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Eradicating food insecurity in Soroti District.

All year round cultivation of nutritious food in Soroti District.

Photo of Ronald Mpfizi Ngabonziza
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

N.E.N PRODUCE AFRICA LTD

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

None

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Kampala City.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Uganda

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Soroti. A district in Teso Sub region, Eastern Uganda covers an estimated land area of 2,662.5 sq.kms. 406.59 sq.kms of this is water.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Uganda

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I first traveled to Soroti district (Teso Region) when I was posted there for employment as a Regional Assistant Accountant with Baylor College of Medicine Children's Foundation, Uganda. I worked in this region for 3 years from April 2014 to March 2017.

In Teso region, Baylor’s mandate was to strengthen healthy systems for effective delivery of HIV and TB services with extra emphasis on children. We covered all the 8 districts of the region. These are Soroti, Amuria, Katakwi, Kaberamaido, Serere, Ngora, Kumi and Bukedea.

In my position, amongst my roles was provision of financial mentorships to lower rural health facilities especially in the area of sub-grant accounting, follow up and collection of such sub grant accountabilities. While at this, I was privileged to interact with multiple vulnerable groups most of whom we served as an Organization. These interactions made me quite fond of the people, and bore within me an urge to do more than we were doing to help the population achieve wholesome happiness. In addition, the people from Teso are generally quite genial and over the years, I established some strong relationships beyond my call of duty which have persisted to-date. It is this relationship that opened my eyes to the fact that the biggest problem faced by the people was the uncertainty about their next meal, especially during the dry season. Though blessed with vast vacant lands with soils suitable for fruit farming and vegetable oil crops, there are limited attempts to exploit this due to the largely impoverished nature of the population.

After the end of my stay in the region, I initiated a project to supply at least 10 citrus tree seedlings to an identified 5,400 farmers within the region. Though it currently faces some challenges especially due to the aridity of the land and inadequacy of the rains to fulfill the significant early stage water requirements of the seedlings, the project has instilled in me a deep-seated desire to do more in the region.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Soroti District is located in Eastern Uganda, within the Teso region. The inhabitants are known as the Iteso and are a Nilo-Hamitic group with similar origins as the Langi, the Karamojong, the Jie and the Kumam. They speak Ateso, Kumam and Swahili as their main languages, and compared to the Western, Southern and Central regions of Uganda, they are more familiar with the English language. It is common sight to see people of all ages, from school going children walking to or from school or the older generations gathered around and sharing a pot of their popular local brew known as “Ajono” in their compounds in the evening chatting in English. They are also, on average, of a darker complexion and taller than the Bantu tribes of Uganda. Marriages are defined from two points of view: they are alliances between spouses but also between two exogamous clans. The former is evident in the practical arrangements of setting up a household, and the latter is expressed in ritual and healing practices.

In keeping with their pastoral roots, men herd cattle, and the grazing of animals was regarded as a commonly held right until the late 1960's and early 1970's; there have been conflicts over the right to graze since then, and some people have fenced their fields. The area’s major economic activity is agriculture with a main emphasis on food crops such as millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, Sesame, ground nuts, citrus fruits, mangoes and sun flower with a higher potential to grow beans, peas, tomatoes, onions, cabbage. Cassava, which the Iteso cook with finger millet and sorghum, is planted in fields that would otherwise be fallow. Women grow vegetables in gardens next to their sleeping houses and gather various wild foods, especially mushrooms and flying ants, a delicacy. The areas staple food is locally known as “Karo” made out of millet and sometimes cassava flour or a combination of both served with ground nut paste prepared with greens locally as “Ebo”. This starch-based diet is generally the cause of the malnutrition rates in the region that are among the highest in the country.

Popular landmarks in Soroti include the Soroti rock and the Awoja Bridge. The Soroti Rock, a volcanic plug, stands beautifully between 2 communication masts about 1 km south of the town. To the North, about 1 or 2 km away from the town’s main street, is the Soroti Flying School. Its location is about 230kms, by air, North East of Entebbe International Airport. About 15 kms away from Soroti town is the 60 m long Awoja Bridge which crosses the Awoja River.

