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A project report titled 'Investing in Development' launched in 2005 sets key recommendations on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is implementing the recommendations in 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. EVELYN MATSAMURA KIAPI brings you Part One of the MVP review in Uganda.

Four years ago, the family of Paul Mugisha, a farmer, and his wife Macrine, were living in poverty. Although the couple had a stretch of land running downhill, they barely had enough food to eat and income to take their seven children through school.
 
For the Mugishas, living in Ruhiira, an impoverished hilly sub-county in Isingiro District, South-western Uganda, was trying. However, three years ago their plight turned around after they joined the farmers’ training programme of the Millennium Villages Project.

The project, which started in 2006 in the sub-counties of Nyakitunda and Kabuyanda in Isingiro District, is an integrated development initiative providing immediate evidence to show that the UN Millennium Development Goals can be achieved in a five-year period through practical interventions.

The five-year project enables communities fight poverty and hunger to achieve the MDGs at the local community level. Key project activities include agriculture and environment, enterprise development, education, health, water and sanitation, and infrastructure development.

Through their training in modern agricultural practices, the Mugishas have learnt how to mulch and sustain their soils by digging trenches all over the hilly plantations to control runoffs that used to take the soil away. Their efforts have born fruit.

“At first, we did not know how to use our land; we had no idea that we could use the available resources to increase our yields. The banana plantations were not doing very well,” Macrine says.

At that time, the Mugishas harvested only 50-70 bunches of Matooke every month. Today they harvest more than 150 bunches, which has increased their household income and improved their nutritional status.
“The big bunches of bananas are for sale and the small ones are for home consumption,” Macrine told this writer.
 
Her husband Paul cannot hide his joy either.
“I have achieved a lot from this project. We received training that has taught us better farming methods. We learnt how to dig trenches to reduce soil erosion, how to grow pastures and to construct shelters for our goats,” he explained.

MORE GOATS


Four years ago, the Mugishas owned only two goats. Today they boast of a herd of 46, some of which are South African Boer goats donated to them by the project.
“When I got the goats, I started using their droppings as manure to fertilise the garden. Now my garden is doing well,” says Macrine.

The family is also enjoying the benefits of zero grazing by growing Napier grass to feed their goats.

“Zero grazing helps me to get more time to do other work. Instead of going out to graze goats in the field for so long, I cut my pasture, prepare it for the goats and as they are eating, I can do other work that can earn me income.

“It also helps in that I can keep my goats under control so that they do not go out and destroy the neighbours’ gardens,” Macrine says.

The family is now constructing a bigger pen to accommodate more goats.
“The goats are mainly for sale and that is where I got the money to construct the trenches, pay school fees and for home use,” she explains.

A holistic approach to farming has drawn the Mugishas out of extreme poverty at almost no extra cost.
“There is great change in our livelihood. I never knew that just by growing Napier grass, zero grazing and using goat droppings for fertilising the plantation I could harvest so much.

From the goats we get manure, with the Napier grass we feed the goats, and then we also get manure from cow dung. Everything revolves in a circle,” Paul explains. The family have now started an orchard in the backyard and in a few years’ time they will have abundant fruits for sale and home consumption.

The Mugishas have indeed crossed the poverty line. Their story shows that communities can fight poverty and hunger by utilising the natural resources around them.

BETTER YIELDS


Although 80% of Ugandans depend on subsistence farming, agricultural production continues to fall due to declining soil fertility, poor farming methods and climate change, among other things.

By the beginning of the project in 2006, 60% of the people in the project area lived below the poverty line, almost double the national figure of 38%. The proportion of households reporting not having enough food to eat stood at 79.7%, a baseline survey showed.

Today, adequate food supply per household has increased from three to eight months, the 2009 key progress indicators show. The project has trained over 8,000 farmers in best agronomic practices and supported over 7,600 farmers with agricultural inputs comprising fertilisers and seeds of maize, beans, oranges, sweet potato vines, and leafy vegetables.

“We distribute improved seeds and fertiliser first of all to fight hunger, but at the same time if farmers are able to produce more than they can consume, they should also be able to increase their incomes by selling the farm produce,” says Dr. John Okorio, Cluster Manager MVP.

Seasonal harvests of beans and maize increased from 0.5 tons to 2 tons and from 0.7 tons to 3.8 tons per hectare respectively. There have also been dramatic increases in crop yields like fruits which help to combat malnourishment.

Thus the percentage of households having enough of these foods in a year increased from 47% to 75% and 20% to 70% for beans and maize respectively. The percentage of households growing and consuming vegetables increased from below 12% to 81%.

This has not only improved nutrition and incomes, but also decreased the level of ill health.
The project has enabled farmers to improve livestock management and production practices through training, establishment of pasture gardens and treating animals against various diseases and pests.

Farmers also undergo hands-on training on silage making and preservation. Techniques such as terracing and rainwater harvesting have also yielded positive results. So far 130km of erosion terraces and 3,800 gullies have been built by community farmers.

“We also facilitate farmers to raise tree seedlings because in Isingiro the tree cover is less than 5%. It used to be a forest area but because of increased population, many trees have been cut down for land cultivation,” Okorio says.

Okorio further says that over 4,500 heads of cattle have been vaccinated against Lumpy Skin Disease and another 3,550 against Foot and Mouth Disease. Also, more than 60 improved Boer goats have been distributed to the communities. Two artificial insemination sub-centres have also been established.

The project ends in 2011. While some are worried about what will happen thereafter, Mugisha is not.

“We have achieved a lot from the project. Even if the project ends, it’s okay because at least I have a foundation. I can move on from here. The foundation is good, so I will not find any problems. What the project has given and taught me now is enough. I am okay,” he maintains.

About Millennium Villages Project

In September 2000, world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration which sets out 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an integrated development initiative meant to demonstrate that by empowering communities with basic necessities and adequate resources, even the poorest people can lift themselves out of extreme poverty in five years’ time and meet the MDGs deadline.
There are 12 MVP sites working with nearly 400,000 villagers across Africa.

In Uganda, the project started in 2006 in the sub-counties of Nyakitunda and Kabuyanda in Isingiro District, South-western Uganda to provide evidence of how the concept of implementing practical interventions needed to achieve the MDGs over a five-year period could work.

Millennium Villages are chosen according to the prevalence of hunger ‘hotspots’ (where at least 20% of the under-five child population is underweight); where governments are committed to achieving the MDGs; and one of the 12 agro-ecologial zones in Africa.

Isingiro District was chosen according to those criteria, according to Dr. John Okorio, the manager of the project. The MVP at Ruhiira is reportedly the best performing in Africa.

Millennium villages cost roughly $110 per person per year for five years. Of this, $30 comes from local and national governments, $20 from international agencies and contributors, $50 from project donors, and $10 from the village either in kind or funds. The MVPs are the brainchild of renowned economist and UN advisor, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs.

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