Text: Linda Kabuzire
Videos: Kadlah Nabakembo
The Rwamwanja Food System Lab (FSL-RW) is one of the 10 Food System Labs under the EU-funded HealthyFoodAfrica (HFA) research project. Directed by Finn Church Aid, FSL Rwamwanja has proven to be a transformative force in the lives of smallholder farmers in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in southwest Uganda.
Nyirahabimana Farazia is a sixty-eight-year-old Congolese refugee living in Rwamwanja refugee settlement. Through FSL Rwamwanja, she has not only improved her gardening skills, but also increased her cabbage and maize yields.
“I used to grow maize, but a lot of it would spoil in the garden. Thanks to FSL Rwamwanja, I’ve learned how to properly line the maize in the garden, when to weed, and received advice on good harvesting practices. These changes have resulted in higher returns for me,” she says.
Farazia emphasizes the impact of learning intercropping techniques, a skill she acquired through FSL Rwamwanja, which has positively influenced her nutrition and allowed her to send her children to school.
“From the same garden, I plant beans, maize, greens, and other foodstuffs to enhance the variety of meals for my family,” she adds.
Another beneficiary, Maombi Sylvia, a member of the Kwifatanya Makelebu producer group in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement, shares her success story. The FSL Rwamwanja has equipped her with essential knowledge on garden cultivation, timely weeding, and proper maize storage. Additionally, the initiative facilitated the formation of a farmers’ cooperative where all farmers can share knowledge and ideas. Through the support of the cooperative and Sylvia’s entrepreneurial spirit, she now has a chicken farm which is a source of livelihood and food.
Life changing impact of the maize mill
FSL Rwamwanja has extended its positive impact by establishing a maize mill for farmers to process their maize, promoting economic independence and efficiency. This mill plays a vital role in the refugee settlement, ensuring immediate food availability, boosting economic opportunities, and fostering community self-reliance. Processing maize locally not only reduces transportation costs for farmers but also adds value to their produce.
Rwaka Vitali, a beneficiary of the maize mill, says: “Before we had the maize mill, I had to travel a long way to get my maize ground into flour”.
Vitali adds: “Having the mill has made life much easier. I also hope to maize bran from the mill which I will use to feed my farm animals. I no longer need to buy expensive chicken feeds from far places”.
Innocent Niyonzima, the chairperson of the Refugee Welfare Committee, commends Finn Church Aid for the initiative to set up a maize milling and processing facility, and confirms its positive impact: “Some farmers have already started to establish fishponds, buying poultry because they are sure of access to maize bran for birds from their facility. And this, of course, will translate to a variety of off-farm and non-farm activities such as marketing and transportation where our refugee youth shall actively participate for a living”.
Niyonzima, who is also the elected President of Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, passionately states: “One of my core mandates is to ensure that fellow refugees are living a normal and peaceful life. To achieve this, food security and income pathways must be enhanced and strengthened. I appreciate HealthyFoodAfrica through Finn Church Aid who have supported us in this,” he adds.
Highlighting the unique approach of prioritizing women in group and cooperative leadership, Niyonzima notes: “The project has made a tremendous job in empowering and providing confidence to our refugee women. Yes, they feel at home outside home!”
The overarching goal of FSL Rwamwanja is to empower women, particularly smallholders, by enhancing their capacity to sustain and improve their livelihoods. This is achieved through market access expansion and the diversification of nutritious foods. The project initiated by mobilizing women into 36 Producer Associations, facilitating market access, and providing technical training by professional instructors focused on good maize farming practices. FSL Rwamwanja stands as a beacon of positive change, contributing to the well-being and prosperity of the women it serves.