The youth and women are a critical mass for social and economic development and in the war torn northern Uganda, they are leading the recovery efforts to rebuild communities that were destroyed during the 20 year civil unrest.
In the remote sub counties of Kwera and Kangai in Dokolo districtthe YouthSocial Work Association (YSA) a Ugandan Non Governmental Organization is working with 2,000 households to empower youth and women to increase their agricultural business competitiveness .
The organization which was founded in 2005, according to Mr. William Osal (28), the Project Officer, promotes the welfare of children and youth . YSA is currently operating in the districts of Gulu, Pader Dokolo, Bushenyi with it’s head office in Kampala.
In the 2008, YSA started working with Orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in Dokolo district with a focus on core programme areas of education, health, child protection, Social economic support, food and nutrition as well as care and support. Osal says that YSA has since distributed goats, provided household care items, uniforms and scholastic materials to orphans and other war affected children . Training of caregivers for abandoned children was also carried out.
“ Whileoffering these services we noted that there was a big gap in business competition and gender inequalities among the youth and women in the war affected areas . So we wrote a proposal to aBi Trust to secure funds to promote business competiveness among women and youth sunflower producers to attract better markets and reliable incomes, Osal flanked with fellow youth, John Baguma (24) and Cate Alumo (26), explains .
He said that the vuknerable farmers had to be trained in agricultural production and product handling that sustains buyer needs in terms of quantity and quality. The abi Trust was accepted YSA proposal and in offered a grant of shs.400m
aBi Trust support beaars fruits
After securing the finacial support from aBi Trust YSA has since December 2012 trained 100 women and 20 youth groups in Kwera, Knagai and Agwata sub counties in Dokolo District.
At least3,600 farmers from 100 women and 20 youth groups each with 30 members in 3 sub counties in Dokolo district have been equiped with technical skills in sunflower production and marketing to sustain threshold yield and quality crop production that is attractive to targeted buyers. The farmers are also organised in groups to improve marketing of sunflower through collective bargaining .
Gender mainstreaming in 3,600 sunflower growing households for better utilization of proceeds from sunflower sales hence improved livelihood of both women and men has been undertaken.
And with increased incomes at the family level , the farmers the farmers have been encouraged to set up village Savings and Loans Associations to inculcate a culture of savings and investments to stir economic development in the rural areas.
The farmers have embraced the VSLAs concept and Osla says that from 120 groups savings portfolio has grown from zero to shs.260m. “ This a remarkable achievement for us . Because the farmers are now in position to plan together and budget for their resources .men and women are working together which was not the case before ,” he says.
Sharon Akello, an extension work says that gender relations have greatly improved following the introduction of gender training session in the communities .“ cases of gender related violence have substantially reduced and the people are happy to work together .
We have also mobilized 100 and 20 new women and youth groups for support in sunflower value chain. Farmers have also been trainedin entrepreneurship, business development, negotiation skills, making of records and collective business plans“ akello stated.
Because farmers are organised in groups , 480 pre-season planning meetings for timely and coordinated sunflower production operations have been held. The preseason planning meetings are helld once every year at the beginning of the first season per group.
The farmers with support from aBiTrust ,have received 360 Kg of certified hybrid sunflower seeds from Mukwano company for planting in one acre demonstration gardens in each group and carry out the demonstration using farmer field school methodology.
The demostration gardens help farmers to acquire skills and knowledge in sunflower agronomy, disease and pest control, post haverst handling produce management.
Couples have also bee trained in 3,600 households to carry out joint planning and benefit sharing and gender roles in sunflower value chain.
Farmers welcome aBi Trust support
Syndrella Ebil (27) a member of the Oraibaing youth group said that the farmers have benefited alot from the trainings which have been extended to them by YSA with the support of aBi Trust
We are now preacing the gospel of education because we can now save and take our children to school. Our farm yeilds have improved and everyone is happy because we are getting better income,“ she stated.
Ebil’s comments were supported by those of Moses Otim(40) another member of the group who said that their group had mobilised savings of shs.2m and families were peacefully living togther.
Increased productivity using the improved hybrid sunflower seeds as opposed to the local hybbridie from 400kg per acre to 600kg per acre leading to increased income among farmers ie from 320,000= to 480,000= respectively.
Initiated and Promoted savings within groups and individuals up to the tune of 260,000,000= as saving portfolio.
There is a drastic reduction in the cases of domestic violence and improved gender relations due to intensive sensitisation carried out by gender change Agents. For example gender based violence cases have reduced from 30-340 cases to 5-10 cases reported in a month in three sub counties.
YSA registered 120 women and youth groups with the sub counties as viable enterprises. This has guaranteed for them support from other government interventions and development partners.
There is increased knowledge and skills in growing sunflower hence increase in production ie on average, individuals are now growing at least two acres compared to half or nothing before the intervention.
Sunflower as an enterprise is dominated by Mukwano as the supllier of seeds and a buyer of the proceeds, this tend to make framers adhere to unfair business terms offered especially pricing.
It is becomig extreamly difficult for the VSLA groups to manage thier saving portfolios as they continue growing. Therefore theirs need to set up Saccos that will help manage farmers’ savings better.
Unfavourable weather patternsresulting to poor harvest by farmers.
There is also problem of transporting the farmers produce to the nearest market. For the members of Oraibaing youth group the nearest market is in Kwangwata which is a long distance .
Women are also faced with the problem of accessing land due to traditional barriers.
Exit strategy/Sustainability mechanisms
YSA has designed to main ideas for sustainability of the project benefits;
1. Procurement of a sunflower processing plantaccording to their business plan.
2. Starting a Savings and Credit Cooperative.