WFP will begin buying food in northern Uganda in the coming weeks. Copyright: WFP/Marco Frattini
At the height of northern Uganda’s brutal insurgency, in 2004, WFP reached more than one million displaced people sheltered in camps. Trucks went out each day with armed escorts taking food aid to four districts. All that is now gone. Today, WFP has a new way of doing things to assist the region.
A hotel balcony in Gulu town is a good spot from which to observe people going about their daily lives. Bicycle taxis pass up and down the narrow streets looking for passengers as the managers of half-empty shops sit around with nothing much to do. A few people leaf through the daily newspaper.
Further away from the hotel, men and women pack a pile of large cassava tubers, stuffing them piece by piece into overstretched plastic bags. From here they will be transported to markets beyond Gulu.
An attempt at recovery
With the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency now in sight and most internally displaced people now back to their original villages, Gulu is ready for a rebirth - as are most disticts in northern Uganda.
Grandmother Elizabeth Abwono is one of the returnees, now settled in Dyere Keni Akwii village. We quickly stride through long grass to get to the homestead that she shares with eight family members. In every corner of the attached plot, she seems to have planted something, from paw paws to potatoes to vegetables, sorghum, groundnuts and sesame. She also breeds pigeons. Their box house is perched in a large tree nearby.
Abwono gets some income from selling a local brew. "But in general", she says with a sad look, “money is not a thing you get to have around here. If I could afford a pair of oxen, I'd try and get more land to farm.”
New WFP programmes
With people now able to do more farming thanks to increased security, WFP has phased out general food distributions in northern Uganda. A new form of assistance includes working with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization to support community cultivation of cassava.
Where possible, WFP is commited to purchasing quality food from smallholder farmers - a policy which works for WFP while at the same time boosting the incomes of the local producers. To this end, WFP has bought and upgraded a warehouse in Gulu town with the capacity to store 6,000 metric tons of grain which can be cleaned and dried there.
“Northern Uganda produced surpluses prior to the insurgency,” says Tiziana Zocchedu, head of WFP’s office in Gulu. “What we are doing now is tapping potential, helping the people to recover and become productive again.”