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Vegetable Growing Supports Refugees

by Wangah Wanyama
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By Andrew Masinde

When war drove Joseph (second name withheld) and his brother from Yei, South Sudan, a few years ago, they aspired for peace at all costs. Years in the government resettlement camp did not improve their lives either.

Uganda, is home to some of the world’s largest refugee populations and for people like Joseph, a safe haven was never going to be enough; they needed a productive haven.

However, soon the situation in the settlement became harsh too. Joseph and his brother swiftly embraced an opportunity to farm on a piece of land offered by the host community.

Yet, again, that was not going to be enough; they needed to know what to plant and how to plant it, in order to produce sustainable yields.

Their vegetable-growing techniques were quickly adapted from East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer (EWS-KT). A Uganda-based organisation that works to promote food security interventions with support from the Arab Gulf Fund for Development (AGFUND).

Since then, they have grown tomatoes and watermelons on quarter an acre, providing for their family’s food and well-being.

Asked whether they wished to go back to South Sudan, one of them said: “Unless there is an assurance of no war, in Uganda, you are assured of no war, so we are waiting for the situation to stabilise and we go back to engage in commercial vegetable production.”

EWS-KT works with over 7,000 refugee households in Imvepi and Rhino refugee settlements, assisting them in becoming self-sufficient amidst land and food challenges by adopting kitchen vegetable farming, which is better suited to increasing household income and nutrition, particularly among breastfeeding mothers and malnourished children.

The training model has since enabled refugees to cultivate on small plots of land, provide better nutrition for their families, and earn an income to sustain their school needs, among others.

Notable too was the reality that many farmers had registered zero progress in relation to livelihood income before the AGFUND/EWS-KT project.

The project now seeks to scale the impact of these vegetable gardens and also scout the possibility of larger markets for increased production, access to water, and credit for production.y

According to Prof. Badr El Din A. Ibrahim, the senior advisor of AGFUND, this is one of the few projects they are doing in Africa.

“Our biggest gain is that every stakeholder is making their contribution, and we have uniquely made ours as well. What we want here is to also break the dependency that is so prevalent and be able to nurture self-sustaining communities,” Badr El Din A said.

He added that the EWS-KT project has had a significant impact on refugee lives. Despite numerous water security concerns, the project’s effects will be felt by more than 65,000 refugees, particularly as World Food Programme food rations become scarce.

Olga Speckhardt, the head of Access to Finance at Syngenta Foundation, said there is so much to be done.

“It’s great to be here on this exceptional mission of knowledge transfer, to notice those gaps and possible solutions, we are thinking about water, extension, skills, and access to finance; we’re looking to these to build a rock-solid programme here, and we hope the connection will be made, not just between stakeholders but between farmers too,” he said.

This is the ultimate refugee survival guide. This is the effect of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer and AGFUND in and possibly outside the Ugandan refugee settlements.

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