Tag Archives: development

Sourcebook Writeshop: Good articles come at a cost

Mobilising participants for the Uganda national writeshop on the sourcebook on Water Smart Agriculture was one of the most challenging experiences. I imagined disorder and confusion in the meeting room as accomplished authors, field level implementers and journalists interacted. I worried about the participants’ perception of added value from the process. Perhaps more terrifying, was the fact that facilitation fees for participants was a paltry sum for five working days! Would they stick it out or would they walk out on the process?Sourcebook

My fears soon dissipated as positive feedback trickled in from the participants who were enthusiastic to be a part of this noble cause. Even the intermittent wifi connectivity and humble hotel in Iganga, in eastern Uganda, did not dampen the mood.

Sixteen of the anticipated 18 participants turned up! On the first day, facilitators explained the purpose and process of the writeshop. Within two hours, everyone was on board and the ball had been set rolling, thanks to my colleague, Liz, for whom engaging people flows naturally. Dr. Onesmus Semalulu started the team off with the first presentation and for 10 minutes, you could have tried, unsuccessfully, to distract anyone. Everyone was attentive and focused on the presentation. The discussions thereafter were a storm! The rich diversity of perspectives was motivating, the openness of every one encouraging and, most importantly, the positive outlook of the writers to improve their pieces was not only humbling, but also rewarding. While I convinced myself that this was so because of day one, I was deceived, the team maintained their energy levels throughout; by the end of the second day we were begging them to break off for tea or food and this went on until the last day. Never before had I worked with a team so dedicated. It was a huge learning experience for me.

The power of the ‘second eye’ was so strong and well meaning. Each one of us will remember this lesson. Articles were transformed, field level experiences profiled to a level that anyone can relate with, scholarly work balanced and toned downSourcebook1 for the public’s consumption and finally the prize achieved, nine articles produced by the Uganda team. All said and done, each one of us went home different, with broadened perspectives, new friends and definitely better writing skills.
Some participants shared their thoughts on the process.

Eriah Byaruhanga, a staff from Joint Efforts to Save the Environment, said, “I’m impressed with the level of organisation and planning. I have learnt that organisations can produce better products using the writeshop approach. I will encourage my colleagues at office to adopt the approach when writing annual reports.”
Dr. Basil Mugonola, a lecturer at Gulu University noted, “This is a great opportunity for me; my paper was previously produced in a journal in Europe, now it is being repackaged for home consumption. I’m glad to have been part of this process.”

Juliet Katusiime, from Ecological Christian Organisation said, “It is very difficult to self critic; it is easier to see mistakes in other people’s work. This process has enabled me appreciate the importance of the ‘other eye’, I’m more analytical and it has been an experience worth the time.”

Henry Kaweesi said: “Good articles come at a cost; the other eye has been the most important lesson for me.”

Violet Alinda,
GWI EA, Uganda

Informal Film Screenings

As a journalist and filmmaker you don’t often get the opportunity to revisit the people and the communities where you have worked to share the content they have contributed to with them in person.

UGD00384For many communities, this is less of an issue as contributors are usually able to access the content  you have created via a newspaper, on TV or  over the internet. However, for poor, remote, rural communities, access to these media outlets is often non-existent, so the only way for them to see the content they have contributed too is to screen it for them yourself.

This month, I had the opportunity to return to Otuke in Northen Uganda to film an update with the rural subsistence farming communities there. The idea behind this return trip was to try to find out how the project that the Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWIEA) is leading has impacted on peoples’ lives, to find out what had changed and learn more about how the challenges that the community is facing are being addressed, particularly as they try to adapt to rainfall variability and the changing climate.

Otuke is a 7 hour drive north from the Ugandan capital Kampala. Otuke district lies on a flat plain, about an hour west of the main town in the region Lira. The villages where GWI EA is working are only accessible on foot or in a 4×4 vehicle. The un-metalled roads are rough and often flooded  and muddy after a rain storm or bone dry and rutted, baked by the hot African sun. There is no internet or TV here.

