introducing GTUG – Google Technology User Group Kampala

27 03 2010

Now Google Apps Users and Developers have a chance to appreciate or critic the various google apps we interact with on the web today!
Apparently GTUGs has been active in many parts around the world but Kampala.

The over 15 or so google apps users and developers who have turned out for the first GTUG meeting in Kampala are sharing their experiences with Google Apps.

Very interesting!!

Thank you Google.

Next Meeting to take place – April 24th, 2010 – Kampala.

Also visit http://kampala.gtugs.org and http://gtugs.org

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I Reinvent Cooperative Farming and the Granary in Uganda

18 03 2010

“Food security is not just about a one meal.”

Cooperative farming is a system where farmers voluntarily come together,pool their resources in buying farm inputs,using resources (like land ,water, machinery) and market the produce and
divide the earnings.
Just like I said in: I report inadequate food access and availability in Uganda.
“Many regions in Uganda are practicing subsistence agriculture – mainly because the land is owned by private individuals in small plots; so, the
people choose what to do on their plots of land.”
Because family farms in Uganda are too small, not to mention issues like poverty – which makes modern farming equipment very expensive. Cooperative farming offers farmers a machinery pool, a marketing cooperative and a credit union.
Every thing that a local Ugandan farmer needs:

  • a platform to share farming skills and produce together as a team
  • the marketing cooperative ensures that farmers are not exploited against by the middle men.
  • the credit union makes it easy for farmers to acquire the loans they need to improve on their farms.

In Uganda, farming goes beyond just feeding one family. Agriculture is an “Economic Activity”. Even with subsistence farming being very common, farmers still hope to sell a small portion of their yields to generate some income. The problem comes when the yields are too small for the family. This where the poor farmer is stuck between “conflict of wants”:

  1. sell some of the small produce to provide other basic necessities (which in many cases results into food shortages). OR
  2. reserve all the farm yields for the family (which results into failure to provide other basic necessities)

A brief background of Cooperative Agriculture in Uganda
Cooperative farming exists Uganda – or at least it used to, but it didn’t turn out very well.
This is because:

  • at the time demand for food was not as high as it is today,
  • at the farmers didn’t see the need for modern farming equipment – no need for loans
  • farming on the family farms was subsistence – no need for agricultural markets or even machinery pool

Today, the agricultural sector is being modernized, demand for food is increasing day by day. It is about time we took farming to the NEXT Level – Cooperative farming.
This will help local farmers over come smallness. Production is done cooperatively providing a platform to share production land, machinery, skills and earnings.

THE GRANARY:

Scenario 1: “Our cooperative(s) has worked hard all season to produce corn or beans or whatever it is we have produced. Now, WHAT NEXT?”
A granary is a storehouse for threshed grain – helps to keep grain from rodents reach.
Granaries used to be common in many parts of East and Northern Uganda where grains like millet, corn (maize) are commonly grown.

A traditional granary is a round-shaped structure of about 8ft circumference, usually raised at least 3ft above the ground. It is constructed using local material such as mud and wattle and plastered
with a layer of cow dung to fill up holes and smoothen the finishing.

What happened to the Granary?

It all goes back to subsistence farming:

  1. Because the farmers are not cautious about the state of food access in Uganda, they gave up on the granaries.
  2. Increased levels of poverty – farmers want to sell off the surplus of their yields because thats the only way of earning to cater for other basic necessities (like school fee for the children and health care)
  3. farmers produce enough for their families – hence nothing to keep in the granaries.

Also READ: bosco-Uganda: The Granary and Granary – the Solution to Drought and Famine.

Of course the granary helps with seed security. Where there is NO seed security, food security cant be possible.

Increasing food access in the community and beyond:
I encourage farmers to start up cooperatives, we have explored some of the most important advantages (take advantage of economies of scale).
In my home village farmers are already coming up with such strategies – now the only thing to do is to help them make their cooperatives work – for social and economic benefit.

The Granary is very important. At least one granary per community. This will help check famine and rural poverty. But of course a community granary wouldn’t make much sense if the communities are not providing equal efforts towards food production. So, first I demand for equal commitment towards the cooperative society and once we have this spirit in place, we Reinvent Cooperative Farming and the Granary to increase and improve on farm yields while ensuring better storage measures for the seeds and yields.

READ COMMENTS ON MY URGENT EVOKE BLOGHERE





I report inadequate food access and availability in Uganda.

14 03 2010

Uganda’s economy widely depends on the agricultural sector. The biggest population of Ugandans benefits from Agriculture – both directly and indirectly.
Many regions in Uganda are practicing subsistence agriculture – mainly because the land is owned by private individuals in small plots; so, the people choose what to do on their plots of land.
Because families practice subsistence agriculture on small plots of land, their target is to produce enough to feed their families until the next harvest. In many cases they fall short of their target. Often yields are not enough to feed the family until the next harvest. This has greatly been attributed to the poor farming methods (many farmers have chosen to remain local – NO diversity in their farming methods), prolonged droughts, pests and diseases.
Under circumstances, the farmers are faced with situations where they have to sell part of their produce to cater for emerging needs – access health facilities, pay for school fees, rent, provide for their families, name it… In many cases they sell their produce at very low prices because the market is not readily available plus the middlemen exploit them because they are desperate to sell.

