The cliche of Karamoja depending entirely on livestock may not apply any more as the communities engage more in mixed farming activities.
One such activity which is changing their lifestyle is vegetable growing, an initiative which the communities thought would not succeed due to the harsh weather conditions.
It is now about one year since Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) introduced several initiatives among the Karamojong communities with vegetable growing being one of them.
Farmers in Napak District have formed associations with the aim of growing vegetables including sukuma wiki, cabbages, green gram, cow pea, eggplant, onions, tomatoes and okra, among others.
FAO, in collaboration with a local non-governmental organisation, Community Management Watershed Development Organisation, has been sensitising farmers in Napak about the agronomy practices in vegetable growing to achieve good yields.
Jimmy Okori, the team leader, says they are running 76 agro-pastoral field schools, with each comprising 30 members.
In Kokorio village in Matany Sub county, there are four farmer groups.
“At the inception of the project in 2012, FAO provided the initial seeds to the farmers but now they are in position to purchase their own as well as save from previous harvests. The project is promising because farmers have ready market at Matany hospital and Moroto Town where they can sell their produce,” Okori adds.
The two-and-a-half acre demonstration gardens, where each farmer is given a portion of land to grow a number of vegetable varieties, were donated by two members of the group. One of them, Michael Lokunoi, was previously engaged in cattle rustling.
“Although I lost all my cattle to raids, I decided to abandon the practice and adapt vegetable growing. I supply the local market with non-traditional vegetables such as onions, eggplants and tomatoes,” he says.
Lokunoi does not need a lot of land to grow the vegetables because he has learnt a method called sack gardening. He has 15 sacks filled with soil where he conducts the activity.
Meeting their needs
From his first bumper harvest he was able to earn Shs300,000 from the vegetable sales, which he considers a great progress.
The other farmer who donated one and half acre land is Philip Lokoru, 48, and an elder in the group. He says as the group was being formed, there was a question where farmers are going to demonstrate their work. Since his land was close to a borehole with source of water, he donated the land willingly. This group also received 30 goats, which they graze alongside the vegetable gardening.
Lokoru is grateful for the vegetable initiative because he can now afford to feed his family with a balanced diet as well as purchase scholastic materials and pay fees for his school-going children.
Lucia Longoli, another beneficiary of the project, says the community used to depend on livestock farming and growing sorghum, which was not enough to sustain the family in terms of food.
Change in livelihoods
She is growing assorted varieties of vegetables, which takes her through the cycles in the year.
During the last dry spell season, Longoli sold vegetables worth Shs1m, which helped her clear school fees for her five children, who are school going.
Their records indicate that in 2013, they were able to achieve total sales of more than Shs6m. Each farmer attained between Shs400, 000 and Shs800,000.
The women were heavily engaged in fetching water from the boreholes for sale as well as collecting firewood.
But their livelihood has been changed since vegetable growing was introduced. Through the project, each group received a pair of oxen for ploughing their land and irrigation pumps.