Strengthening Women Smallholders’ Resilience to Agricultural Shocks for Enhanced Income Diversification and Empowerment in Uganda

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In Uganda, women in rural areas are the main producers in rice farming, in particular, and agriculture, in general, accounting for about 90 percent of the nation’s food. Despite this, they do not benefit from what they produce due to traditional values that keep women from fully taking part in decision making, controlling, and accessing finance and other resources. According to a recent study on Women’s Land Rights as a Pathway to Food Security in Uganda, women are also more vulnerable than men to agricultural shocks caused by disasters like drought and flood because a majority are poor, largely subsistence-oriented, and depend on less rewarding farming practices to produce low-value crops.

To unlock these bottlenecks, the project in Uganda, under the USAID-funded Advancing Local Leadership, Innovation and Networks (ALL-IN) initiative, is testing a comprehensive approach to supporting women to improve their on-farm productivity, increase their resilience to shocks, and enhance their overall empowerment. This research builds evidence on what mix of interventions creates the most opportunities for women to escape poverty and secure resilience to improve the wellbeing of their families and communities.

Caroline Adero, a 34-year-old rice farmer is among the 640 women from Southwestern and Northern Uganda who recently benefited from ALL-IN-led trainings on business skills, gender transformation, and gender-responsive climate smart agricultural practices. To equip them with tools to withstand climate shocks, the project is training these women on using improved technologies to continue farming even when there is drought, using kitchen gardening to plant greens, and using cow dung and goat remains as manure to help the garden gain lost nutrients.

“These sessions are designed to create awareness about the gender roles, equip women with business skills to improve their existing business, or motivate them in opening up [a] business. The training is also critical in helping the group manage the revolving fund for the benefit of all members,” says Dr. Florence Kyoheirwe Muhanguzi, the project’s Principal Investigator from Makerere University.

Like many farmers, Caroline faces many challenges in areas like production and access to market for her produce. “Pests and weeds are some of the key challenges I face in rice farming. Because of that, my rice did not yield well. Although I struggled to reduce the burden by uprooting the affected stems to reduce the spreading, I still got low harvest,” says Caroline. “Unprecedented drought also affected my farming, and I did not get the volume I expected.”

With support from ALL-IN, the project is introducing revolving funds to selected women’s savings groups to boost their small-scale agribusinesses. The groups aggregate their produce in a common shop to increase their bargaining power and sells at fairly good prices.

Caroline standing in front of a house she recently built from her rice farming business

This intervention by the ALL-IN research project is beginning to yield some positive outcomes for the farmers. “First of all, the project brought us together in doing things. Before, we used to do things separately with divided minds. After the project interventions, we now plant together, weed, harvest and transport home together,” adds Caroline.

The project, which is not only helping the farmers to increase the volume of their produce but is also helping them to access rewarding markets, has boosted their livelihoods in various respects. “Before, we would plant less than an acre and less than 2 kilograms of seeds, which would only yield about 75 kilograms but, because of the project, we expanded to 150 kilograms even amidst production challenges,” says Caroline.

Caroline further notes, “It is because of the project that we got 1 million Ugandan shillings from selling the rice, which we used to buy timber and other building materials. We used our skills to produce bricks, which made it cost-effective to build our aggregation shop.”

To Caroline and her group, resilience means that they are better able to continue with production whether shocks hit or not. They attribute the trainings by the ALL-IN project team as important tools to boost their resilience. Furthermore, as now-members of a farmer group, Caroline and her group members can now borrow money to diversify their portfolio on areas like dairy and poultry farming to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

ALL-IN is a development research initiative that funds various research projects across six African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria). ALL-IN is implemented by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk & Resilience in collaboration with the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED).