Constance Okollet, smallholder farmer & network founder, on building community resilience in Uganda
By mobilising women to share climate variability information, Okollet and her network have boosted food security, incomes and enhanced agricultural productivity in Tororo, Uganda.
It isn’t every day that you meet a resilience leader who can speak the language of policy and human-centered storytelling simultaneously. To explain in real terms how the causes and drivers of food insecurity in fragile regions are often occurring far from where they impact the most. Nor how practices such as soil management, planting trees across thousands of small land plots can have far reaching socio-ecological effects. And that direct investment in communities is an immediate opportunity for impactful change in an increasingly volatile world. Constance Okollet is one of those leaders.
Founder and chairperson of Osukuru United Women’s Network (OWN), and Founding Member of Climate Wise Women, Okollet spoke with the Global Resilience Partnership at the Resilience for Food & Water Security in Fragile and Vulnerable Contexts meeting held at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center in March 4-8.
Discussing recent flooding in her district, she provided urgent testimony on the importance of building resilience to these events – and the kinds of investments that can speed up impact.
After experiencing increasing impacts of climate change in her region, Okollet began learning about the causes through engagement with Oxfam in Kampala, Uganda. ‘My neighbours had lost their houses. I was lucky I didn’t lose my house but my kitchen was gone, my toilet had gone. I accommodated two of my neighbours families, my family. There were twenty-nine of us in one house after the flood.’ Said Okollet.
Connecting the science discussions with impacts seen at local levels, she began speaking to and organizing women in her sub-county to share information. Meetings focused on explaining increased climate variability, weather extremes and how to scale up resilience building actions in homes, gardens and farms and to meet the challenges they presented.
Okollet and the OWN network volunteers regularly visit thousands of homes in the Tororo region. Advice and conversation range from improved household management, soil management to nature-based solutions against the impacts of droughts, winds and flooding. Through the planting of avocado, mango and jackfruit trees on the perimeters of compounds, the OWN network has also helped thousands of small holder farmers increase food security and restore degraded land. In addition, by advising on methods such as separating animals and integrated water management techniques, the network has contributed to reduced malaria and dysentery during the rainy season.
For Okollet, encouraging a change of approach or change of thinking through action is one of the most important priorities of the network. ‘’We have a team in the network that is also working with children. Helping them to think about tree planting. Children are owning this program themselves and now their parents are getting involved, proudly saying that my child has planted five trees, from which we are selling wood and bringing in extra income.’’ Planting more trees not only provides more food and income sources to households but has also improved the ability of the land to protect communities from harsher weather-related impacts.
For Okollet, resilience means three outcomes: a thriving home; food security; and, increased income. ‘Resilience according to us means having everything around you. First of all, you are not hungry, you don’t go without school fees, water. I will have food and my neighbor will have food. She will have money and I will also have money. There will be less sickness in the house because you have money in your pocket, food in the house and can harvest water and farm the land. Resilience means having everything I need and using what I have to build on it.’’ she said.
Describing a $5000 Green Grant awarded to her community which enabled the purchase of oxen ploughs and farm machinery, Okollet extols the virtues of direct investment into communities. This intervention enabled farmers to plough and plant in two days, an area of land that would have taken a month to dig by hand with a hoe. ‘Farmers know how to manage their crops and if they are given better tools – with machines they can do better. This is where we have more impact because it is faster’ she said.
These kinds of interventions place farmers and community members at the centre of transformative change. A powerful entry point for funders and financiers interested in immediate climate smart portfolio opportunities to achieve resilient food and agricultural systems. An approach that mirrors the experiences the OWN Network in Uganda and dovetails with Okollet’s interview testimony. ‘My message? Direct investment in communities – and in women – can break chains.”
About Constance Okollet: Okollet has spoken internationally at public events and high-level forums with Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Connie Hedegaard and other high-ranking leaders to add the vital component of real-life testimony of what is happening at the frontline of small scale and community farming in Uganda.
About OWN: is a consortium of approximately 1200 small women’s groups working on education, community health and nutrition in Eastern Uganda. We provide leadership training for impoverished young women, helping create sustainable entrepreneurs to better combat poverty and sexual abuse. We counsel women who have endured physical and marital hardship, and shed awareness on how global warming is affecting our homes, and the ways we’ve previously generated revenue to provide for our families.
About Climate Wise Women: Started in 2009 by five women activists from the US, Uganda, Carteret Islands and Cook Islands who met at the UN at the Secretary General’s High Level Meeting on Climate Change. Between 2010 and 2016, Climate Wise Women created a series of public speaking events, presenting global grassroots women in public conversations about climate change with local leaders across five continents.