NAMALERA, KARAMOJA -- The temperatures sizzled as our car sped through the dusty plains of Uganda’s semi-arid Karamoja region. For nearly 80 kilometres we swept past shrubs, lifeless trees, dry crops and lonely untilled terrain.
We reached Namalera at about 3 p.m. to find the villagers waiting, unfazed by the weather, for WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu. They had been told someone senior at WFP was coming to inaugurate their cassava seed multiplication project. And so, they rehearsed and – some of them – cleaned up. Under a shaky tarpaulin cover, they prepared to stage welcome songs, dances and a pupils’ play about “World Food”.
Uganda’s poorest region, Karamoja is prone to droughts, partly as a result of climate change. A destructive mix of natural disasters, violence, severe environmental degradation, poor infrastructure and weak agriculture has left the 1.2 million people living here vulnerable to hunger. Over 80 percent of them live below the poverty line.
Beyond food assistance
With each hunger crisis, WFP has been there – providing school meals, trading food for work on community projects and, more recently, offering health and nutrition programmes for mothers and children. But life remains difficult.
Now, WFP is launching a new cassava cuttings programme that may improve the fortunes of Karamoja’s residents. The programme, implemented in close collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization, reflects WFP’s shift from distributing food to also looking for more long-term ways to address hunger.
“WFP is not planning to do away with food aid,” Sisulu said. “However, we will also help the people of Karamoja invest in projects that can increase production, protect the environment, help with water harvesting and contribute to enhanced and varied means to earn incomes.”
Sharing with others
The programme targets nearly 16,000 residents, who will receive food and cash as incentives for cultivating cassava cuttings in community gardens. A drought-resistant, high-yielding plant, cassava can contribute immensely to a family’s ‘food security’. The project’s participants will share the windfalls from their harvests.
As Sisulu planted the first cuttings, Betty Akol, a mother of four and guardian to up to 16 relatives, said: “We are excited. We will be able to sell cassava and earn some money, and we can replant it and share the cuttings with others.
“This year has been dry, but we shall wait,” Akol added. “Whatever time the rain comes, we will plant.”