The district is largely flat with the lowest and highest altitudes of 960 and 1,000 meters above sea level. Rain in Soroti normally ranges from 1,000 mm to 1,500 mm annually and falls in 2 seasons; March to July and September to November. There is normally a short dry spell during mid-June to July and a longer dry spell extending from late November through to March.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

2662

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

296833

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The foremost challenge facing the food system in Soroti district is food insecurity due to drastic changes in erstwhile stable climate patterns.

The Iteso have for centuries depended on the environment for their sustenance. As of 2019, most poor households had run out of food reserves - which usually go up to June - by March. Below-average first season rainfall also led to an absence of seasonal vegetables which complement their starchy staples of millet, maize and cassava. The March-June rains were late, poorly distributed, and significantly below average. Current deficits range from -25 to over -200 mm, which is less than 55 to 85% of normal. Looking forward to 2050, an assessment of the water balance based on the driest years on record shows that if abstractions are attempted as estimated, there will be a surface water deficit by 2040.

Changes in the climate are resulting in stressed consumption and livelihoods coping strategies to meet their minimum food needs. Seasonal vegetables are already limited. These normally supplement food sources, especially during the lean seasons, and are major source of vitamins and other micro nutrients. Looking forward to 2050, the Iteso will probably focus more on the staples that are drought resistant (millet and cassava). This will exacerbate the current imbalance in their nutrient intake. Forms of malnutrition like kwashiorkor could become more prevalent.

Many households have teams of oxen and plows, while others trade their labor for the use of a richer household’s teams. Due to the changes in the environmental conditions, the casual labor wage is declining while year-on-year food prices are rising steadily (2019 was the third consecutive year), especially in more remote, rural markets, resulting in significantly lower terms of trade and household purchasing power. Looking forward, more people will have to look elsewhere for their livelihood, which could translate to higher rates of urbanization in the urban areas of Eastern Uganda. This, coupled with the trend in food prices, will lead to a more vulnerable position for those that will stay in the rural areas.

With respect to culture, food, and especially Ajono – the local brew made from dried millet- brings the people together. The uncertainty of harvests in the future will certainly have a negative impact on this tradition. Also, the practice of excluding women from land ownership needs to be addressed due to the fact that they are the main source of agricultural labor.

The only technology used by the Iteso today is the ox plough. This points to inefficient practices. There are virtually no irrigation schemes in the area, despite the fact that the area is within the Awoja catchment zone which is rich in surface water.

The main policy challenge is Government reluctance to ensure efficient practices like irrigated and mechanized agriculture. The Government also needs to spearhead the protection of women’s rights with respect to inheritance of land.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

While the Vision will not halt the projected climatic changes, it will enable the Iteso to adapt to the changes in their environment. The solutions that need to be implemented to achieve Vision will include measures to use the environment more efficiently. This will involve aspects like the use of the drip irrigation system which makes efficient use of water resources. It generally requires 50-60% less water than flow irrigation systems, and requires less labor and energy. The development of valley dams will also tackle the issue of flooding during the wet season, while also increasing the reservoirs available for use in the dry season.

The use of well managed irrigation systems as a vehicle for achieving the vision will also raise crop yields by an estimated 2-5 times. This will serve to not only alleviate the stressed consumption that many households are already facing, but will also avail a steady surplus that can be sold to enhance household incomes. The ability to grow crops all year round will also lead to increased cultivation of legumes, vegetables and fruits, thus providing much needed nutrients to the starch-based diet of the Iteso.

The eradication of drastic fluctuations in harvest quantities will also serve to stabilize food prices, both in the rural and urban markets. This will provide a platform for easier financial planning and enable farmers to access services like storage and transportation facilities, while encouraging financial institutions to avail them with credit. Another important aspect of the Vision is that it will enable the farmers in Soroti district, who each have access to an average of 3 hectares, to utilize the vast surface and ground water resources that their region is blessed with to become exporters of fruits and vegetables that are rich in water content. This will allow them to become important aspects in the solution to the projected global water shortage. The fruits and vegetables grown in this water-rich region could be consumed by people in fresh water insecure regions like Northern Africa, thereby increasing their fresh water intake.

With respect to the culture, the Vision would lead to the enhancement of women’s land ownership rights in the region. Currently, the few women that are allowed to own land are only allowed to own land that is far away from water resources and thus considered unproductive. The Vision would ensure access to water for such parcels of land thus increasing the economic prospects of these women. Also, given that women are the main providers of agricultural labor, the increased agricultural activity would translate to higher incomes.

