Promising Beginnings for BASIS in Uganda

by tuftsigl
Jul 03

Jed, an EMPOWER Fellow and English major, is a recent graduate of Tufts University.

 

Part 1:

I’ve been back in Uganda for about 12 days now, although I can’t tell if it feels like I’ve been here for a year or only just gotten off the plane. Last Friday, Donnas and I arrived in Lira and on Saturday, our Board of Directors convened for our second meeting. We were all encouraged by the progress we’ve made so far, raising nearly $15,000 for the BASIS project and our organizational needs this year, but we were sobered by the challenges we still face turning RREADI from an idea for a project into an efficient, accountable, and professional organization. I think the toughest period for any organization, business, or group of people is the start-up phase and if we can survive this baptism by fire and learn by doing, I think we are on track to become the organization that we first dreamed of being.

 

The next day, Donnas and I traveled to Barongin where we held a community meeting where we gave the members who attended some updates on the work we’d be doing with the savings groups and produce marketing as part of the BASIS project. My Leb Lango was a little bit too rusty to pick exactly what people said, but people were extremely excited for the next few months and more importantly, they asked us questions and discussed amongst each other about the benefits and risks of different marketing strategies. One man, known in the villages as Mzee Amor Amor, even donated about half an acre of land for us to construct the produce bulking center that we proposed as part of the project. It was extremely reassuring to see the community eager to contribute in thought and in kind

 

Emmanuel, our project volunteer, and I have been living together in the office and have spent the week training various savings groups across the village and also trying to ensure that promoting commercial marketing as part of our project will benefit and not harm food security. Although most households in the village are usually able to grow enough food to last throughout the year, the weather has been bad this season and some households are facing food shortages during this lean season. So far, we still believe that the gains from selling to better markets will give families enough of a buffer to overcome any shortage, but we need to complete our due diligence on this matter before proceeding.

 

In the next few weeks, we also hope to conduct a quantitative baseline survey so we can track not only the effects of our trainings on savings groups, but see how members increase their investment in agriculture and other enterprises, access more health care, and support their children’s education. I think RREADI is one of very few organizations to implement a Village Savings & Loans project directly linked to collective produce marketing and if this project succeeds, it can prove a useful innovation far beyond Barongin.

 

Part 2:

Big things have been happening in Barongin lately. Although we had to overcome some tricky obstacles, we are now on track with our programs (and perhaps in an even better position than we were earlier).

 

First off, most of the 16 savings and loan groups we have been working with have completed the first portion of trainings on savings and loan practices and have moved on to financial literacy and business trainings. Once groups have mastered the technical aspects of operating savings and loans, we hope to enable their members to maximize the benefits of the loans they take, either to balance household needs or start/expand an income generating activity. These trainings cover an overview of basic financial terms, household budgeting, identifying a business opportunity, and creating a business plan. We hope that these trainings will improve the management of existing resource and generate enterprises that bring growth to the village.

 

Additionally, groups have begun receiving savings kits, for which they contribute 40% of the costs. These kits include a box with three padlocks for storing money, a detailed ledger for keeping track of savings and loans, passbooks for each member, a calculator, and other stationery. Groups have been eager to contribute towards these and recognize them as an investment that will stimulating their savings and lending activities.

 

We also distributed over 1 ton (that’s metric, by the way) of Gadam sorghum seed to 90 farmers from Barongin and neighboring parishes and have ordered another 1.5 tons. Unfortunately, we had to sever our ties with our original partner on this project, Foundation for Community Relief and Development, because of issues with communication and reliability. Thankfully, we were able to quickly secure another partnership with Acan Buku Ipur Kweri Growers Cooperative Society in neighboring Oyam distict. They have agreed to supply seed at a lower price than FCRD and also buy at a higher price. We are extremely grateful for their swift action with such abrupt notice. They also have agreed to support the development of a cooperative society in Barongin in the coming seasons, so we expect they will be a valuable partner going forward. The National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS) has also pledged two extension workers to assist and monitor the farmers as they adapt to this new variety.

 

We are aware that Gadam is a genetically modified variety of sorghum. While many people disapprove of GMOs (and we are skeptical as well), we feel justified in linking farmers to this variety because there are no known harmful environmental effects from Gadam and it was developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, not a troublesome multinational such as Monsanto. Moreover, it is the variety that farmers have expressed the most interest in and will be the most effective in improving their livelihoods. Even if one believes that GMOs should be eradicated, our belief is that farmers should not be shepherded away from them by NGOs but should be able to weigh the costs and externalities of GMOs and decide for themselves. If you disagree, we encourage you to post a comment.

 

In other news, people should know that Parliament just passed a bill that essentially outlaws public assembly without police approval and authorizes police to use force in dispersing them. Although we usually hold our tongue when it comes to national politics, we believe that our readers from abroad should be aware of this.

 

All for now,

J

 

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