In Uganda, WFP recently started supporting a new initiative that helps refugees and local host communities to reduce post-harvest food losses. The objective is to build the refugees’ livelihoods and boost their self-reliance. The refugees are eager to taste the benefits.
RWAMWANJA REFUGEE SETTLEMENT, Western Uganda – About two dozen women and men are crowding into a rented makeshift structure built with mud and sticks. It is 3 p.m., and the afternoon session of the training in zero food loss is about to begin. But first, the group breaks into energetic song:
“We are thankful for the developments in the settlement.
We are thankful for the assistance in the settlement.”
After the warmup chant, the participants settle down onto the hard wooden planks that serve as seats. The instructor lights up a projector and begins to point to the display, teaching Session 5 on drying, cleaning and testing the moisture content of maize. He calls a woman up to the front to demonstrate the salt-and-bottle method, a simple mechanism of gauging the moisture content of maize before a farmer can safely store it in their silo in order to reduce chances of infestation and eventual food loss.
A woman demonstrates the salt-and-bottle method of testing whether maize is dry enough for storage. Photo: WFP/Lydia Wamala
She confidently spoons a handful of maize and half a handful of salt into a soda bottle and shakes it vigorously. After a few minutes, she checks whether the salt is sticking to the sides of the bottle, a tell-tale sign that the maize is not yet dry.
“We are very excited about this programme because we are hearing new things,” says Sibomana Ndayambagye, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who is among the trainees. “We are learning the risks and dangers of drying and storing our maize of the ground, how to handle maize in general after harvest, including drying it, and the importance of waiting for maize to mature before harvesting it. We have been farming without such important knowledge.”
Sibomana Ndayambogye at the training session. Photo: WFP/Lydia Wamala
“Moreover,” the 27-year-old adds, “we did not have drying and storage equipment before. Because we kept our maize on the floor, it gathered dirt and got infected with moulds. I am excited that we are going to get modern airtight silos. With quality grain, more people will come to buy our produce. We will be able to bargain better going forward and to set a higher price – ourselves, not the buyers. I am willing to be an ambassador for this programme.”
Another Congolese refugee, Marceline Nyiranfaranye, aged 57, is married and lives with 11 family members. She is as excited as Sibomana about the WFP support.
“Rats have been expelled,” she says. “For a long time we had no equipment for keeping our produce safe, but now I see a way of storing it, moreover for long periods. This implies food security.”
Another of the trainees for the day, 23-year-old Bukumi Mahoro, lives with her parents and 12 other family members. She marvels as she counts the new things she has learnt from the training and the benefits she expects.
“When the quality of our maize improves, vehicles will come and traders will buy our produce,” Bukumi says. “We would like WFP to link us to even bigger markets. There is money in this (maize) business.”
Refugees have laid their maize crop out on the ground to dry. Photo: WFP/Lydia Wamala
The post-harvest-loss reduction training falls under a livelihoods support programme that WFP began to implement a in collaboration with UNHCR and the Uganda government in 2015. With funding from the UK and Canada, the programme aims to support self-reliance among refugees in line with the Uganda’s second National Development Plan.
The assistance is also in line with the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment (ReHOPE) strategy supported by the UN agencies in Uganda under UNHCR’s co-ordination. REHOPE is intended to enhance social service delivery in refugee hosting areas, with a view to integrating services with local government systems, and economically empowering refugee-hosting areas.