I traveled up with my colleague William Odinga from the Uganda Science Journalists Association and in a break in the shoot schedule, we took the chance to pull out William’s UGD00379laptop to set up informal screenings for the Champion Farmers. We were able to screen the film Harvesting Our Futures to Lilly Obua, Sophie Acen and to Charles Dickens Emol, all of whom had featured in the piece we made last year.  I was delighted by their reaction and it was a joy to be able to show them just how much their contributions to the films that we have made have helped others understand the issues that their community faces.

Media outputs are a crucial component for many development agency projects, but most often these films are made only to connect with international donors or with  development agency workshop groups. Using the media to connect directly with the communities whose lives agencies are hoping to change is a logical extension to the work that we as producers do and as access to the internet improves, delivering educational and information media content direct to these communities is becoming much more feasible. But for Lilly, Sophie and Charles, living out in the bush, the only answer was to set up these informal screenings in person.


Andrew Johnstone, Producer/Director, Wild Dog Limited

Talking Stockholm: Taking stock of cooperation and partnerships

GWI EA, a five-year program of action research, advocacy and policy influencing that focuses on investments in water for smallholder agriculture attended World Water Week in Sweden 1-6th September, the focus of which was on water cooperation  and “ building partnerships”.

2013 World Water Week: Opening Plenary_46
Dr. Peter Morgan, 2013 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.

Our Program Director and Uganda and Tanzania Policy and Advocacy Managers used the occasion to contribute to sessions, strengthen networks and increase awareness on the GWI EA achievements to date. We also wanted to get a stronger sense of how cooperation and partnership building could address the “wicked” problem(s) of investing in water

management for smallholder farmers in East Africa, and how different levels of partnership building could contribute significantly to this task. Team members attended a variety of sessions and presented at the event.


Some of the key take-homes and reflections include:

  1. Competing demands on water in many parts of the world mean that there is no taking for granted agricultural use “ hence there is need for a far more robust business case for investing in water for small-holder agriculture. This should include demonstrating increases in income, improved food security and time savings, including a far stronger understanding of private sector engagement to help mitigate risk and optimize supply/investment. We will work on the latter process of engagement, in particular, given the huge significance of private sector operators in determining market behaviour in our three focus countries Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.
  2. At least 10% of agricultural budgets should be spent on water for smallholder agriculture over the next 5-year period.  This aligns with the Maputo Declaration implemented by CAADP and is also (apparently) what is being discussed within the UN under the development of sustainable development goals. This provides an entry point for those keen to influence (as GWI EA is) inter-sectoral budget allocations. One investment challenge, is how to establish funds that can support water investments in smallholder agriculture “ at all levels“ and in particular focusing on technologies and practices that put more emphasis on harvesting “green” water.
  3. Promoting the use of natural capital “water infrastructure” is high on the current global policy agenda – unsurprisingly given that 70% of current water withdrawals are being used in agriculture, and this figure is likely to rise in coming years. Water use efficiency was one area of emphasis, particularly in the wider context of water management within “landscapes” (land and ecosystems). This strong message throughout the week built on an understanding of “natural capital” as a key asset to harness, including improving “green water” availability and use through enhancing soil moisture and establishing more robust and resilient soil systems. Conservation agriculture is one “smart” way of achieving this, using water for agriculture as part of wider farmer management of natural regeneration (FMNR).
  4. Returns on investment in conservation agriculture can be high because labour needs are reduced by 30%, as well as other inputs. There is a need to build a case for productivity per unit area under Conservation Agriculture (CA), and to nurture more private sector-led engagement in this area. This is an area GWI EA could lead on, providing examples of what can be done, how much it costs, and the kinds of mechanisms required to scale up.
  5. The week also allowed showcasing of new initiatives. USAID and SIDA launched the Grand Food Security Challenge, a venture capital fund to support implementation of promising innovations. This is an important initiative, and, we hope, will include support to innovations in learning. Innovation in funding is required globally as well as locally to respond to the need for investments in water for agriculture that are appropriate at different scales, affordable and sustainable.
  6. Strengthening Stockholm?: The World Water Week is an important global gathering.  The technical “meat” of the event is strong, but linkage to political engagement  and commitment  remains weak, apart from the “Stockholm Statement” that comes out on Friday (see here). From a GWI EA perspective, this makes participation less effective than it could be, so in future we will seek more targeted and political engagement in the process. This will include specific efforts to leverage greater global focus on levels of investment in water for smallholder agriculture, including building partnerships around the messaging of our Regional Charter on Investing in Water for Smallholder Agriculture. Our planning for Stockholm 2014 has already begun!