Threats to Food Security in Uganda:
Poor farming methods. Farmers are still practicing traditional farming methods which hamper their yields. Practices like cultivating up and down the slopes which lead to massive soil erosion, over cultivation not giving soil enough time to regain fertility among others. They grow local crops – which cannot survive under bad weather conditions and more prone to pests and diseases.

The LAND TENURE SYSTEM. Because the land is owned by individuals in small plots, every farmer aims at producing enough to feed their growing families. Farmers are producing on small scale because they are constrained by their plots. In many cases the plots are quarter an acre. The men also tend to have more control over the land as compared to the women – Gender and Land Issues. For example the man makes the final decision over what to use the land for. This limits on the productivity of the women interms of agriculture. Also the man has more control over the yields – in many cases they choose to sell/ trade part of the produce for “local beer”.

 

Pests and diseases. Poor selection of crops plus lack of preventative measure has also contributed greatly to the ever reducing yields in terms of quality and quantity. Many local farmers still grow local breeds which are less resistant to pests and diseases.


Lack of agriculture support and Market Support. The governement/ private sector has not worked out a strategic market and agriculture support plan for the farmers. Farmers are not knowledgeable about the available markets and market prices – hence they are exploited by the middle men. The work very hard season after season, year in year out to feed the nation but their efforts are not rewarded appropriately. The agriculture support programs by the government have not been effective – instead they have been failed by the high ranking official due to corruption, embezzlement and misuse of the funds (see one of the such cases here: Kanungu NAADS Officials Arrested).


The communities remain unaware of the food insecurity in the country. The ministry of Agriculture has not made enough efforts to sensitize the farmers about the inadeqaucy of food access and availability in the country. This has made the farmers more relactant in terms of production. The farmers are also unaware about the opportunities provided by large scale production.


Increasing population – triggering rural urban migration! The population of Uganda is growing at a very high rate. As the population grows, the competition for food and land increases. As a result the demand for agricultural products increases – the supply remains constant or increases by a very small margin making food very expensive. The energetic youth are swarming cities like (Kampala the capital of Uganda) and other towns leaving food production to the elderly. The elderly are less energetic, less flexible and less innovative.

 


Many people still believe that the agricultural sector is for the illiterates. This has made the agricultural sector less sounding over the years. The learned are looking for “white collar jobs” in big companies.


Innovative solutions

Many non-profits, the government and individuals are making efforts to ensure a future with guaranteed food security. Here I must mention the work done by the following:

 

Food and Agriculture Organisation Uganda – FAO’s Integrated Support to Sustainable Development and Food Security Programme (IP). The aim of the IP is to promote synergy through interdisciplinary collaboration and information-sharing across and in support of ongoing rural development programmes.

 

World Food Programme. WFP carries out a range of development activities that seek to address the underlying causes of food insecurity through two priority sectors: agriculture and market support, and food and nutrition security. Agriculture and market support to small-scale farmers and traders aims to leverage WFP’s local purchasing and is provided through the construction and rehabilitation of market infrastructure such as warehouses and community market access roads; training in post harvest handling; and the purchase of the farmers’ produce – mainly cereals and pulses.

 

National Agriculture Research Organisation.


Agricultural Research and Extension Network (ARENET). Agriculture Research Extension Network (ARENET) is dedicated to helping anyone involved in improving rural farming to readily access practical, technical and relevant agricultural information from various national and international sources.

St. Jude Family Project. St. Jude Family Project is a Community Based Organization (CBO) in Masaka, Uganda that began as a small organic farm on 3 acres owned by John and Josephine Kizza since the 1980s. Its purpose is to improve household income, crop yields, household food security and diet. St. Jude teaches the most vulnerable groups in the society ways of improving family subsistence farming and diet. The training techniques use locally available materials and the methods used are environmentally. “Personnaly I have been to this farm twice and I have always admired their work. This family project has been an inspiration to many farmers – today many farmers in smalls groups do exchange visits to this farm.” We need more of such WORKING examples.

Women of Uganda Network through Kubere Information Centre – (one of its projects).The KIC was established under the project “Enhancing Access to Agricultural Information using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)” whose primary target is rural women farmers in Apac District, with partner women groups in Gulu, Lira and Oyam Districts. This project is one of the activities under the Information Sharing and Networking Program area of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). The project is conducted with generous financial support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and from Hivos.

