In their shoes: Four small-scale women farmers from Nebbi, Uganda share their climate change challenges with Anne Kansiime.

This November, off my stage performances, I had an opportunity of meeting some smallscale women farmers who are supported by Oxfam and partners in Nebbi District. It was so different from my day to day routine as it gave me a whole new perspective on the efforts and struggles these women go through to feed their families and earn a living. I’m glad I had an opportunity to interact and make them laugh through their daily routine. I was honored to spend some time with them and to experience their day to day activities while chatting and understanding more about them and how Oxfam has been empowering them to be resilient to be able to earn a living. I wish to call this my day in their shoes.

My involvement with the women farmers was part of the women food climate campaign by Oxfam,  (www.facebook.com/oxfaminuganda) and partners but the experience was far more enriching and inspiring for me personally. Each woman I met shared a unique story of struggle, strengths and resilience to survive. Spending time with them, I picked life long lessons from each of their stories.

They each had a story that I feel must be told for all of us to appreciate what our mothers, women go through to produce the food we eat.

From the interaction with them, I got to learn that the biggest portion of the workload including clearing the land, planting, weeding and harvesting lies on the shoulders of these women. Reason statistics show that approximately 80% of our food in Uganda is produced not by the big farmers but by women farming at a small scale. One thing for sure, is that regardless of where these women come from, they all face one similar challenge in their daily work at farm – unpredictable weather and unreliable rain patterns.

The heavy rain that we have all witnessed fill up our Kampala roads, for them it is their farms that get flooded while on other months, it is the scotching sun that is drying up the crops. Unlike you and I who use sunny days as an opportunity to go to the beaches and cool off, these women get sleepless nights worrying about the crops they have planted.

But despite all this, these women have learned how to cope and ensure that their families have some food on their table. This is however not the same for every woman as some do not have the knowledge, skills, resources or information needed to adopt and cope.

From my visit in Nebbi, I share my experience of meeting Florence, Anna Masendi, Anna Uromcamu and Norah

Meet Florence Oweci: “The last year in 2014 I got very good harvests, I produced 1 tonne of coffee and sold it at 1million Uganda Shillings and I harvested beans twice and sold each harvest at 300,000UGX. This was after I applied the knowledge on soil management I received from Send A cow and Oxfam. I was so happy and because of this, I put in more money this year to plant more because I had big plans for the money I would get out but I almost did not harvest anything because of too much sunshine. I even lost the money I put in. Now I am worried because this season has come with too much rainfall!”

To be in Florence Oweci’ s shoes requires a lot of effort and resilience. I do not know how I would pull through to afford a smile again. Florence is a 45 year old mother of 8 from Nyekakura village. She grows coffee, maize and beans.

Meet Anna and her husband Francis, farmers who grow coffee and bananas: They have a cow which they received from Send A cow, an Oxfam local partner. From this they get milk for their domestic use as well as for sale which earns them about 90,000UGX a month. Their greatest reward from the cow according to Anna is the manure they use to enrich their gardens.

Meet 42 year old Anna and her husband Masendi Francis . Theirs is a story of love, resilience trust and cooperation. This is not typical in their village, reason people laugh at them for having only 5 children, a reproductive decision they made together to ensure they take good care of their children. They have acrhieved great milestones but their story is however not short of challenges and struggles.

They were also blessed to sell one of their cows off springs which fetched them 900, 000UGX, approximately 257USD to enable them purchase more land together where they plan to construct a permanent house and expand their farming. I was particulary impressed by the income the couple gets from their small-scale farming. They earn 10,000UGX daily from their bananas and they earn 300,000UGX from their coffee for each season.

However the couple is quick to dim my excitement as Francis slowly explains that; “We are no longer assured of earning that income, we always had two coffee seasons but in the past we have relied on only one because of the drought, and now with these extremely heavy rains, we are not sure any more.”

Anna adds “The area is hilly here so when the rains come, they wash away everything unless you have applied contours like we did but these are hard to make if you do not have skills and the right tools to make them so sometimes they are not well made and some people do not have them. The milk we also get reduces during the extremely hot days.”

Anna and her husband have a great inspiring story for a village where earning such incomes is rare for many but their story could turn around if their efforts in trying to cope with the changing climate is not supported – more work like information access, agriculture input needs to be done to support this family and many others from the effects of climate change.

Meet Anna Uromcamu: Indeed you count Anna’s blessings when she starts telling you how far her other children have gone in education and employment.   This is thanks to Agriculture and the tireless effort she puts in

I think they named me after this woman because her humour and strength spoke to me. Anna is 64 year old retired teacher. Anna has 6 children of her own but takes care of five more Anna has always been a farmer alongside her primary teaching job. Like most of our Ugandan teachers, Anna says “ If I had to rely on my income as a primary school teacher, I would never have pushed my children to higher levels of education especially since I am a widow. Farming has made this possible and right now my last born is at university.

“In the past, I would harvest 20bags of ground nuts earning me 100,000 Uganda Shillings, per bag. I would also grow beans twice a year. This is all after getting the training from Oxfam through their partner Send A Cow

First I was getting 30bags of beans per year but because of weather changes which greatly affected the soil fertility, the yields are low and now I get between 8 – 10 bags a year. Some seasons are too dry and others with too much rainfall for example I planted beans in March but had drought from April to August hence poor yields. Now I have planted beans and ground nuts but the rains are now too heavy. “ Anna

Walking through Anna’s compound, you can tell that she has put her lessons on afforestation in practice. Her compound boasts of different types of tress including various fruits from which she extracts juice, like the one she offered me.

“I have a lot of trees in my home which help as wind breakers because with such heavy rains, the house too could be swept away without such trees. I have also planted pine trees. Each time I cut a tree, I make it a point to replace it but this is because I was taught on the value of this otherwise when you need income, and farming is not as promising, you end up into tree cutting for charcoal like most people do here.”

Anna and other women surely need more training on issues like soil management, tree planting, information on weather and more to increase their harvests and incomes so that they do not look at tree cutting for charcoal burning as an alternative source of income.

Meet Norah Atimango: Her major source of income is coffee. She started with only 13 trees of coffee – because of the training she received from Oxfam partners on managing the soil and her crops, applying manure and introducing contours, she is able to earn 100,000Uganda shillings per season from just 13 trees. The money she earned helped her plant more coffee on a bigger piece of land she has but also cater for her children’s needs since she is a widow.

As acting is to me so is farming to 52 year old Norah Atimango from Nguthe village “The life I know is of farming. I knew the seasons so well, when to plant what and harvest but now I cannot say that I understand it anymore. When we planted expecting the rains, there was drought, we lost our crops and now the rain is too much.” 

“It really does not matter how big your garden is, what matters is how well you know how to manage it. Some people have big coffee farms but cannot harvest what I get out of just 13 coffee trees. Most of the people have small gardens, if only they knew how to manage them especially with these changing seasons then they would earn something.”

What we need is more training, information on weather and agriculture inputs to ensure we can still farm. If I cannot grow food, then I am like you if you stopped being funny.”

I hope you are inspired by these stories as much as I am and that you will act on climate by beeping/flashing +256 702100009 or signing a petition on womenfoodclimate.org 

Anne Kansiime, is a Ugandan entertainer, commedian, and actress based in Kampala, Uganda.