Violet Alinda, Lopa Dosteus and Alan Nicol

Valuing Women in Rural Agriculture

Recognizing the Role of Women Smallholder Farmers to Achieve Food Security and Development in Eastern Africa

If agriculture is the economic spine of East Africa, then smallholder farmers are its individual vertebrae. They undertake most land utilization and food production and, in a country like Ethiopia, where agriculture accounts for 43 percent of GDP and 80 percent of export earnings, produce nearly all the cereals, pulses and oilseed crops. Similarly in Tanzania and Uganda smallholder farming accounts for about 75 percent of agricultural production and over 75 percent of employment.  Smallholders are, in short, critical to food security at all levels.

The fact that many smallholders are women is often overlooked, and wrongly so.

Women constitute at least half the agriculture labor force and perform vital productive roles. Yet even when tenure rights are legally confirmed, traditional social norms restrict access to land and water resources and modern extension services may not reach them due to a lack of recognition and effort on the part of agricultural extension workers and the sector as a whole. Their mountain of challenges also includes lack of access to credit (linked to the lack of tenure rights hindering their capacity to borrow from banks) and, where micro-finance institutions do try and target women, these institutions may have higher transaction costs and therefore charge higher interest rates, making loans for women more unaffordable.  Their access to markets is also frequently restricted by limited mobility and lack of market information and as a result they may sell raw products to more local retailers and receive limited income as a result.

The situation of women farmers in GWI program site, Dera district in South Gonder Ethiopia, is a case in point. Most female headed households in Dera belong to a vulnerable group of farmers having the smallest landholding size, an average of less than one hectare of land. Social norms restrict women from tiling land and female headed households are forced to enter into share cropping arrangements, asking male relatives to till the land for them, in return for sharing half ofETH088 the crops produced on their small plots.

Similar to women elsewhere, women farmers in Dera have limited access to extension services. Most of them don’t visit farmers training centers, either due to workload or because there is a general perception that training on farming techniques is a man’s thing. Female headed households have the lowest rate of uptake of agriculture water management technologies. In Dera, only 8.7% use hand dug wells and 0.74% motorized pumps for irrigation, compared to male headed households, 30.8% and 3.1%, respectively. Most of the women farmers are not members of the most common farmers’ organizations, multi-purpose cooperatives, and do not attend farmers meetings. As a result, they miss vital farming related information communicated to farmers through the cooperatives. Women farmers in Dera are often hard pressed for money to buy inputs, such as, fertilizers and improved seeds. When they face hazards, such as their crops being attacked by pests, they feel helpless, with little clue of about what actions to take and where to get services. They struggle to make a meager earning selling what little they produce, among all these hardships, in the local market, often in smaller quantities. Bigger markets are usually out of reach for them.

This cycle of low productivity traps them in a low input-output model of farming, limiting their future income potential and creating missed opportunities to improve the welfare of their households and surrounding communities. It is an established fact that income earned by women is usually spent on household consumption items, including food and the health and education needs of children. Their success in farming, therefore, can generate positive spinoffs across the economy through contributing to a more productive and skilled labor force that can drive forward economic growth.

What can be done?

Change should begin with the recognition of women as productive farmers by governments and donors alike.

Governments need to take the necessary measures to ensure women’s land tenure rights are recognized legally and de facto where this persists to be a problem. They should also increase gender sensitivity within agricultural extension services, including identifying and promoting technologies that are more suitable for women, especially around the development of more effective management and use of water in agriculture. This should combine with a focus on crops traditionally cultivated by women  or crops over which they have more access and control using models of extension support that allow women to combine farming with other unpaid care work responsibilities. It will also be important for governments to invest in labor saving technologies that help to reduce the demands of reproductive work on women’s time.

