Refugees cash in on group farming

 Alex Lou, and other refugees load cassava cuttings onto trucks at their farm in Dzaipi Sub-county. Photo/Teddy Dokotho.

When Alex Lou, 54, fled the civil war in Central Equatoria, South Sudan to Uganda in mid-2016 and settled at Paginrinya refugee settlement in Adjumani District with his family, all hope was lost.
The father of 10 lost all his properties to the war back in South Sudan. In Uganda he depended on relief food rationed to them by humanitarian agencies.

However, when Lou and his fellow refugees formed a savings group in July 2020, the story never remained the same.
He says while their savings group ideally targeted making savings to start micro-ventures to support their families, it turned out to be a much bigger scheme. 
“We formed a group comprising 99 refugees and some locals from the host community, but sooner, an opportunity presented itself when a humanitarian body Action against Hunger (ACF) supported us to undertake an initiative on communal crop production,” says Lou. 

Lou and the group members say they embraced the idea and started group (block) farming in the Dzaipi Sub-county, Adjumani District once they hired 86 acres of land from the host community with the financial support of ACF.
“We convinced the landlords who gave us the land, ACF came in and helped us in hiring and opening the land and they subsequently provided us with cassava cuttings and maize seeds to plant on the land,” says Lou. 
For two years now, Lou’s group, Hope Savings Group, has engaged in group farming. In June this year, they were able to raise Shs126m from the sale of the cassava harvested from the first planting, according to Lou.

Upon harvesting the cassava, they were able to supply it to the local community, to Adjumani Town and sell it to commercial dealers who came from as far as Lango and Acholi Sub-regions.
“We have been into this communal farming for a period of two years, after harvesting the cassava we were able to earn Shs126m, we supplied the cassava within the sub-county here and to traders from Lira and Gulu who would come with trucks to buy from us,” says Lou.
Of the Shs126m, each of the group members walked home with Shs1.2m, after dividing among themselves.

“For a group member to get that money is a huge achievement, our group has grown and our capacity to secure more space to plant other crops on our own has developed, the initiative has positively impacted us,” says Lou who is also the group chairman.
“The money we got from this farming has changed our life so much but we want to plan and acquire more land because we have realised through this communal farming, we are not only fighting hunger but also so many other problems like mental health issues most of us the refugees suffer from,” he says. 
Just like Lou, Milka Bako is another refugee who is reaping the proceeds of the initiative. While the UNHCR gives her Shs19,000 every month to buy her food ratio, she says benefits from the project have helped her seek alternative survival means and also pay school fees for her children.
James Vuchiri, the Dzaipi Sub-county agricultural officer, reveals that the plan for sustaining the block farming being undertaken by the group is embedded in the sub-county development plan. He adds that the sub-county now aims at promoting fights against food insecurity, “we have continued to advocate for farmers both in the refugee and host communities to form saving groups to promote the culture of saving and impactful farming.”/