Tag Archives: Otuke

LPA, the glue that binds smallholders and district officials in Otuke

This summer I had the privilege of working with GWI EA in Otuke District, Uganda, as part of my Master’s in Development Practice programme at Emory University. I was doing an evaluation of the Learning and Practice Alliance (LPA) model being implemented there in order for CARE to better understand the model’s strengths, weaknesses, and ability to be adapted to new situations.

It was really quite wonderful to arrive in Otuke, after months of reading and preparation, to finally put faces to the names I had seen in project reports, and to finally start understanding this place called Otuke. Otuke, like any place you have never been to, can be difficult to conceptualise without being there. Yes, Otuke is a very rural area (almost the entire population participates in smallholder agriculture), but it isn’t an isolated community without interaction with the outside world, which I find is a common misconception when I’m asked about my stay this summer.

Jillian observing the irrigation system at the Akwera demonstration farm in Otuke

Otuke District is divided into sub counties, and those sub counties are further divided into parishes. Within the parishes people live on their farms and interact closely with their neighbours, sharing labour and friendship with one another. On Saturdays many farmers bike or walk to the central area of the district (similar to a downtown area) to sell their produce and livestock. Vendors commute from Lira, the nearest city, to Otuke to sell packaged goods, electronics, and plastic items. The market was always a lot of fun to attend; it is a very social event and people stay all day.

This central area is where the district and NGO offices reside, and this is also where I lived, in a building with rooms that are rented out. There is no electricity or running water in Otuke, so there was a learning curve for me, but two interns working for GWI, Doreen and Vicky, are from Uganda and lived in the same building, so they taught me all of the tricks and we became good friends. To move from this central area to the Champion Farmers, I rode on a motorbike with Geoffrey, another GWI intern and new friend, who would drive and translate for me. Riding on a motorbike was also a new experience for me (it’s not common in the United States like it is in Uganda), but I absolutely loved it; it’s a great way to take in the surroundings.

The evaluation I conducted required interviews with Champion Farmers, district government officials, researchers, and GWI EA staff. My scope of work was fairly broad; I was gathering information about the progress of the LPA, trust and relationships between the farmers and government, gender equity within the LPA, enabling and disabling factors for the LPA and stories of change from the Champion Farmers. Visiting the Champion Farmers was absolutely the highlight of my practicum. On the farms I had the chance to sit down and get to know the farmers a little better, usually meeting their families and getting a tour of their farms as well.

Parliamentarians and Otuke district leaders at an LPA meeting in Otuke

I knew before I arrived in Otuke that a lot of work had been done through the LPA with the Champion Farmers, but it was surprising to see exactly how much in person. The farmers had learned about mulching, pruning, composting, spacing, and other water and soil management techniques. They have been applying these new techniques to grow tomatoes, onions, bananas, and pineapples, and while I was there the new crops were doing very well overall. Additionally, most of the farmers I spoke with have dug massive water-retention pits by hand to collect rainwater that can be distributed over their crops during dry periods.

As impressive as the physical impacts of the LPA were, I was struck even more by the LPA’s impact on relationships and interactions within Otuke. Otuke was the target of violent cattle rustling in the 80s and 90s, and the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the 00s, during which time much of the population was displaced. Otuke District was only created after resettlement in 2010. My interviewees reflected that this period of time created mistrust and strained relationships between local citizens and the government. However, Champion Farmers and district government officials that I interviewed agreed almost unanimously that the LPA has changed their relationship for the better.

For example, through the LPA, district officials visit the Champion Farmers regularly and Champion Farmers are encouraged to voice their opinions and participate in meetings. This is creating interactions that were previously absent in the community, and the Champion Farmers expressed that the physical presence of district officials on their farms had improved their perception of the local government. Champion Farmers told me that they now feel like they are valued by the community, and the importance of their work is being taken seriously by the district.

For me, this social change is one of the greatest outcomes of the LPA and a true testament to the LPA’s ability to be sustained after GWI EA. From my own experiences, I’ve seen that it’s relatively easy to bring a community physical inputs or new methodologies, but what’s difficult is getting government and citizen buy-in to make sure those projects don’t disappear when it is time for NGOs to leave. What I witnessed in Otuke was true relationship building and the creation of a new foundation for change in the community. My time in Otuke was truly insightful, and an opportunity for which I am very grateful.

Members of Parliament and Otuke district leaders meeting GWI EA Champion Farmers and farmer group members in Orum Sub county, Otuke.

