- The youth groups are reaping from the small pieces of land but is now planning to hire land
- Traders come from Lira, Arua, Gulu, Nwoya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Arua and Maracha districts creating abundant market for the products
- Improved seedlings offer high yields for the youths even if they are planted on small pieces of land
- The various members from the groups, want to build permanent houses, return to schools, start businesses in shops, and buy commercial plots to start construction of commercial houses
By Warom Felix
West Nile-Majority of youths in the sub-region have for decades been faced with abject poverty, dropped out of schools due to failure to pay fees and were moved away from homes to streets looking for survival.
But now deep in the rural areas, the bio-technology has given hope for the youths with innovative ideas to have their skills developed in farming as a business. They are able to have improved seedlings, watery cans for irrigation, and use of pesticides has made the various youth groups in the region look for alternatives to become self-reliant.
The youths therefore have a critical role to play here with the support. The culture of every graduate, even those who studied agriculture wanting to secure an office job may not help and so they should take advantage of the opportunities to embrace agriculture.
The projects are being implemented by The Agency for Accelerated Regional Development (AFARD) with a code-named Maracha, Nebbi and Zombo (MANZO). They identified the various youth groups in the various Parishes. Afard offered the selected youth groups for training especially at Koboko Vocational institute and Nile Farm for about six weeks.
In Erussi Sub-county, a group of 30 men and women came together and identified Irish potatoes as an enterprise for economic development. The 30 now have about five acres of land for Irish production. The Chairperson of Oyiku group, Mr Richard Okecha, said: “In the past I was unable to pay school, feed my family well, and pay for medical bills, but now I can afford to live a decent life from the sales of the Irish which we harvested. The skills development is a big asset for me that I will also use for my children to keep on with especially in the farming as a business,” he said with smiles on his face.
Okecha was able to reap Shs 650,000 from the sale of Irish potatoes which has huge market especially for those from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Not only can yields be increased, but more land can be cultivated. Currently, much attention is directed toward the capacity of Africa to alleviate the growing insecurity of global food supplies. If the potential of agriculture was unlocked, Africa will be dramatically different. And this may also explain why Self Help Africa has come in to engage the youths here in agriculture.
The group sells Irish seedlings mainly. And for instance, they sell at Shs 1800 per kilogram and a basin costs about Shs 35,000 that is not for seedlings. This, the group members say was good price for them to reap from the Irish.
One of the youths harvesting Irish Potatoes in Erussi Sub-county. Photo by Felix.
And it is not only Okecha who has benefited, but also other group members like Wilson Odwokacen and Ronald Adegitho, who have both been able to fetch Shs 720,000 and Shs 350,000 from last season’s harvest. The group will make second season harvest of Irish potatoes next week and this year’s yield indicates the group would earn more.
Bruna Ajengu, a group member, said: “I have been able to take care of my children well and pay school fees for the three children. I now want to increase the acreage of my land so that I can reap big like other members are having. I am now determined to be self-reliant because what Self Help Africa has done is historical by making us earn more for a decent life,” she said.
The National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) Director at Abi-Zardi, Dr Kassim Sadik, said: “Even on small pieces of land our people have, you can earn money. So a good farmer should select better enterprise that generates money, know what breed you are growing, do timely farming, enhance soil fertility and know how to add value to the product. In this way our youths can move out of this act of sitting by the road-sides and asking for money from people. We have potentials in this region if we change the mindset of the youths towards agriculture.”
People in major towns like Arua and Nebbi rely heavily on food produced by farmers from the rural areas. And this makes the groups to have potential markets. Even the groups, who have proposed bulking, could easily tap into market potential of supplying food for the increasing number of South Sudanese who have settled both in neighboring Arua, Yumbe and Koboko districts.
This call for their innovation and the marketing strategy that the various groups from Nebbi, Zombo and Maracha, need to develop to tap into the market. There are usually two seasons for the Irish production, March to June and August to December.
Much as the group is reaping big from the Irish production with abundant market, they are constrained by unfriendly weather, high costs of renting more land, limited use of fertilizers since they are not readily available on the market, pest and diseases. But the group members say they do regular spraying that has been able to eliminate pests and diseases.
Mary Thorach, who in last season earned Shs 750,000 from one acre, said she has been able to boost her business in her shop. Though this Shs 750,000 was a decline from Shs 1.5 million, she is optimistic that she would in the next season get more if the weather favours the crop. She has planted Irish for the past 20 years and is has known the benefits of it. She is now paying school fees for one of her children at Lira Agricultural Institute.
