Author: Linda Kabuzire, Communications Officer, Finn Church Aid Uganda
Over the past 2 years, the FSL has aimed to enhance the capacity of the participating women to sustain and improve their livelihood opportunities and well-being through enhancement of maize market access and diversification of nutritious foods.
The Rwamwanja Food System Lab (FSL-RW) is one of the 10 FSLs under the EU-funded HealthyFoodAfrica (HFA) research project. The FSL works with 1,000 small holder female maize farmers, 70% refugees and 30% host community women. All these women faced similar challenges: low productivity, poor quality of grain, poor farmer organization and lack of access to a gainful market. As a result of poor organization, local maize buyers – the so-called middlemen – would buy the maize at very low prices and then sell it in nearby towns for much higher prices. Thus, maize production efforts did not reward the female maize producers but instead benefited the traders on the expense of the women.
Over the past 2 years, the FSL has aimed to enhance the capacity of the participating women to sustain and improve their livelihood opportunities and well-being through enhancement of maize market access and diversification of nutritious foods. The FSL commenced by mobilizing the women smallholders into 36 Producer Associations to facilitate their access to the market and to empower them to engage meaningfully with the maize buyers. To enhance their technical efficiency, the women were provided training by professional trainers focusing on good maize farming practices.
Mapenzi Uwimana, a 35-year-old Congolese refugee and mother of four children says she had been losing a significant portion of her harvest through poor storage practices.
“I used to dry my maize on bare ground and store it in my house. All my maize would be infested with insects (weevils) in a very short time thus not feed us for as long as anticipated. Even the maize flour was not pleasant to taste”, Uwimana says.
The FSL has also provided training to 10 Village Enterprise Agents (VEAs), who are members of the producer associations, to establish a local community-based extension structure through which field extension solutions are provided continuously to the female smallholders.
“To increase volumes and grain quality, the FSL not only trains the women on good practices but also supports them with proper storage and handling equipment. The FSL has established a community-based extension system that avails services to the beneficiaries using GPS aided mobile phones preloaded with technical content to provide timely advice to the smallholders’’ says Elias Katareiha, the Livelihood Specialist at Finn Church Aid Uganda.
Field assessments illustrated that due to these trainings, both maize yields and grain quality were substantially increased. As maize yields increased, the women remained with a challenge of low prices. To alleviate this challenge, the FSL assisted the women to establish maize bulking centers where they collected their maize and were facilitated to meet maize buyers to negotiate buying arrangements.
“Through the established and organized farmer groups, maize bulking and collective marketing has been achieved. Farmers bring their mature, clean, and dry maize grains to bulking points where it is safely stored. Collectively, farmers bargain and demand for fair prices from big maize buyers who come to buy the large quantities directly from the farmers bulking sites”, Elias adds.
For the first time, in August – October 2021 maize buying season, 97% of the female smallholders sold their maize through the bulking centres. This action not only diminished the influence of middlemen but also enhanced the overall price paid by the buyer with some women gaining up to 50% increase in price in only 2 months in storage.
The ethos of the FSL is that the gains in maize price for the women more easily translate into enhanced nutrition for the entire household by buying food to supplement food aid. However, even with enhanced incomes, there was a challenge of some women failing to buy food – partly due to scarcity of alternative nutritious food in the refugee settlement but also due to poor access to nutrition information. To this end, the FSL embarked on promotion of vegetable growing (particularly the kitchen gardens) as well as maize-bean intercropping to increase diversity of nutritious food in the settlement. Uwimana describes her household feeding habits as having been transformed.
“We no longer eat plain beans as it used to be. We now have plenty of vegetables in the compound which I harvest and use to flavor my sauce. My children now look very healthy”, she says.
Moreover, during the month of July 2022, the FSL intends to work through UNHCR’s Nutrition Partners to introduce nutritional education programs enhance nutrition information among the households and communities.
Esperance Maniraguha, (47 years) is a Congolese widow living in Rwamwanja refugee settlement with her four children. Esperance lost her husband during the war in Congo. She however managed to escape with her children to Uganda. She joined the FSL through her village saving group.
“The first years in Uganda were not easy as I had to struggle to feed my family. I was given a small piece of land where I used to grow maize. However, despite putting a lot of household energy in the growing of maize, I could barely meet the basic household needs. My children who were healthy while we were in Congo started losing weight and getting sick due to poor feeding”, she narrates.
“With my new kitchen garden, I have managed to chase away stomach related infections from my household. Vegetables are now an essential part of our meal, and my children look healthy and are performing well in school”, she says.
“Thanks to the FSL, we no longer feed on one meal. I can now afford to buy rice and bananas for my family, and we occasionally eat fish, chicken and peas”, she adds.
Uwamahoro Zawadi greatly appreciates the Rwamwanja Food System lab, Healthy Food Africa and Finn Church Aid for the post-harvest handling equipment that they provided to the famers. She says they are the backbones of good quality produce.
“The maize flour I get from my maize is now very nice and nutritious. I have received good feedback from everyone that I sell it to”, she says.