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farmers fighting back

Women farmers supported by Send a Cow in Gulu, northern UgandaHarvesting groundnuts is a commonplace activity for smallholder farmers in east Africa. But for some in northern Uganda, the latest harvest is their first for more than two decades – and should soon be providing their first proper income. 

The region is returning to stability after two decades of brutal insurgencies led by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died in the conflict, directly or indirectly. Thousands of children were abducted; the fate of many is still unknown. At the height of the crisis, 1.8 million people were living in displacement camps.

When ASFG member Send a Cow Uganda began working there in 2004, the farmers it supported still had to spend the nights in the relative safety of the displacement camps. All people travelling to and from the camps – whether charity staff or farmers needing to access their fields – had to do so under army escort.

Timothy Njakasi, Send a Cow Uganda’s regional coordinator, says: “These people suffered for more than 20 years. Life in the camps was terrible. Many became used to handouts in the camps, and they had to change their mindsets when they were resettled.”

That resettlement has been taking place since 2008-9. It is not easy. Most of the farmers supported by Send a Cow, with funding from Oxfam Novib and Self-Help Africa, are women, and have lost husbands, children and livelihoods to the conflict. Many have acquired HIV/AIDS. Their confidence and self-reliance have been shattered. Land wrangles have been common.

So when around 500 of those families produced their first harvest of groundnuts early in 2012, it was a small but real victory. The seeds were provided by Seeds for Development as an income-generating activity, and families plan to store their harvests until the price rises, then sell in the markets of northern Uganda and across the border in southern Sudan.

There is a long way to go before these families are food and income secure. But as Timothy Njakasi says: “People tell me, ‘During the insurgencies, we were totally slaves. Now we are human beings.’”

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