Members of agro-pastoral field schools not only build their capacities on farm management for resilient food systems but also benefit from savings and loan schemes that support their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Tete Sarah is 24 and a caretaker for three young girls and a boy. After long hoping for a community group to join, Sarah joined the Ochamutu Akitare Agro-Pastoral Field School (APFS) group in March 2021. “This was a wish fulfilled,” she said. “My aim of joining the group was to acquire knowledge and skills on savings and loans, record keeping, improved farming practices such as row planting of various crops which have a good market.” Now, just a few years on, she can genuinely say that she’s made the most of her learnings.
Sarah is now Secretary of the Ochamutu Akitare APFS group, one of the 31 APFS groups supported by the Institute for International Cooperation and Development (C&D) in Tapac Sub-County under the Resilient Food Systems (RFS) Uganda project, Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in the Karamoja Sub-Region. RFS Uganda is led by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), the UN Development Programme, and the Government of Uganda.
During the first year of implementation, Sarah recalls that “after training by C&D staff, we started cultivation very seriously, but we were disappointed by repeated droughts during the season that spoiled our crops.” After realising that the first harvest would not be much good, the group held consultations with C&D staff. It made a plan to plant early maturing crops near the Namanang Dam which is located not too far from Namanang Centre, where the group meets, and offers good access to water for irrigation.
“Other APFS groups also got plots to grow vegetables at the same place,” said Sarah. “We got training from C&D on making nursery beds, planting seeds and making beds for out-planting the vegetable seedlings, after which we started the vegetable production.” That year, Sarah cultivated about 0.25 acres of cowpeas and Sukuma Wiki (Kale), earning her UGX 50,000 (about 13 USD) which she saved with the help of the group’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA).
The APFS groups facilitated by FAO help beneficiaries improve their resilience to shocks by exploring other businesses with the support of VSLAs that provide start-up capital, while also growing vegetables.
With help from the VSLA, Sarah saved UGX 260,000 (about 70 USD) and accessed a loan of UGX 200,000 (about 52 USD) in July 2021 to start her own restaurant. She started small at Namanang Centre, after receiving a business assessment and training on recordkeeping, food hygiene and timekeeping from the C&D staff.
Before the help from the VSLA, Sarah made and sold mandazi to supplement her family income. She now says that her business is progressing well, and she is able to travel to Kosiroi Centre to purchase meat and goats. Kosiroi Centre is strategic because it is located in a busy area where trucks load marble stones from the nearby mines, and it is also just about 5 km east of Namanang Centre along the Moroto – Loroo highway which is being upgraded into an all-weather tarmac road and connects to the Republic of Kenya.
Then in June 2022, the VSLA shared its savings and Sarah received UGX 240,000 (about 64 USD) which she reinvested into her business. But instead of expanding her restaurant, Sarah decided to diversify her business into maize flour which she purchases in bulk and retails to her customers. She chose maize flour because she recognized that more people had grown vegetables for home consumption and sale that year and were more interested in cooking at home. Because of this, there was solid demand for maize flour since the maize planted wouldn’t be ready for harvesting, threshing and milling until the end of the year. Many people from neighbouring villages were also coming to Sarah in part due to poor harvests. Two weekly livestock market days in the Tapac sub-County near Namanang Centre also bring customers to Sarah’s restaurant and maize flour businesses, and a good proportion of Sarah’s customers are road workers, working on the Moroto–Lokitanyala highway upgrades.
“I have employed two workers to help me in my business,” said Sarah, who is proud to be able to support employees.
As for the future, Sarah said “I want to construct a house on my land with the profits I have earned from my businesses.” Her aim is to operate the restaurant in her own home rather than renting. “I appreciate FAO and C&D for the support I have received in various ways such as knowledge delivery in various enterprises of VSLA, crop production, restaurant business which is paving the way for my progress,” she shared.
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