Improving food security for families
Family sufficiency kits are a key part of the Community Outreach programme. These kits include seeds and other farming materials. In our latest blog post, Hillary gives an account of the impact of this in life in Uganda.
It’s break time at Jolly Mercy Learning Centre and a group of pupils has converged on the wire fence, all throwing grass and leaves at a rabbit in the fence. The small animal chews on some compound grass while keeping an eye on the playful kids. Soon the bell to end the break rings and as the kids run back to class, the rabbit too makes a hop and jump into its wooden cabin.
“We strongly believe that a good environment is a right for every child,” asserts Dr. James Kimera Ssekiwanuka, Director of CALM Africa. CALM Africa adopted the strategy of using food crops as a means of protecting the environment. This policy was generated out of the need to supply food to disadvantaged families and vulnerable members of community, while protecting the environment.
“We do give emergency food to these families. But in the long run, emergency food is not sustainable and therefore we needed to develop a food security mechanism,” explains James. Most of the families that CALM Africa cares for are poverty stricken families, which need constant assistance. “We decided to distribute planting materials for food crops like cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, maize, beans and banana stems. We also encourage backyard farming, where soil is put in sacks or buckets to grow fast maturing foods like vegetables,” explains James.
In order to get value from the gardens, CALM Africa works together with government agencies like National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) to provide improved seed varieties that mature faster, resistant to prolonged drought and produce more harvests. With most farming seasons reliant on nature, the farmers need update information on weather patterns to be able to plan on the farming phases.
“Field officers are in constant touch with the people, informing them of weather updates as announced by the government’s metrological centre,” James adds. In addition they are encouraged to farming programmes on the different radio stations so as to keep aware of better farming techniques.
With all these strategies, community members are still skeptical of using agriculture as a means to fight poverty and create a food security mechanism. “This is because returns from farming, and agriculture in general are realized in long term and not short term gains that most of our people are interested in,” James explains. “We therefore had to modify our policy and introduce fruit trees that mature fast”.
Fruit trees include mangoes, jack fruit, papaws and oranges. Hybrid varieties of these fruit trees mature fast, meaning in less than 2 years members are selling these fruits, while the crops provide food for the families. The modification phase also introduced mixed farming.
Apart from crops, animal and bird rearing was also introduced. “In animal keeping, we introduced rabbit rearing because rabbits are easy to look after and give birth quickly,” he explains. These rabbits produce between 4 to 8 kittens every month. “Each rabbit costs an average of thirty thousand Uganda shillings, so if you sell a hundred rabbits a year, you can easily raise three million; that’s fighting poverty,” beams James. “We have so far given out over 200 rabbits to the community and others to our pupils to rear at home,” he discloses.
In order to set an example, CALM Africa had to get involved in farming as well. “We have about 6 acres of land on which we do agriculture. We plant all these fruit trees, crops and rear the rabbits in the JMLC compound.” Even teachers are involved in farming. Most teachers are privileged to be allocated plots of land on which to do their individual farming. They sale the extra harvest to the school and to fellow teachers, earning an extra income. And pupils of JMLC, as part of the co-curricular activities do participate in the farming as well.
Most of the farming as of now is done using manual labor, but James is optimistic that “if we could get a small tractor to help in cultivating and have a permanent farmer manager to look after the farm especially during the holidays, our farm would be a model farming in providing food security to CALM Africa, emergence food to the vulnerable families and planting materials to the community”.