“Many people see farmers as failures. They think farmers didn’t go to school and that’s all they can do. But I think that farming is a business, a business that provides for your home and educates your children. Farmers can educate their children just as well as someone who works for the government.”
Mercy Ssikedi is passionate about farming and passionate about business. An entrepreneur from the Mubende district of Uganda, she is one of a growing band of women changing the face of agriculture in the country, while helping farmers become more resilient to the worst impacts of climate change.
Mercy is one of thousands who have been trained at farmer field schools funded by the EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+ in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). As part of the €11 million programme, more than 300 field schools, attended by more than 4000 farmers, were held throughout Uganda’s central ‘cattle corridor’ which runs roughly south-west to north-east across the country. The corridor is highly vulnerable to climate change, suffering frequent floods, prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainfall.
“Many farmers don’t benefit from farming because they don’t think of it as a business. They should have a passion for farming,” says Mercy, who is a successful pig breeder in addition to her other farming activities. “I started off as a tenant but now I own my own land. Who am I, a mere farmer, to own land with a title?” she jokes.
Mercy even managed to convince her husband to join the farmer field school. “During the training I realised I had to work together with my husband to farm correctly. Farming needs the family to work together as a team. If you don’t cooperate you will not be successful.” Now Mercy and her husband have separate bank accounts. “When my wife gets money she puts it into her own own bank account, and I also have a bank account,” he notes. “We have two children at university, and we each contribute half the school fees.”
Proscovia Nakibuye from Nakaseke district was another of the women farmers to undertake training through the field schools. “The best thing is that actually we have got some benefits from climate change. We have learned how to plant pastures, and we have been taught good livestock management. We have managed to save some money because of an increase in milk production, and we have invested it in cattle with higher yields. Now it’s different, we earn more money.”
Now in its second phase, the GCCA+ programme in Uganda is focusing on enabling rural households to become more resilient to climate change and reducing food insecurity. Among the planned projects are building six giant tanks to provide water for 12,000 cattle as well as 300 small scale irrigation schemes benefiting around 25,000 people.
Farmers are encouraged to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change by diversifying into different crops and income-generating activities. Betty Ndugga is an entrepreneur and coffee seedling farmer who is helping Uganda’s coffee industry get back on its feet after disease destroyed more than 12 million plants. Betty used to work in the capital, Kampala, but after her husband died, she decided to go back to her roots - literally. She returned to her village in Luwero district and joined a local farmer field school where she was trained in coffee production.
Now a successful coffee nursery owner, Betty’s business has expanded rapidly. She employs women from the local community - many of them widows like herself - to raise thousands of disease-resistant which she then sells to local farmers. She also sells them through the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, which in turn trains farmers in good production practices.
“This land belonged to my parents who died,” says Betty, proudly surveying the seedling nursery which stretches almost as far as the eye can see. “After I learned how to raise the coffee seedlings I started to operate this nursery as a business enterprise. I wanted to be able to look after my family because I am a widow.”
Other women have diversified into mushroom, honey, banana, poultry and other new ventures aimed at generating additional income. One Betty’s customers is Zaam Namutaane, a woman coffee farmer who has just bought 250 coffee seedlings. “They will start to produce a yield after about two years,” she says. “Then I will add to my income, and I’ll be able to look after my family’s basic needs. In the future, I think, life will be good.”
It will witness the establishment of six valley tanks that will cater for about 12,000 livestock, distribution of 5,000 energy saving cook stoves, and installation of 300 small scale irrigation schemes benefiting 25,000 people in the nine beneficiary districts, among many other climate change adaptation interventions.