Thinking Outside the Box – the Incredible Journey of Eco-Agric Uganda

Thinking Outside the Box – the Incredible Journey of Eco-Agric Uganda

By Justine Simonin on 14/09/2020

My name is Josephine Nakakande, I am the Founder and Executive Director of Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Enhancement Uganda (Eco-Agric Uganda), a community-based organization established in 2007. I am involved with Eco-Agric Uganda since its inception. Let me tell you how it all began. It is a wild ride!

I am the daughter of a teacher and a housewife. I have four brothers and three sisters. Though my mother went to school, she never got any qualifications and so started doing farming as a source of food to supplement our father’s income. She did not any formal training, so she would use her natural wisdom to do farming. For example, she discovered that growing tomatoes in the dry season and cabbages during the wet season was very profitable. She got some money from the vegetables, which she used to buy 12 chickens. The chicken was put in all the corners of the house, laying eggs all over the place! She started selling eggs on top of the vegetables, which allowed her to buy two cows. My mother had built up her own farming business.

My parents were able to send me off the high school, but I was still lacking basic supplies that we could not afford. I was bullied for that and school was one of the hardest moments for me. Though I wanted to become a medical doctor, I didn’t get the marks to study medicine. I decided to go and study veterinary to find out why my mother’s eggs would get rotten sometimes and why calves at home never grew.

Because you see, my mother ventured into farming as a business without any technical support from anyone. It was a lot of trial and error with crops and livestock, so I decided to study veterinary so that I could get a solution to all the challenges we encountered at home, which I did. Thanks be to GOD, I got my diploma and started working as an Assistant Animal Husbandry Officer. Oh my God! I really had the very best of my time, treating all sorts of animals while traveling around Western Uganda, especially Hoima district. While treating animals, I met all sorts of people and realized that whoever had animals had crops, yet I only had knowledge of animal production. I found out that though 95% of women are involved in agriculture production, yet they have no agricultural knowledge nor access to any farming training. They are also often illiterate (can’t read and write). This prompted me to study agriculture which I did and earned a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture.

Josephine (center) at work

One day, while at my new job as an agricultural coordinator, I came across six women, all widows with 6-8 children to take care of. They had no food or shelter and their children never went to school. I decided to help them by mobilizing community leaders and teaching them how to grow cassava and beans. This really improved their quality of life, and after that first hands-on experience, we started being approached by other groups of vulnerable women from neighboring districts. We soon became overwhelmed by the situation.

We could not handle such a high number of critically vulnerable households, but we didn’t want to give up either. It was Spring of 2007; Eco-Agric Uganda was born.

We support poor vulnerable communities, including rural farmers, vulnerable children, women, youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, and the disabled. Our mission is to improve community livelihoods through rights empowerment; sustainable agricultural production; environmental conservation; health education and promotion; economic empowerment and nutrition; skills development and educational support.

Beneficiaries growing their own crops 

At first, we thought getting funding to support these people would be easy. No way! It seemed like we were doomed. We decided to use some of our salaries to start off the organization. We made thousands and thousands of grant applications but could never get funding. We got help from local governments here and there, but it was far from enough. We were forced to think outside the box.

We started a coffee and tree seedling nursery bed. We used our salaries to pay an attendant and in six months, we were harvesting some money. Since we were veterinarians, we also provided consultancy for animal treatment at a fee to which a percentage was donated to the organization.

One day, finally, we received a grant from the Trellis Fund, which was managed by the University of California Davis; $2000 to support 180 women. This was the boost we needed to really take off. With the help of an online volunteer, our projects turned into a great success. The monitoring team from UC Davis was so impressed that they extended their support for one more year.

At that time, the nursery bed had also started picking up and was supporting our work. We then got some other funding from USAID/Uganda Private Health Support Program, Civil Society Fund, and Agribusiness trust, which paid some salaries to the staff. After three years of hard work and personal sacrifices, we were starting to get big, we had accumulated enough money to buy land and rent offices. That was the foundation we needed to be able to thrive. Today, we work on a number of projects with major donors such as USAID, UNDP, and WWF, thus reaching several thousands of beneficiaries, with the help of volunteers from all over the world.

 Group learning how to grow mushrooms

At the end of 2019, the world started receiving news of an outbreak of a strange disease from China which continued to spread across the world, and on 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Though the first case of the ‘novel’ coronavirus was reported on March 22nd in Uganda, the country had started facing the effects of the outbreak from other countries. Following the first case in Uganda, like other countries, the government introduced a ban on both public and private transport, a ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people, closure of schools, plus a total lockdown and curfew that were expected to last 36 days up to 5th May 2020.  Though food markets and agricultural shops were supposed to continue operating, they were given strict operating procedures like those who were to continue operating in their market stalls were not allowed to return to their homes but rather get shelter within their business places (markets) which complicated the whole situation. Manufacturing industries were also allowed to continue operation but only if the workers could be lodged at the manufacturing place. This meant that all those who would continue working in the markets and industries were left with no choice but to shift to their workplaces and abandon their families until the end of the lockdown. Those who could not take up that option would thus lose their sources of income. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in loss of employment for entire economic sectors. 

The women we support used their small savings to buy food for their children. These savings were not enough. This has left women with no initial capital and where to start from, though they have children to take back to school and homes to support.

Eco-Agric Uganda also supports children from vulnerable households

I am so glad that I have been able to raise almost $2,500 through my project on GivingWay. It will help 42 children go back to school and 32 women revive their businesses. Though these children will be able to go back to school, we only have funds to take them to school and not to keep them in school for the whole year. Please help us reach our $4200 goal, we are more almost there! Click here to support our project.

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