Jillian Kenny
Master’s in Development Practice
Emory University 2015

More field experiences from Emory University students who have worked with GWI EA here.

Farmers Spur Investment in Water for Agriculture

Bare land, sparse vegetation scattered with shear nut and mango trees, and dusty roads characterize Otuke, one of the recently created districts in northern Uganda. However, on our just concluded trip to the area, the rain gods had smiled down and opened the heavens, covering tracts of land with swollen dams and filled swamps.

This rain is central to the success of the Water Smart Agriculture project being implemented by Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA) in the area. The latter is an initiative to help farmers grow more crops using available water effectively and efficiently to realize sustainable food security.

In partnership with the Otuke District Local Government, GWI East Africa hosted a team of parliamentarians from the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Food Security, the committee on Natural Resources and that on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. This was a great opportunity for the legislators to interact with farmers and explore ways in which the government, can invest more and enable smallholder farmers access and use the available water resources efficiently for better crop production, using cost efficient technologies.

Our first host of the day was Sophia Achen, a 49 year old Champion Farmer living  in Tecwao village. A homestead of perfectly round, grass thatched huts welcomed us to her home. In November 2013, she and 23 other Champion Farmers from Otuke, attended a farmers’ training in Masaka District, organized by the GWI EA. The focal purpose for this visit was for the farmers to have on-ground lessons on improved agronomic practices used by the farmers in Masaka.

On returning home, the Champion Farmers set up demonstration plots on which they could compare the productivity of the modified practices to the traditional cultivation methods. The results of their efforts are nothing short of remarkable. Although GWI EA has provided the farmers with technical guidance, seeds and other farm supplies to manage these plots, it is their unwavering determination and enthusiasm that has gotten them to the lush, healthy gardens they now boast.

Champion Farmer Peter Okello’s water harvesting pit

Another lesson the farmers have put into practice is rainwater harvesting. The Champion Farmers we visited had excavated water harvesting pits which capture runoff during the rainy season. This water will be used to irrigate their farms during the dry season. Some of the farmers, however, are unable to complete the pits. The impenetrable bedrock that characterizes most of Otuke district cannot permit the farmers to breakthrough using the traditional pick axe that they are accustomed to. In these cases, GWI EA has provided the farmers with water harvesting tanks.

Farmers learning at Sophie’s demonstration farm

The Champion Farmers have all started training members of different farmer groups, on how to cultivate crops using these agronomic practices that they have learnt. The Champion in them has without a doubt started to shine.

On our itinerary were two other very significant sites in Otuke. The Akwera and Awio dams. A demonstration farm has been set up by the government at the Akwera dam where a youth group is cultivating vegetables. Water is channeled from the dam and distributed to the crops through a drip irrigation system. Unfortunately, this is as far as the water from this dam goes. Farmers have no direct access to the water from these two  dams for household and agricultural use.


After two days of priceless lessons and encounters, the legislators were nothing short of awed by the hard work of the Champion Farmers in Otuke. They committed themselves to take back, to Parliament the lessons learnt and develop action plans and recommendations that will increase government investment in water for smallholder farmers’ agriculture.

Matilda Nakawungu
GWI EA, Uganda

A Long Road to Recovery…

A long, long road leads from Kampala to Otuke District in Northern Uganda. The road hardly curves or bends and offers little respite from the arduous journey; one of the high points is a water fall that my Ugandan colleague Violet, points out to me.

“This is Karuma Falls on the river Nile”, Violet tells me. This road is somewhat similar to the lives of people in Otuke where life has often been long, hard, and offering up little respite except through the effort  farmers bring to harnessing rainfall that enables them to eke out a living and support their families.

Over 400 kilometers of long winding road rose before us and carried us to Otuke. It stretched onward like a long tarmac braid across the countryside and along the way Violet tirelessly answered the questions I peppered her with. She was spared the last 100 kilometers of questions about the earlier insurgency, the local environment, the challenges local people faced and more, when tarmac and the rain of questions were replaced by a shower of pebbles kicked up from what was  now Murram road.Woman selling mangoes by the side of the road. Kamindi, Uganda © Andy Johnstone/Wild Dog for GWI EA 2013

I arrived tired but enthusiastic to finally meet a few champion farmers as well as other members of the Learning and Practice Alliance (LPA) at district level, including  representatives of Local Government.  This was a trip planned in collaboration with members of the GWI EA team (Regional and Uganda) to allow me to better understand their work, gain an insight into approaches used and to see for myself how GWI East Africa is striving to increase farmer food security through supporting learning on improved water management for agriculture, and using this learning to advocate for greater commitment and investment around this.

