn when it comes to the implementation of community projects. There are factors necessary for success of such initiatives and these include the following.

Engaging the right approach: Communities can be viewed from a deficit or a strength perspective. The former dwells on what is lacking while the latter focuses on what is going well.

For such a community of farmers, even when they may have shortcomings, it helps to approach them from the view of boosting what they are already doing well with a view of making it better. This is likely to ease acceptability, and steer them into addressing the shortcomings.

Community Readiness: The success of new initiatives hinges a lot on community readiness. Many times, while the government or donor may take their time to get ready, the expectation is that the recipients will always be ready to come on board. This is not the case, especially when you put their experience with previous projects into perspective.

Governance: There needs to be proper procedures in order to win the confidence of all the stake holders. Expecting the farmers to simply nod in acceptance when they have not been put in the know is wishful thinking. How are decisions made? By whom? Who is accountable and for what? What decisions shall be made and by who? The lack of clarity on governance was a key bone of contention.

Sense of co-ownership: Communities enjoy feeling part of the initiative if it is to be a success. The tendency of a few people in positions of responsibility tagging projects as "My Project" only breeds contempt. The administrators should know this better.

The jolt in project implementation has been escalated by the local politics pitting various players against each other. As a result, a lot of the noise is now focused on political ego massaging. This is unlikely to yield positive results in the near future.

The best way forward is for the district administration to step back from the current approach and come up with a new way.

The new approach should include the following:

- Publicising the project plan in its entirety leaving no stone unturned. This could be done through meetings with the farmers and their local leadership structures. Once there is clarity on what the project entails, then resistance is likely to melt away.

- The language used needs to change. There needs to be a switch from the combative authoritative language that belittles the farmers to an all-embracing tone.

- Integrate non-political forces in the engagement process. There are numerous non-political yet highly respected people whose word commands respect and belief. These can be utilised as project champions.

- Get the politicians especially Members of Parliament and the district chairman, to bury the hatchet and agree to cooperate.

In a recent arbitration meeting chaired by the Minister for Water and Environment, Mr Sam Cheptoris, it was agreed that the unwilling parties in the project be respected.

Only the areas that showed full reception for this investment are to be considered going forward.

It is sad though to find that a well-meaning project has been rejected by a section of farmers who stood to gain much more out of it all because of poor political guidance.

Mr Lunghabo is a small business and technology

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