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.
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.
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.
Global Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, GWI