The Global Water Initiative  East Africa recognizes these challenges and aims to support women farmers through evidence-based advocacy at different levels. Our core concern is to achieve greater political commitment to investment in water for agriculture in Ethiopia as well as Tanzania and Uganda. Our strategy to make this change happen is through building a body of evidence with key partners under Learning and Practice Alliances (LPAs) in which women smallholder farmers can articulate their concerns and aspirations and bring their voices into institutions and fora responsible for investing in water for agriculture. We envisage the progressive development of smallholder capacity, particularly of women,  to engage with decision makers, to raise their concerns and demand that decision making reflects their needs and priorities in the efficient utilization of water for agriculture.

Bethel Terefe

Program Policy Advisor, Ethiopia

A Quick Climb to the Top

I am used to programs where things build up slowly, steadily, and sometimes laboriously to a climax. But attending a recent Global Water Initiative Regional Advocacy meeting in August, a much more nimble dynamic seemed to be afoot. A group of about 50 (?) participants from national- and intermediate-levels of government in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, research institutions, the media and NGOs came together in Morogoro, Tanzania to discuss the grave need for enhanced financial investments and political commitment to water for smallholder agriculture in East Africa. In a mere day and a half of meetings and with revisions to the draft text rather bravely facilitated in a plenary discussion, these individuals had penned their names, and thus affixed their commitments, to a joint charter urging for governments and other concerned stakeholders to take action.

Let me put things in context. This was the first time this particular group of people had come together. The meeting organizers had merely hoped for consensus around a draft charter text; it was participants that wanted to sign a finalized charter before leaving. An official from Uganda even requested that the word “government” be added in a certain place to leave no ambiguity as to who needed to take action.

Having been involved from the NGO side with projects that aim to work closely with government, I tried to reflect (with the hopes of future replication) on what the ingredients of success were. Maybe it was the fact that GWI, an action-research project, has been designed to involve government early on, rather than carry on independently before sending forth some well-researched but ill-timed and uninformed requests—a shortcoming many programs are guilty of. Maybe it is that government, despite its reputation for bureaucracy and interminable deliberations, is comprised of many individuals who are eager to improve the lot of their constituents and are capable of swift action. Or maybe all were inspired to do bold things by the grandeur of the Uluguru Mountains overlooking the venue. Whatever the secret, I hope to see more of this catchy enthusiasm spread out from the various players that came together to change the face of water for smallholder agriculture in East Africa.

By Malaika Cheney-Coker
Learning and Influencing Advisor, CARE Water Team


Welcome to our Blog

GWI East Africa is nearly a year old now and we want to use this opportunity to invite comment from you on what we do, how we can help make change happen in support of smallholder farmers in East Africa and how we can reach out successfully to influence key decision makers.UGD00430 Whilst we have time to achieve change – the Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA) Secure Water for Smallholder Agriculture is a 5-year program of action research, advocacy and policy influencing – there is urgency behind what we do. Each year of poor or unreliable rainfall, farmer food security it seriously affected (in both Tanzania and Uganda this year, for example, rains have been poor (see how this has affected production levels in Tanzania). Our funding partner, the Howard G Buffett Foundation, generously supports our work because of a firm commitment to achieving change in support of smallholder farmers, the bedrock of household food security in East Africa.

Our program in East Africa is part of the wider Global Water Initiative working in addition in West Africa and Central America on water for agriculture issues. In all regions the focus is on generating solid evidence to support policy change. In East Africa our goal is that through this change, smallholder farmers will achieve greater food security through more sustainable access to and productive use of water.

We are working towards three strategic outcomes to achieve this goal: Greater political attention to water for smallholder production evidenced through changes in policies and plans, and their effective implementation at local, national and regional levels; Increased investment in smarter, affordable and innovative solutions to providing water for smallholder production, especially for women farmers; and that the voice and influence of smallholders, particularly women, will increase within institutions responsible for access to and control over water for agriculture.

These are complex and challenging outcomes to achieve, but we’re confident of success given the right political support and public debate. We will be using this blog to showcase what we are doing regionally, but also to invite guest blogs from our partners and others working with us across East Africa. Please sign up and join in. A starting point should be our Regional Charter on Investment in Water for Smallholder Agriculture. Concluded and signed up to by all participants at a recent regional meeting in Morogoro, the Charter sets out six key undertakings in support of water for smallholder agriculture. Please take a look and join us by signing up to the Charter here!

Dr Alan Nicol
Program Director
GWI East Africa