The Vision generally is also in tandem with the government’s Vision 2040 which lists irrigation investment as a high priority along with agricultural value-chain development. The goal is to transform the small-holder subsistence cultivation into modern commercial farming to increase productivity and farm income.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The image that describes the high level vision is “a well-nourished population, living on evergreen farmland as a result of efficient use of the environment”. Efficient use of water resources in both dry and wet seasons will be the foundation upon which the livelihoods of the Iteso will be changed. The setting up of valley dams to capture flood water in the wet season and use of drip irrigation systems will provide water for agriculture all year round and enable the growing of a wide variety of crops, from the starchy staples to vegetables like cabbage, lettuce and cucumber. In addition, the region will ably grow a variety of citrus and mango fruits that its soils are best for. The increase in crop varieties for sale and eradication of fluctuations in harvest quantities will attract stable, favorable prices especially given the projected heightened global demand for fruits and vegetables. This will enable the farmers to access equipment like tractors to mechanize their farms. It will also attract investment in services across the value chain, from storage facilities to improved transport solutions like refrigerated trucks, and air transport for more fragile commodities, especially with the Soroti airfield.

The improvements in agricultural practices will translate to improvements in every aspect of the Iteso’ s lives. Increased cultivation of fruits and vegetables will enable access to balanced diets for all families. While the mechanization of the farms will lead to a decline in demand for traditional on-farm labor, the improvements across the value chain – including the setting up of factories to process fruit juice concentrate and package fresh fruits and vegetables - will require local labor that will generally be better paid.

The growth of economic prospects will also help to lift the women from their marginalized position by giving them different prospects for a livelihood.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our Vision for a regenerative food future for the Iteso in Soroti district is steeped in the idea of leveraging different systems to achieve all-year round cultivation of a variety of crops. This will be the vehicle through which both the eradication of food insecurity and the development of a food export industry will be achieved.

Efficient use of the environment is the cornerstone upon which this Vision is built. Putting in place systems to encourage the efficient use of both ground and surface water resources in the dry and wet seasons will address the most pressing agricultural needs of the people in a changing climate. The use of water from River Awoja to kick-start a drip irrigation system will address the challenge of delayed and erratic rainfall patterns, while the development of valley dams will address the challenge of flood water in the wet seasons. This will go a long way to transforming the region into an area of evergreen farmland. This will also enable the growing of a wide variety of crops, from the starchy staples to legumes, fruits and vegetables. The legumes, fruits and vegetables are already grown in the area but on a small scale and are vulnerable to seasonal changes on rainfall and sunshine, which current global climate changes are making more erratic.

The growth of a variety of crops will have a drastic effect on the diet of the people in Soroti district. The Teso region, of which Soroti district is a part, was, as recently as 2012 named the poorest region in Uganda, and has one of the highest rural population percentages. It is continually plagued by acute hunger with reports of some health centers receiving up to 200 cases of severe malnutrition of young children a month. This is despite the fact that the region has some of the most favorable farm land, with the vast majority of the area being low land areas with a gradient of between 940 to 1,000 meters above sea level. The area is also within the Awoja Catchment Zone that has sufficient resources of both surface and ground water. The efficient use of this kind of environment will go a long way to solving the malnutrition issues in the region, while also enabling the export of surplus crops to areas that are going to need them by 2050, especially with the projected global shortfalls of water. The region would essentially become an exporter of its water resources to drier parts of the continent through the export of its water laden fruits and vegetables. This would not require significant investments in the agricultural knowledge of the people given that a vast majority of them already plant some of these crops on a very small scale for home consumption. The region is actually one of the leading producers of citrus and mango fruits in Uganda. In 2019, after several studies, the Government of Uganda with the assistance of the Korea International Co-operation Agency (KOICA) and in partnership with the Teso Tropical Fruit Growers Cooperative Union (TETFGCU), decided to establish a fruit processing factory in Soroti district to take advantage of the abundant citrus crop in the region and the high yield per tree. Today, the factory is fully functional.

