In 2021 Twezimbe Women’s Group in Kyamulibwa sub-county, Kalungu district, Uganda led by Beatrice Nakiweewa was privileged to be chosen by the district as a beneficiary for a solar power irrigation initiative. The initiative is aimed at farmers’ groups and is supported by government partners, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the European Union in efforts to address the impacts of climate change in Kalungu district. Like many other agricultural communities, Twezimbe Women’s group had an ongoing horticultural project that has been affected by drought.
Beatrice says, “At first we didn’t think to apply for this opportunity because there was a lot to put in place to be eligible.” The group is popularly known for its catering services, they provide an extensive menu of local dishes alongside vegetables. But due to the long dry spells and unpredictable rainfall patterns, it became increasingly hard for them to reliably supply vegetables. Beatrice explained how a phone call from a “big” client pushed them to embark on the journey to climate change resilience.
She says, “One of our clients asked us to provide catering services at his function. He was specific about having a variety of vegetables and fruits which we didn’t have, even after looking around in the sub-county and within the district. We ended up traveling over 35 kilometres using all our savings to cater for the transport costs which by then were extremely high due to the restrictions on transportation due to Covid-19. We later thought that we could have avoided such scenarios had we grown our vegetables.”
This led Beatrice to reach out to the Agricultural Extension Officer about the government solar power irrigation initiative. She presented the idea to her group members, who immediately seconded the idea.
In order to be eligible for the initiative, the group needed a 2-acre piece of land near a big, permanent wetland, which they didn’t have. The group negotiated a deal with the district councillor who was willing to offer his land, on a five-year contract subject to re-negotiation.
Finally with the land setback settled, the group applied for the initiative and was chosen. Once the solar irrigation system installed, they decided to start growing tomatoes. They secured a loan of Nine million Uganda shillings to purchase seeds, fertilizers, agrochemicals, grass for mulching, and to pay for labour.
Besides the land challenge, the group also faced other challenges like; the high cost of agricultural inputs, the infestation of crops by pests like snails since the garden was close to a wetland; and low market prices which led to losses.
To ensure sustainability, they agreed that each member should set up a small home vegetable garden for their own household consumption, while the vegetables picked from the group garden were primarily for the catering services.
During the first season, Beatrice’s group incurred losses and had no resources to re-invest in large-scale farming. From this experience, they agreed to diversify the crops they were growing and planted green peppers, Irish potatoes, collard greens, eggplants and garden eggs alongside tomatoes.
With the advantage of a constant water supply from the solar irrigation system, the group is able to plant throughout the year, even during dry spells when there is a high demand for tomatoes.
Despite the setbacks, Beatrice says “We are very proud of the progress we have made and we are optimistic that we will achieve our objectives.” She also happily shared that other community members and leaders from other districts and sub-counties visit their gardens to learn from them and to join their group.
By joining the initiative the group has built strong networks with government and non-government organizations. These connections are contributing to their success directly with the solar irrigation system and indirectly by building their confidence and skills.
Moving forward the group seeks further support in
- Capacity building to support value addition and training in group dynamics
- Leveraging relationships with government and private sector institutions to expand access to finance, and profitable markets
- Diversifying into livestock farming.
- Managing the different challenges that men and women face while supporting community-led adaptation initiatives. Group members mentioned that it was more difficult for them to clear the land where the pump was constructed and transport the grass needed for mulching than it would be for men.
- Receiving financial support for at least the first two years rather than leaving the beneficiaries to bear all expenses from the onset.
Having worked closely with Twezimbe Women’s Group, we are particularly proud of their decision to explore their relationship with local government leaders and push the agenda of community-led resilience to climate change. The group has empowered others in the community to think beyond subsistence farming and they could not have handled the disappointments from the first venture any better!
We implore the government and any other stakeholder to support the group’s ambitions towards value addition by building the necessary capacity, and infrastructure and supporting them financially.
We also urge the government to thoroughly assist vulnerable groups, particularly women’s groups. For instance, initiatives that require women to use their savings or acquire loans to invest should at least be supported at the market level to ensure they reduce losses.
Lastly, as we share these stories of resilience, we hope this inspires others to take action in their community or support others to stay steadfast in coping with climate change impacts.
About the interviewers
Sandra Coote is a community development advocate working with African Centre for Trade and Development (ACTADE) as a Programme Officer facilitating citizen participation in public decision making in the central region of Uganda. She is in charge of coordinating the Civic Education and Capacity Building activities portfolio in the project area. This body of work is geared towards empowering citizens and creating a citizen’s agency that constructively engages with their leaders making the latter more responsive and accountable to the public, spurring better service delivery. She has contributed to various issue papers to inform advocacy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Allen Lunkuse is currently working as a Programme Officer at ACTADE under the Participatory Governance Programme. She has demonstrated exceptional leadership abilities in working with diversities over the past seven years through which she has worked in Bunyoro region and the Central region of Uganda.
Allen was a member of the Youth for Policy (Y4P), an initiative by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Before joining ACTADE, she worked as a volunteer with Voluntary Action for Development (VAD) under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Programme. She can be reached at email@example.com.
About Beatrice Nakiweewa
Beatrice is the leader of the Twezimbe Women’s Group. The group started with a catering service and then expanded to include growing and harvesting vegetables to use in their business. This was made possible due to a solar irrigation initiative that they were chosen for.