My position as Global Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Global Water Initiative means that although I am based in Atlanta, I need to be able to really understand what is happening at regional levels through our programs and to ensure that our outreach and key messages are based on evidence coming out of these programs. So I was curious about how all these water management approaches translated into practice and I was especially intrigued to actually meet a champion farmer. Who were the people behind these titles and would I perhaps get an answer to the age-old question, whether champions are made or are born?

The GWI EA team had responded to my request for information about the program sites with an impressive suite of materials including a baseline study on the Food Security,which clearly documented the food insecurity issues present in Otuke, threats these posed to the households and communities present there and the opportunities water harvesting approaches could deliver instead .

On the first morning we pulled into a homestead where the ground was swept immaculately clean.  The owner was a farmer called Okullo John Bosco (JB) and he had recently participated in a GWI EA exchange learning visit during which he had witnessed some rainwater harvesting techniques. He led us proudly to an area where swiftly upon his return from the exchange visit he had carved out a long pit, some five feet deep, where he intended to harvest rain water. I was so impressed with his enthusiasm but also worried somewhat about the quality of the pit as well as its location on his farm. It was clear to me that although the learning visit had been inspirational for him, he would need follow-up technical support of some kind.Lilly Obua, Global Water Initiative (GWI) "Champion Farmer" collecting millet in  her fields. Subsistence farmers in East Africa are facing huge challenges because of climate variability which means that they often experience a shortage of rainfall in the growing season. They have traditionally relied on rainfall for irrigation, but now need to adopt new techniques to ensure that they can continue to survive and feed their families. Otuke District, Uganda © Andy Johnstone/Wild Dog for GWI EA 2013

He was only too happy to answer our numerous questions through our translator. I could see that although GWI could not be and provide all things to all smallholder farmers and at all times (and doesn’t seek to), there is a distinct role for GWI EA and other partners under the LPA including Local Government extension, in  providing sound follow-up once people like JB were ‘immersed’ in the message of rainwater harvesting and soil water management – key themes of GWI EA’s approach.

Moreover, by the end of my trip, I was also particularly reassured by the network of support, technical guidance and policy experts assembled and committed to the work of GWI EA in Uganda. Although only a few of them had participated in the regional meeting in August 2013 out of which the Regional Charter had been developed, it was clear that at district and national levels a wide array of very involved decision-makers and technical experts had been assembled. These stakeholders all reiterated their commitments to rooting the undertakings of the Regional Charter in Uganda’s soils and helping investments in water for smallholder farmers to grow. As I learned about our work (and network) in Uganda, I began to understand GWI EA’s role as providing essential ‘water knowledge’ to help these seeds germinate and grow.

Programs such as these also need champions in the field and outside the field(s). Commitment to this program was also evidenced by the presence of the State Minister for Water Resources, the Hon. Betty Bigombe, who was in attendance at a breakfast meeting organized by the GWI EA team on the final day of our trip. The Minister spoke knowledgeably, authoritatively and approvingly about GWI EA and also provided a framework that would allow this program to complement and support the National Government’s objectives on agriculture and water management with smallholder farmers. The meeting closed with a number of commitments and follow-up actions being made to advance the Regional Charter in Uganda.

And so I left a few hours later having learned a great deal about the work of GWI EA, and specifically, program activities in Uganda. I had been very impressed by the innovations of the programs and humbled by the hospitality of the Champion Farmers. Quite importantly, I had also received the answer to my question from Anyensi Okelle, a widowed female Champion Farmer trying to nurture both her children and her dreams.  While walking together through the fields of her farm, she responded unhesitatingly to my question of what makes a Champion Farmer. She knowingly told me, and unknowingly showed me through her activities, that a Champion Farmer is someone who knows how to plan and manage their resources, that recognises opportunities, knows when to sow and grow and when given a little, knows how to turn that into much.

Having met Anyensi I believe Champions are made of situations and I believe from visiting the GWI EA program in Uganda that situations can also be ‘made for’ Champions that enable their own efforts and energies. I left for Atlanta even more convinced that the work before me at a global level is to help identify and influence policy-investment frameworks that will support champion solutions for champion smallholder farmers at a regional level. That is the road ahead of us and it must be a two way road that brings solutions back to smallholder farmers in places like Otuke District.


Kemi Seesink

Global Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, GWI