Brain at work as the workers of NARO-UBIC develop new breed of crops in a laboratory at Namulonge. Photo by Felix
At Fur ber group, they are yet to make their first harvest for since they were trained and empowered with the seedlings and farm implements. The leader of the group, Charles Ongiera, said they have two and half acres of land and now managed to plant 27 bags of seedlings and are to harvest by end of this month. He said the knowledge and farming skills in Irish production has helped them to become trainers of other farming groups that emulate what they are doing.
“Even the children and spouses in the different families are now able to plant the seedlings in a recommended way. With market, we have no problem because we are sure that once we make first harvest, we shall be able to reap big and move out of poverty circle,” he said.
The group plans to buy a motorcycle for transportation and rent a room for stores. The group members say since one bag of Irish potatoes costs about Shs 120,000, they would be able to achieve their dreams of becoming self-reliant and live better lives. The two groups have also been taught with the knowledge on saving their income for future family investments.
Erussi Sub-county in Nebbi district, being at the border with DRCongo, is endowed with the available market and demand for food crops. And some of the group members who have reaped from first and second harvests are also now diversifying into other crops, which now help to boost their income status at households.
In Tic ku Tegu group, which has 30 members, they started as Village Saving and Loan Associations, but now they have taken up farming in onions as their enterprise. The onions are doing well with the reliable rainfall which has favoured them.
Doreen Afoyorwoth, 25, says she was given 250-grams tin of onion seedlings and has been able to plant all. “When I harvest it with good yield, I want to improve on my housing condition because right now I live in grass thatched house but I need a permanent house. I own this project and I do watering of the Onions in the evenings in order to allow them grow well,” she said.
She is supported by her husband who helps her to irrigate and weed the onions. The couple, have started laying foundation for the permanent house and hopes that with the money from the Onions, it would help push them to the next level of construction.
The youths working on one of their farms for Onions in Tara Sub-county in Maracha district. Photo by Felix.
Also, the group has a student who had dropped out from S.3 at Paidha Secondary school due to school fees problems. Sharon Atimango, who now sees the group as a savior to her life, says: “From my half acre of Onions, I will be able to save some money and get back to school because I am now at home because of fees. The education and skills AFARD and Self Help Africa gave me, has opened by eyes to study and gain income even when I would complete my education,” she said.
At Okongo Village in Palei West Village, 19 year-old Ms Jilda Afoyorwoth, could not hide her excitement because she is waiting for harvest time to earn her money from the one acre of land and implement her plans. She has plans of buying goats for commercial purpose. “Goats normally help in various ways when they are at home. So I will want to buy and keep goats both for domestic and commercial use,” she said.
Kennedy Cwinya-ai, said: “I want to go back to school in A’level since I had school fees difficulties. I want to go and study at Kigumba Technical College and this will be possible when I harvest the Onions from my land where I will be able to buy the items and pay fees,” he said.
In Zombo, the topography of the area as a highland receives huge amounts of rainfall and this could explain why the Onions and other crops of the group members are doing well. The district has been named as food basket for Northern Uganda.
In Aboo village, Ombavu Parish in Tara Sub-county in Maracha district, the youths have Cabbages and Onions. These enterprise selections were done through skills and nature of the soil textures that exist.
Bosco Dradebo, said the group has youths of 17 to 27 years who were mainly taken up by idleness at trading centers. “We saw the need to abandon staying in trading centers. This has now driven us out of idleness and we are now just counting days of reaping from first harvest which money, will positively change our lives,” he said.
Many of the group members rely on attaining market prices from radio stations, newspapers and some who are in other organizations that use phones for communicating market prices.
Here, the unreliable weather is taking toll on the crops and the youths are constrained by irrigation option because they do not have adequate and reliable water sources. But not all is lost; some of the cabbages have resisted the weather although this may affect the harvest and eventual plans of the youths.
The Parish Chief of Palei West in Zombo Town Council, Evidence Pirwoth, said: “This is a good initiative that needs to be sustained because government supports such NGOs that helps youths to come out of abject poverty. We shall continue monitoring these projects to ensure that they succeed. Even other youths should stop being idle but embrace agriculture for business so that they can stand on their own,” he said.
Ronald Mungacel of AFARD, who has been offering technical support for the groups, said: “This has largely been a success because many of the groups have their crops doing well. We hope they translate the money into proper use because we want to reduce poverty at house hold levels through agriculture and starting up businesses by the youths.”
The ball is now in the hands of the youth groups, the elderly who needs to support these initiatives for the benefit of society.