Women farmers a pillar to African agriculture
Farmers, particularly women, face a high degree of economic, legal and institutional uncertainties when investing in their land and other resources. They contribute to commercial agriculture, which includes high-value products such as vegetables and cut flowers for local and export markets. The decentralisation of decision-making towards local and community organisations is the key in changing people’s behaviour and implementing sustainable farming strategies.
Baobab | Issue 64 | September 2012Amagezi Gabula Atudde is a Luganda connotation meaning, “The proactive are part of the solution; the passive remain a problem”. Gabula Atudde Women Grip is a women’s farmer group serving two sub counties of Mukono and Goma Town councils in central Uganda. It is called “Grip” because of the firmness with which it has embraced women’s issues for the past 18 years.
In 1994, three elderly women saw the need to mobilise women with no formal employment, school dropouts, people living with HIV/AIDS and other disadvantaged members of the community into gainful activities.
The group which started with 25 women now boasts a membership of over 50. It engages in activities that contribute to sustainable agriculture and development and uses basic information and communication technologies (ICTs) for accessing relevant resources.
The group operates within the pillars of sustainable agriculture as below:
Use of locally available resources:
The group has embraced the use of locally available resources which has enabled them save both money and time while conserving the environment. For example they use grass for mulching their gardens, fibers from banana plants are used to make crafts while decomposed plants are used to make compost manure for use in their farms.
The group has established a tree nursery and is involved in tree planting, soil and water conservation activities. In addition they promote use of biogas technology as an alternative fuel within the community and schools in the district.
The group recycles all forms of “wastes” including water from kitchens that is channeled to farms, food taken to kitchens and back to the farms as manure.
Innovative sustainable agriculture practices:
Such best practices include fanya juu (pile up) & fanya chini (dig down) terracing, mulching, mixed farming where each family has at least one zero grazed livestock, chicken, rabbit, bee keeping and recycling of livestock’s waste that provides manure for crops’ healthy growth especially vegetables. These best practices provide income and food all year round. “We have a working constitution in place to ensure that all members abide by the rules and our meetings are twice a month on Thursday from 1600-1800 hrs,” said Esther Kiwazi, coordinator of the group.
Capacity building activities
The group has been involved in capacity building activities that have enriched the members’ capacity in farming, entrepreneurship, and education. Among partners who have supported them include; Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), Environmental Alert and Kasenge River for Organic Agriculture among others. The group acquired computers with support from WOUGNET. They use ICTs for networking and fundraising.
In addition, they get research and internship students from Makerere University’s School of Gender and Women Studies with whom they work to strengthen their activities.
Gabula Atudde embraces farmer-to-farmer extension which they have found very useful. Members learn from each other and from other farmer groups. The group has yearly competitions during which it awards the best farmer on sustainable agriculture which has kept members motivated.
Promotion and use of renewable energy especially biogas and solar has reduced costs of fuel for lighting and cooking. The group received support from East African Technology Development Network (ENERGY NETWORK-Uganda) to establish biogas among members and the community at large. It is currently promoting institutional biogas with an aim to tap on a bio-toilet project to earn income.
Because of The commendable performance, Gabula Atudde has hosted many dignitaries, as on 26th April 1998, members met with President Bill and Hillary Clinton. This came as a result of their activities by Heifer Project International (HPI).
Members are able to earn income from the sustainable agriculture activities and pay school fees for their children. In addition the group has partnered with Pride; a micro finance institution which has enabled them to access loans. They have so far established micro gardens in five schools in Mukono District where the students plant vegetables such as amaranth and cabbage, which they sell in the schools and to the local market.
Challenges facing Gabula Atudde
- Limited access and control to cultivatable land coupled with prohibitive prices of land and the women’s meager income have been a major setback for the group. However, they innovatively use other farming techniques like growing amaranth, kales, and eggplants intensively in sacks, key-hole-gardens; raised beds and hanging gardens among others.
- The group finds it hard to access formal markets for their products hence it has been a challenge to sell their produce.
- Like any other group, Gabula Atudde has had conflicts and misunderstandings among members. However they have a well established conflict resolution committee which has always resolved the issues that arise.
- The group has suffered from false promises from some of the funding partners who withdrew before completing what they had promised to do thereby demoralising them.
- The group has written many project proposals on sustainable agriculture but unfortunately they haven’t managed to secure any funds from donors. The struggle continues!
Kiwazi Esta Nnassanga
Kiwazi Esta Nnassanga is the executive coordinator of Gabula Atudde Women Grip in Mukono in central Uganda.