Author: Linda Kabuzire, Finn Church Aid
Food System Lab (FSL) Rwamwanja is located in Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Western Uganda. The refugee settlement hosts mainly refugees from Eastern DRC. A typical day at the FSL includes a series of activities focusing on increasing maize volumes, enhancing grain quality, and enhancing market access – a market that offers better prices and benefits the women producers.
Implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA), the FSL works with 1000 maize smallholder women farmers (70% refugees, 30% host community), organized in 36 producer groups to help them improve maize productivity, increase quality of grain, and support them to organize themselves into an association that helps them to access a more beneficial maize market.
Weeding is done manually in shifts
The season from August to September is a busy one, because the women are weeding their maize. Weed control is important because weeds can drastically decrease yield (especially due to competition with the maize), increase production costs, interfere with harvest, and lower grain quality. Weeds can also harbor pests or other crop disease agents. The FSL encourages cultural weed control methods, and discourages the use of herbicides (chemicals) due to their cost and associated environmental effect. Thus, the women pull the weeds manually or turn them into the soil using a hoe.
Weeding is done early hours of the morning when the ground is still wet and soft. Women have also devised a creative way of gathering the labour force – weeding in shifts. During the weeding season, a group of 3–10 women is tending almost every maize field as they help each other to weed the gardens in shifts. On one day, the women help one of the group members, and then move to the other member’s field the next day.
Trainings in modern agricultural practises
The FSL also trains women in various agricultural practices on maize. The refugee settlement has poor coverage of public extension system, so the women receive less extension support from the public extension system. To solve this problem, the FSL is working with 10 Village Enterprise Agents, who are farmers selected and trained to deliver Farmer-to-Farmer extension. They have mobile phones preloaded with agricultural content to refer to during the trainings. They also support the FSL through farmer mobilization, information dissemination, and feedback.
From July to September is time to harvest and sell. Maize is harvested around June – July. Ordinarily, the women harvest the maize and sell it off immediately in the local community at a very low price. The women participating in the FSL have stored their maize, waiting for prices to improve. This season therefore is also filled with training on post-harvest handling practices to retain good quality maize in storage. The FSL has also mobilized the women around 10 mini-bulking units located in the villages. Proper drying (as opposed to drying on bare ground) and storage of grain must be observed. The FSL has supported the bulking units with key equipment e.g. tarpaulins and raised wooden stands.
Proper storing is a challenge
Women dry their maize at the bulking units, supported by the Village Enterprice Agents who are trained in techniques e.g. measuring grain moisture content and keeping records. By storing their grain until the market price is high enough, the women will benefit from higher margins. However, this does not come easy: grain must at all times be kept insect-free and at the recommended moisture content.
The village bulking units so far cannot assure the women this precondition with certainty, because they are mainly makeshift, and lack standard grain storage requirements such as weevil control, rodent guards, aeration measures etc. In future, the FSL is looking at improving the structures of these bulking units.