Cultivating Hope: Why Investing in Agriculture is Vital for Refugees in Northern Uganda

Northern Uganda has long been a region affected by the aftermath of conflict and displacement, with refugees fleeing neighboring countries like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo seeking safety and refuge. Amidst the many challenges refugees face, investments in economic empowerment and agriculture emerge as beacons of hope, offering not only sustenance but also empowerment and resilience to those rebuilding their lives in a new land. 

When refugees arrive in the settlement in Uganda, they are given a 30×30 meter plot of land, a tarp for shelter, and access to monthly meager food rations (small amounts of cooking oil and grain). After this, they are expected to rebuild their lives, often without the tools needed to do so. 

Since 2017, Seed Effect has been providing these tools through Christ-centered savings groups for refugees in Northern Uganda and, more recently, agriculture training since 2020. Investing in agriculture alongside financial services further contributes to our members’ well-being and future prospects by addressing the following needs: 

1. Food Security: Malnutrition and Food security are consistently reported to be one of the main problems that refugees face. Refugee rations — consisting of meager amounts of grain and cooking oil provided monthly — have gradually been reduced over time. Most recently, a significant reduction in rations was made in July 2023 due to budget constraints. 82% of refugees now receive 30% of the previous rations they were receiving when they arrived, which is the lowest level of refugee support in the region, and further reductions may be needed soon. 

The UN reports that the recent reductions have had the following impact:

  • 64% of refugee households increasingly resorted to harmful practices, such as reducing the number of meals per day, accumulating debt, and sending children to work due to inadequate food consumption. 
  • an increase in child poverty rates by 59% in the West Nile region which has led to an increase in child labor, school dropouts, transactional sex, domestic violence, and suicide rates.

Agriculture serves as the cornerstone of food security, providing refugees with a means to grow their own nutritious food. For many displaced individuals, access to adequate food is a constant concern. By investing in agriculture, refugees can cultivate crops suited to the local environment, reducing dependence on external aid and ensuring a stable food supply for themselves and their families.

2. Livelihoods and Economic Empowerment: Beyond mere sustenance, agriculture offers refugees additional opportunities to generate income and build sustainable livelihoods. By cultivating crops and engaging in livestock rearing, refugees can not only meet their own needs but also participate in local markets, contributing to the economic development of their host communities. This economic empowerment fosters self-reliance and dignity, allowing refugees to regain control over their lives and futures. 

Farming is also complementary to savings groups. Members can take loans to rent land, hire labor, buy seeds or tools, and within a few months harvest the crop to repay the loan and gain a profit. Studies show that when agriculture programs are paired with savings groups, there is an increase in both areas.  Members save more and report increased agricultural production.

3. Community Integration and Social Cohesion: Engaging in agricultural activities provides refugees with a platform for community integration and social cohesion. Farming often involves collective efforts, fostering bonds among refugees and with members of the host community. Through shared agricultural initiatives, refugees can exchange knowledge, skills, and resources, strengthening social networks and promoting harmony in diverse communities.

4. Environmental Sustainability: Investing in regenerative and conservationist agriculture presents an opportunity to promote environmental sustainability in refugee settlements. By adopting such practices, refugees can mitigate environmental degradation, enhance soil fertility, and increase yield. These sustainable agricultural practices not only benefit refugees in the short term but also contribute to long-term environmental resilience.

5. Resilience and Future Prospects: Agricultural investment plays a crucial role in building resilience among refugees, equipping them with the skills and resources needed to overcome adversity and thrive in the face of uncertainty. By investing in agricultural education and training programs, refugees can acquire valuable skills that enhance their employability and empower them to pursue alternative livelihoods beyond agriculture, thereby broadening their horizons and securing their future.

In summary, investing in agriculture is one of the best ways for a refugee to provide food for their household. It is not only about cultivating crops; it’s about cultivating hope and opportunity for refugees in Northern Uganda. By prioritizing agricultural development alongside financial services, stakeholders can address the multifaceted challenges faced by displaced populations, from food insecurity and poverty to social isolation and environmental degradation. Through collective efforts and sustained investment, agriculture-focused economic empowerment can further serve as a catalyst for transformation, empowering refugees to rebuild their lives and communities with dignity and resilience.

To learn more about how Seed Effect’s agriculture program is evolving click here

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Apr 28, 2024

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