To achieve a self sustaining food secure future, the governments together with the private sector should work closely with the communities to provide a strategic agriculture and market plan. Listen to the farmers challenges and provide working solutions. Up to now the communities are not aware of the food insecurities they are facing. This is because there is NO DIRECT communication channel between the government and the food growers in the country.

Our country is blessed by nature in that the soils are fertile and the weather is condusive for agriculture. All we need is to sensitize the farmers, highlight the pontentials agriculture is promising and provide better farming skills.





Provide skills NOT just finished technologies.

3 03 2010

Most of the current problems in Africa are being solve by the few “experts”. On top of being expensive, it takes them a bit of time to do the necessary research and studies before they come to a conclusion. In my opinion, it would be a lot easy if the local people are given the skills to investigate solutions to the problems affecting them. This makes them feel more involved hence taking up the obligation to find solutions to their own problems and “make it happen”/ innovate. Its the same with the technologies. Once people get the technologies, they don’t feel the urge to work hard or improve on the current technologies or even look for cheaper solutions. But when the solution to a problems affecting a wider community comes as a result of skill the locals have earned. They get more involved in applying the required skills – more innovative too!! Give skills not technology.





Lake Katwe – The Salt “Gardens” in Uganda!

2 03 2010

On a small lake – Lake Katwe located in Western Uganda, Kasese district-located in the East African rift valley region. The water in this lake is 60% salty. The region is semi-arid and the soil doesn’t favour agricultural activities. Therefore the major economic activity here is salt mining.

Salt has been extracted from this lake since the 13th Century. It’s mined from small plot. When I saw the plots I got surprised. They are not the common plots of land like the ones you will find in central, Eastern or other parts of Western Uganda. These “plots” are ponds 10 by 12 feet or so wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. They are demarcated on the shores of the lake, owned by private individuals or families and inherited. Mining in the center of the lake is only done by licensed individuals. The association for Rock Salt Extraction issues the licenses for extraction of rock salt from the middle of the lake. This type of arrangement was made to ensure that the salt is extracted in an orderly process without causing extinction.

"Plots" on  the shores of lake Katwe

"Plots" on the shores of lake Katwe

There are three major types of salt mined from this lake:

  1. Crude salt for animal leak
  2. Edible salt (sodium chloride)
  3. Unwashed salt

Two types of activities take place in this region and the roles are specified for the women and men.

  • Salt winning (winning salt from the plots – done by the women).
  • Rock salt extraction is done by the men – 3 days a week.

The women scrap the bottom of the garden to scoop the salt. They use their feet to crash the salt to form small/fine crystals and then wash the crystals forming edible salt (washed salt/ sodium chloride).

Some of the ladies who work in the salt mines.

“In this village mention rain and people will curse you to death! We don’t like rain at all. Last night it rained that’s why people are all relaxed now and not working. Our major source of power is the sun. When it rains the gardens flood and the salt takes longer to form. The sun on the other hand makes the process of salt formation faster”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Health implications:

The smell of hydrogen sulphide is all over the place (smells like rotten eggs).

There are health complications in this job however. For the women when the female reproductive organs get in contact with this salty water more often, they develop uterus complications.

On average one man extructs up to 1,000kgs of salt per day and he earns Ugx3,000 (USD1.50). On the side of the path are the plots (ponds) where the salt is mined.

The men on the other hand are also affected. When the male organs get in contact with this salty water, they itch. This makes them scratch their male organs causing wounds.

The men enter the water at 8am and work up to 5pm. They work for three days a week and each man extracts more than 1000kgs per day.

“We are lucky that in this village we have never had any health complications caused by lack of iodine in the body say goiter”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Solutions?

“At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution to these problems. However we have tried to improvise temporally solutions to both the male and female problems in regard to the health implications”, says Nicholas a tour guide. “The

Stacks of unwashed salt

women have been advised to use pad before they enter the water. This helps to reduce on the amount of “salt water” entering their reproductive organs.”

“For the men, we are using the wrong tool (condom)”. We call it the wrong tool because it’s meant for a totally different purpose. But under the circumstances we have nothing to do about it. The men fit the condom with a rubber-band on the upper end to make it firm” explains Nicholas. This prevents salt water from getting in contact with the male organs.

Apparently a company called International Power Foundation is designing a more permanent solution for them in form of “protective suites”.

I took the liberty of talking to a few locals both men and women. When I asked about the major problems in this area they said that they still have problems accessing medical care. Malaria remains a very big threat to both the adult and children. They have a small health centre which they feel is not

plots - locally known as "ebibanja"

enough. The nearest governmental hospital (Kagando Hospital) is 14 kilometers away and in case of an emergency transport to the hospital is a big challenge. Kilembe hospital (another big hospital) is located 30 or so kilometers away.

The environment is dirty, plus the luck of pit latrines, cholera outbreaks are also very common around the lake/ mines.

The total population in this area is over 20,000 people of whom 10,000 benefit directly or work on the 4,000 plots around the lake in this salt mine.