When 46-year-old Rebecca Mukyala was 28, her husband and father of her two children died.
Her life then changed dramatically, because she had to raise the young children alone. The youthful mother made up her mind to venture into farming after a group of trainers from the ministry of Agriculture passed through her home area in Nambale village, Iganga district in 1997.
“They trained us in basic means of farming on small land and avoiding particular pests and weeds. They came with successful farmers who told us their stories and at that moment, I wanted to go into farming immediately since I needed to cater for my children,” Mukyala says.
She started growing maize, beans, groundnuts and other food crops which she could sell while reserving some for home consumption. Her finances increased and her children stayed in school.
Mukyala is known by her relatives to be a hardworking and big-hearted women and this explains why two of her late brother’s children were sent to her at the time of his death.
Her sister was imprisoned too and she decided to take up her child and another child she picked from distant relatives out of pity since the parents couldn’t look after her.
“My two children have finished university through hardships but I thank God for that. I now have to look after four other dependants, give them food, clothes and pay for their school fees. I must do all this through farming. I want all of them to be well-off in future so they can be able to look after other people,” Mukyala says.
Mukyala’s determination to change the lives of her dependants has not been as smooth. Her work has been affected by unstable prices, poor farming methods and climate change.
All this notwithstanding, Mukyala believes there is hope after 1,000 farmers, including herself, were identified and trained by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food to the agency.
Going forward, WFP plans to empower small-scale farmers to produce both quality and quantity using the little resources at their disposal.
Mukyala, who is a member of the Nambale Agri-business Cooperative Limited, relishes the fact that their organisation was identified and says this will increase their sales.
“WFP has taken us through intense training especially on post-harvest handling of the produce that we grow. Things like drying them, storage and a lot more. This keeps our produce clean and free of aflatoxins and, therefore, its value increases,” Mukyala said.
Aflatoxins are moulds which contain carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent in humans. They are found in poorly stored common foods like nuts and corn.
For the start, her 25-member group, which is one of 50 others that WFP picked, will sell to the relief agency about 340 tonnes of maize grain.
Since they are small-scale farmer, members are to contribute a certain percentage of produce, each according to their capacity which will be stored in a newly built satellite collection point.
“We have been selling our produce separately to traders and schools mostly at about Shs 900 a kilo. Now, after the trainings and the subsequent successful harvest, WFP is going to buy our produce at Shs 1,200. This is good for us as farmers and it is going to give us more money to take care of our families,” Mukyala says.
Jane Baitanunga, another farmer in the group says since their produce is now clean and of superior quality, they can sell to buyers outside Uganda.
She says since WFP has decided to take up their produce, this is a bonus because “our local buyers don’t mind about which quality of maize you have.”
According to Miyuki Yamashita, the head of agriculture and market support at WFP, there has been an adjustment from buying from middlemen -- large-scale traders -- to directly approaching farmer associations.
Yamashita says WFP is building farmers’ capacity through trainings in value addition, warehouse management and business planning, so that they can compete with the large traders.
“The associations have given us confidence that negotiating with them directly is one of the ways WFP has to take up. Within a month after the trainings, they have delivered,” Miyuki said.
At the start of the project, Miyuki added, the farmers were not delivering the required quantity of produce and quality also remained bad until the agency decided to organise an agriculture market support programme to train them in post-harvest handling so as to maintain their quality, and how to get more yields from a small piece of land.