Conflict, Security, Peace and ReconciliationEmployment

Sewing seeds of hope – MAF supports South Sudanese refugee farmers

21st March 2022

More than six million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded (UN). Elsewhere – away from the spotlight – the plight of refugees continues. Over two million South Sudanese are still living in refugee camps since war broke out in 2013 – mostly in Uganda. MAF works with various partners to support these refugees including ‘ForAfrika’. MAF’s Jill Vine reports…

Omugo – Uganda’s newest refugee settlement in the country’s north-western corner – opened five years ago in Terego District and has the capacity to host 43,000 South Sudanese refugees (source: UN).

MAF partner ‘ForAfrika’ provides agricultural training, start-up kits and water pumps during the dry season so that refugee farmers can grow their own food and have a more diverse diet.

These homegrown vegetables are a welcome addition to the staple maize rations provided by the aid agencies. Any surplus vegetables are either preserved for the leaner months or sold as a source of income.

ForAfrika has also established saving and loan associations for farmers enabling anyone in the community to borrow money if they need it. They uphold a mutual understanding where nobody defaults.

Farming is used as a means of integrating refugees into the wider host community. Both parties farm together on communal land, which fosters a peaceful co-existence.

When a local host leases their land to the refugee farmers, they receive 30% of the harvest.

‘MAF is quick, smart and very smooth’

In April, MAF flew Fred Mutenyo, ForAfrika’s Uganda Country Director, to the nearest airstrip, Arura, to access the camp. The smooth 90-minute flight from Kajjansi, just south of the capital Kampala, saved him a ten-hour uncomfortable drive.

Fred began flying with MAF in 2017 and hasn’t looked back:

‘MAF is quick, smart and very smooth. I find their hospitality much better than other agencies.  I mainly fly from Kajjansi to Arua, Karamoja and Gulu where we work in refugee settlements.

‘I like to see tangible results as we change people’s lives. I love that we are genuinely helping people.’

Fred Mutenyo, Uganda Country Director, ForAfrika

On his latest visit, Fred is distributing agricultural tools and seeds to refugee farmers and inspecting 70 acres of land that they’re hoping to lease to another 30 refugees.

Fred is in discussion with the head farmer about planting sesame seeds rather than peanuts because some seeds don’t do well in the local rocky terrain, which often surrounds Uganda’s refugee settlements.

The host communities don’t tend to use this rocky or swampy land for farming, so ForAfrika offers advice on crop selection to get the best out of the land.

ForAfrika supports around 1,500 refugee farmers in Uganda – that’s 50 farming communities each comprising of 30 farmers.

MAF’s Jill Vine talks to some refugee farmers to see how they’re faring under ForAfrika’s initiative:

Betty’s story

Betty was forced to flee Yei, southern South Sudan, in 2018:

‘My husband died in 2019 – he was shot on the frontline.

‘Thanks to ForAfrika, I can now provide for my children. Before, I didn’t have any seeds but now I have cow peas, sesame, peanuts, beans, onions, cabbages and aubergines.

‘I bought a goat with the profit.

‘Now I’m ok -I’ve stopped grieving my husband.

‘South Sudan cannot stabilise. I feel at home here in Uganda. I want my children to stay here and receive a good education.

‘Development is key – the money we get we use for farming and pay for our children’s schooling.’

David’s story

David (R) stands proudly on his newly leased land with a sense of hope. He fled Yei on 25January 2018:

 ‘Although I worked for the UN in South Sudan as their Political Community Liaison Officer, I have always been a farmer – farming is our backbone.  My job was to mediate when conflict arose.’ 

For no apparent reason, David was suddenly arrested at Juba Airport and detained. He was imprisoned for seven months:

‘When I was released, I stayed with friends for three months before attempting to reach the Ugandan border, but I was arrested again by one of the opposition groups (IO) and spent another year in prison.

‘In 2017, the National Salvation Front attacked the prison, saved my life and urged me to reach Uganda again.’  

Since arriving in Uganda four years ago with his wife, his two children and three of his brother’s children, David has reaped the rewards from ForAfrika’s initiative:

‘When I arrived at Omugo, I was given a small 40 x 40 plot of leased land. ForAfrika gave us 6kgs of maise seed. This produced a 120kgs harvest, which generated 150k of profit (£30). They also gave us onion and tomato seeds plus 10kgs of sesame seed. This generated 450k (£100) from just 1/8th of an acre. 

‘I bought 300 watermelon seeds from the profit and rented a 1/4 acre of land.  My profit increased to 6,220,000 Ugandan Shillings (£1,390). This has enabled me to pay for my eldest’s university fees. The younger children are at good schools in Jinja because of ForAfrika’s support.  They have given me quality seeds that have produced yields for three years. Now I’m not worried about how I will feed my family.’ 

Now that David’s family are independent and leasing 12 acres of land, ForAfrika will reallocate their support to other refugee farmers who need it. David is delighted with the results and fully supports ForAfrika’s ethos:

‘My life has improved since I came to Uganda. I want my children to finish their education and I don’t want to return to South Sudan. Here, we are stronger together. We are self-driven but ForAfrika has supported us so much.’

Andrew’s story

In 2017, Andrew (L) was chased out of Yei by the opposition group IO and the pro-government’s ‘Sudan People’s Liberation Army’ (SPLA).

His family of ten safely reached Uganda and ForAfrika supported him shortly after arrival:

‘When I was chased out of my country, I thought about what I had left behind, but then ForAfrika helped me with seeds. They helped me plant beans. We made 200k (£50) profit and enough food to eat at home.

‘Let’s forget about what happened in South Sudan and cultivate the land here in Uganda.

‘I am settled here – why would I go back to South Sudan when there are so many rebels who could kill me? I want to plant more beans, sesame and watermelon!’

We wish David, Betty and Andrew every success with all their endeavours as they settle into their new lives in Uganda.

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