How South Sudan refugees and host communities are overcoming hunger

Some members of the host communities peel cassava, a crop that has helped fight hunger in both refugee settlements and local communities. PHOTO | FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • Ajak's knowledge of agriculture proved to be his saving grace. He started growing short-term crops like vegetables, not just for his family of nine but also for commercial purposes.

In 2017, Dominic Ajak fled war-torn South Sudan and sought refuge in Uganda. Like many refugees, his future looked bleak. He relied solely on food rations from humanitarian agencies.
Over time, food rations dwindled due to rising food costs and declining donor support. Ajak, however, refused to give up. He received land from the Office of the Prime Minister and began small-scale farming in Palorinya settlement, Obongi District.

Ajak's knowledge of agriculture proved to be his saving grace. He started growing short-term crops like vegetables, not just for his family of nine but also for commercial purposes.

“We used to go hungry after the food rations ran out, now I cannot sleep hungry. My only hope is to get more land so I can improve my life even further," Ajak said in an interview at the weekend.

He added: “From 5x15 meters of land, now I have 30x60 meters because I am renting from the landlords who have been good to us. The crops like maize, cassava, onions, beans and tomatoes that I plant are high on demand. I am now able to supply the market with these products and hunger is history in my family now.”
Ajak's success story extends beyond food security. His agricultural income has allowed him to afford his children's school fees and even purchase a motorcycle to transport his produce to market.

Ajak's fortunes were further boosted by a grant from the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). This €540 million initiative provided much-needed development and humanitarian assistance to refugees and host communities in Uganda.

This includes humanitarian support of over €390 million and over €150 million in development assistance to work on longer-term needs for various projects. Ajak also benefited from training provided by the Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment West Nile (RICE-WN) on modern farming techniques.
“Through the money from agriculture, I can no longer sleep in a hut with tarpaulin. I have been able to construct a semi-permanent house with iron sheets that does not leak. I am happy that other refugees are also embracing agriculture that is changing their lives,” he said.

As the world prepares to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20 with the theme "Solidarity with Refugees," Ajak plans to reflect on his journey. He has found a new life in Uganda, one filled with hope and purpose.

Rolex Leku, the Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning Coordinator for RICE-WN, emphasised the importance of their work. “We have trained both refugees and host communities to engage in agriculture because it is important to have proper feeding even for the children. The refugees are able to feed well now as they wait for the food rations.”
Leku said the funding from the EU has enabled many refugees to engage in modern farming techniques where some are using irrigation during the dry seasons. 

“We encourage the short term crops because it can save one from hunger,” he said in an interview at the weekend.
Within the settlement, Najuku Reider of Toto Na Pai, used skills learned through World Vision's savings programme to purchase pigs, which now generate income for her family.
“I am now able to sell the pigs and borrow loans from the group to pay fees for the children. With the income from our savings and farming, my family never goes hungry anymore,” she said.