With respect to the economy, as mentioned above, the diversification of crop varieties and ensuring of a year-round production cycle will drive investment various stages of the value chain of these crops, from research into better (more resilient and higher yielding) seed varieties, to on-farm mechanization, to storage and efficient transport to market, and lastly the packaging of fresh produce and the processing and manufacture of different by-products. This, coupled with the idea of organizing the farmers into different production groups will also encourage the global marketing of the produce from this region as it enables the standardizing and certification of farming practices. This kind of ecosystem will enable farmers to access financial services as it reduces the risk associated with lending to agriculture.

With respect to the culture of the area, the Vision has the potential to disrupt different aspects of the culture. For example, while millet today is grown mainly for making millet bread and Ajono, the local brew, the achievement of the Vision would lead to the commercialization of the agriculture in the area, which could mean that most farmers would prefer to sell their millet to grain aggregators and processors, than to use it to prepare one type of meal for months on end. The proceeds from such sales would avail them with the opportunity to have a variety of food on their dinner table. The biggest change in the culture of the area would, however, be in the change in how the people view their land. The land would take on more of a commercial than cultural aspect, which would mean that access would go to those that can make the best (most profitable) use of it, and not just the men who have historically held a birth rite to it. This would mean that women, who currently form the bulk of the agricultural workforce, would have higher chances of access to land. It could even lead to a situation where ageing fathers and dying husbands explicitly choose to leave their land holdings in the control of their more enterprising daughters and widows respectively. This would be a great positive transformation of the patriarchal nature of the Iteso’ s culture.

The efficient use of the environment that is required for the fulfillment of this Vision would require a complete overhaul of the technology used across the entire agricultural value chain in Soroti district. First, the setting up of irrigation schemes that are geared towards efficient use of water and energy resources will bring about technological changes like drip irrigation systems that are powered by renewable energy sources like solar and hydro-electric power. This will serve to both utilize the scarce global water resources, while minimizing the carbo footprint of the farming activities. Further down the process will be the mechanization of the farms, which will include tractors for sowing and spraying, drones for monitoring the growth of the crops, combined harvesters and cold room storage facilities. This essentially points to a complete overhaul of the technology in use today, for a more efficient ecosystem. The technology will not be limited to equipment, as such an ecosystem will encourage investment in research regarding better crop varieties using genetic techniques like CRISPR. While public opinion about genetic modification in Uganda today is on the negative side, we envision that future educational campaigns along with the need to adapt to changing global dynamics like climate change and overpopulation will drive changes in the sentiment towards this revolutionary technology.

Lastly, with respect to policy, the Vision fits the policy of the Government of Uganda, especially with respect to the element of irrigation. Currently, Uganda’s ratio of cultivated area under irrigation to the irrigation potential is only 0.5%. This compares lowly to 3.6% for Tanzania, 2.0% for Kenya and 1.6% for Burundi. The comfort of receiving rains to sustain two cropping seasons in a year has provided little impetus to Government to invest extensively in irrigation. Little attention has been accorded to technological and human capacity development in irrigation. Despite the advantages that the country holds in the ease of undertaking irrigation development, the potential has not been harnessed. Uganda’s rain-fed agriculture has progressively been constrained by frequent threats of, and actual occurrence of, droughts and floods affecting efforts for increased production and the fight against hunger and poverty. In 2010, alone, drought accounted for 38% and 36% loss in production for beans and maize respectively. In, 2014, the country registered Uganda shillings 2.8 trillion (8%) loss of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 87% loss to agro-industries. The Government has elaborated a National Irrigation Policy to direct the implementation of irrigation interventions to ensure optimal use of available land and water resources for agricultural production and productivity to contribute effectively towards food security, wealth and employment creaton, and export promotion. This policy is in line with Uganda’s international commitments including the Sustainable Development Goals, and Agenda 2063 as well as the Vision 2040 notes that: “the Uganda aspires to transform agriculture from subsistence to commercial agriculture through both mechanization and introduction of modern irrigation systems”. In pursuit of the Policy, the Government in 2019 secured USD $195 m in funding from the World Bank for irrigation systems across the country. The Vision is, therefore, directly in-line with the Government policy of modernizing agriculture across the country.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

Photo of Ronald Mpfizi Ngabonziza
Team

You are most welcome. There is so much potential to harness in agriculture.

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