In Uganda’s Kiryandongo settlement, more than 65,000 refugees, primarily from South Sudan, have established temporary homes. Approximately 1.4 million refugees live in Uganda overall and about 85% of them are women and children.
As part of Uganda’s progressive refugee policy, each refugee is given a small plot of land, but many have not been able to use their land productively. Action Against Hunger’s Optimized Land Utilization Model (OLUM) project – supported by SIDA, the Swedish International Development Agency –provides training, tools, and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to support their families.
One of the most commonly grown and cooked vegetables is Sukuma wiki – collard greens in English. Translated literally from Swahili, Sukuma wiki means to “stretch the week”. As families deal with the COVID-19 lockdown, lost income, and reduced food rations, the nutritious crop is living up to its name, and Action Against Hunger’s training, tools, and seeds have helped to fill the gap.
Meet four refugees who are growing Sukuma wiki and other healthy vegetables and stretching their harvests to make sure their children have enough healthy, nutritious food to eat.
Special thanks to our team in Kiryandongo, who wrote and edited these stories: Nakimuli Jeanie, Deputy Program Manager; Akwang Winfred, Agronomist; and Adyek Kevin, Field Supervisor.
Poni George, 39, fled from South Sudan to Uganda several years ago and did not have many ways to provide for her children in her new country. Before 2018, she relied completely on food aid distributions – and what she received was never enough for her large family.
“I always wanted to plant a few vegetables to supplement my family’s diet, but I could not afford the seeds. I could only grow maize - I could easily get those seeds from my neighbors,” she recalls. Beyond seeds, Poni lacked farming tools, supplies and training on the techniques to grow crops.
Last year, Poni volunteered to be one of Action Against Hunger’s OLUM agents. She learned how to plant crops in multistage gardens, tins, and on ridges. She learned how to transplant the seedlings and to make organic fertilizers and manure, among other agricultural skills. Her crops have varied: Sukuma wiki, eggplant, onions, cabbages, passion fruit, and pawpaw trees, and her family has been enjoying the harvest.
“My life has changed a lot. I’m happier now that my children can easily access fruits,” says Poni. “I no longer have to buy onions, eggplants and Sukuma so I’m able to save money for other household expenses and for educating my children. My children are healthy, and they no longer frequently get sick as they used to.”
In her role as a volunteer, Poni shares what she learned with her neighbors, showing them how to plant and help their crops grow.
“I’ve learned that behavior of vulnerable people can be changed through OLUM because it’s simple - even the elderly can manage,” she says. “My neighbors are interested - one just took the pawpaw seeds to plant. Hopefully, they will grow like mine.”
Rebecca Buol Makech
Rebecca Buol Makech, 52, fled South Sudan in 2014 with her family. Shortly after they settled in Kiranydongo, her husband died, leaving Rebecca on her own caring for their 11 children.
Rebecca had never had a job and depended solely on support from humanitarian organizations. Since COVID-19 hit, support has been reduced due to movement restrictions, limited supplies, and funding issues.
“I have to find other ways of feeding my children,” says Rebecca. She began by learning skills through Action Against Hunger’s agriculture training program. She’s been able to grow crops like Sukuma wiki, passion fruit, pawpaw trees, onions, and sweet potatoes.
“I’m grateful to Action Against Hunger for the seeds that they distributed to us. I have planted many of them as you can see,” she says, pointing to her gardens. “The fruit trees we planted last year have all matured and my children enjoy eating them.”
Rebecca shared her knowledge with her neighbors and has helped many of them set up their own gardens.
Laker Lucy came to Kiryandongo in 2014 and learned how to cultivate mushrooms last year. Her business took off, and her success has inspired many of her neighbors.
When COVID-19 hit, the lockdown in Uganda affected her mushroom growing - she could not access the raw materials, particularly the mushroom spawn, needed for production. Lucy could no longer make enough money and needed to find other means to provide food for her large family, which includes both children and grandchildren who depend on her.
“Since the schools closed, all the children came back home and they eat a lot,” Lucy explains. “With such a big family, I needed to diversify to ensure that I could feed all of them.”
“From my mushroom savings, I bought a few vegetable seeds and, with the help from Action Against Hunger staff, we set up nursery beds of onions and Sukuma wiki. We have already started eating the Sukuma wiki and the onion leaves,” she says.
“My vegetables are doing so well. Together with my children, we set up more nursery beds,” says Lucy. “I hope to sell the surplus from my harvest and invest more in my mushroom production.”
Lucy hopes to expand her mushroom business as soon as she can access the supplies she needs to restart. In the meantime, she continues some small-scale production to maintain her customer base.
When Uganda’s lockdown went into place a few months ago, Lamwo Agnes faced the loss of her sole source of income.
“I used to make and sell snacks in schools but now that schools are closed, I no longer make them, so I no longer get money,” says Agnes, whose frustration is clear. “The food we get is not enough for us all.”
Agnes depends on food rations and crops she grows at home to feed her six children and four nieces and nephews. Much of her time is now focused on farming to make sure she has enough for her family.
“I received seeds from Action Against Hunger and I planted them. We have started harvesting some vegetables, especially the Sukuma wiki, which the children like so much. I also planted some pawpaw trees last year and we are enjoying the fruits now.” Her face brightens as she walks toward her orchard.
In her trainings, Agnes learned not only how to grow her crops, but how to make her harvest last. She has not had to buy onions at the market after her bountiful harvest last year – she still has some onions in storage.
“The market price for onions skyrocketed, and I’m glad I was trained on post-harvest handling. I managed to store lots of them for my family. Sometimes even my neighbors borrow from me. I have already transplanted more onions and tomatoes in my garden and I’m helping my neighbors as well,” she explains proudly.
“Because I no longer have any other source of income, I’m focusing on farming,” says Agnes. She rents land from her host community, and grows sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions, collard greens, peas, and maize alongside the existing pawpaw trees. “I am thankful to Action Against Hunger for the knowledge, seeds and other inputs I received.”