Farmers First was a five-year programme (May 2009 to June 2014) and was designed to improve and diversify the on-farm production of rural farming households in four African countries, including Uganda. At its core was a series of activities designed to expand the choices and opportunities for farmers to engage in and to lead competitive value-added agricultural production and marketing efforts at the community-level through the prioritization of local innovation and ownership as well as household food access and supply. Under Farmers Firsts conservation agriculture practices were promoted using the farmer field school model to build capacity in agronomic skills and practices, as well as a range of tailored knowledge, attitudes and practices on nutrition.
CPAR Uganda implemented Farmers First in Uganda, directly benefiting over 10,000 members of 1,477 farm households in Alebtong and Dokolo Districts in Lango in Northern Uganda. Through training and provision of inputs, under Farmer First, CPAR Uganda facilitated farmers to diversify the crops they grow, thus improving their food security, nutrition security and their livelihoods in general. Farmers now grow leafy vegetables in kitchen gardens, maize, sunflower, and soya beans. They grow crops whose produce they target for the market as well as their food security, such as rice, millet, sorghum, cassava, beans, pigeon peas, and sesame. Farmers who benefited from Farmers First now register average yields of 933 kilograms per acre for maize and 717 kilograms per acre for sunflower; thus have attained an increase in their yields of 94 percent and 335 percent, respectively as compared to before Farmers First when farmers reported getting only 480 kilograms per acre for maize and 165 kilograms per acre for sunflower. Farmers First had significant impact on the lives of thousands of Ugandan’s as exemplified by the following testimony of members of Tam Apira Disabled Farmer Field School – 30 members (19 women and 11 men):
Under Farmers First, we were trained on agronomic practices (seed bed preparation, plant spacing, line planting, timely weeding, integrated pest and disease control, fertiliser application), vegetable production, seed selection and post harvest handling. We adopted improved varieties for maize, sesame, sunflower, groundnuts, and soya beans. It is now our norm for crops to be planted in lines, unlike before when we broadcast seeds. It is now our practice to weed our crops on time. In the case of crops such as maize, we apply fertiliser and we do control spraying on time. Our adoption of these practices has contributed to increased production of our food crops. By 2013, our production had increased from an average of 20 kilograms of sesame to 480-600 kilograms and 280 kilograms of maize to 900 kilograms of maize.
We no longer have to borrow food to cater for visitors who visit our homes. That shame is now a thing of the past when some of us would go begging to borrow food from the few individuals in our community who had enough food. We have enough quantities of food to eat at home and we have surplus food items which we sell in order to generate income to pay for school fees and for catering for medical treatment the members of our households. The income that we generate from surplus food sales has also enabled us to hire labour and to buy improved seeds. This ensures that our increased production levels are sustained. Income from sale of crops has also us to buy assets like bicycles, goats and cows which increased our wealth.
Shortage of food was causing some of our children to steal other people’s food items. There were many cases of fighting in the homes. Some members of our households had insufficient energy to work in our own gardens as we would eat little quantities. We had frequent illness among our children. All this has changed. Now our children rarely fall sick as they eat adequate quantities and a variety of food items – their bodies are strong. Cases of our children stealing other people’s food have stopped. In 2009 food items that were available to us were limited to sorghum, cassava, millet, beans, and pigeon peas.
Now the range has increased and it includes cassava, beans, maize, millet, sweet potatoes, rice, sesame, groundnuts, pigeon peas, cow peas and vegetables like eggplants, onions, tomatoes, sukuma wiki. We also more frequently eat eggs, meat and fish. In the past we would eat the same type of food daily such as cassava and beans but men were not happy to eat it. Whenever women would serve the same kind of food to their husbands who were coming back from drinking sprees, they (the husbands) would tell them to take away their rubbish (food) which had no side dish. We now change diet and are able to make a side dish of beans, greens, peas to accompany the main food and sauce which was not possible in 2009.
Farmer First was funded by the Canadian Government through Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief. For more on the work of CPAR Uganda please visit our website www.cparuganda.com.