Overcoming food insecurity and building sustainable agricultural micro-businesses

By Moses Tusibira, Project Coordinator, Uganda

Food insecurity is one of precursors of malnutrition and famine, and farmers in rural Africa can be experiencing it even while they are surrounded by flourishing cash crops.

If what they are growing cannot feed their families, and they are competing with their neighbours to sell all their harvest to just one or two corporate buyers, the result is people experiencing hunger and farmers with no way of building a better life. And these are often the communities most at risk of the climate crisis.

When we first started working in Kamuli, in eastern Uganda three years ago, families were surviving purely from their plantations of maize and sugarcane. They grew no fresh fruit or vegetables, they had no animal protein in the diets, and they had very limited sources of income. What we could see was food insecurity and malnutrition: this was a life-threatening situation.

So we began our Kamuli Inclusive Livelihoods Project (KILP). With training, families were very quickly growing vegetables and beans, and eating three meals a day. Once their family needs were met, they started to sell their surplus produce at local markets, and that valuable income enabled them to diversify their farms further, including investing in livestock.

It is at this stage that many developments organisations step back from community support: food security is achieved and there is some income to pay for school fees or medical care.

Farmers in Uganda
Farmers in Uganda who have started growing soya

How do our programmes differ from many other development organisations?

At Ripple Effect, we want to nurture the entrepreneurial ambition that we so often see. Although farmers’ earnings are now above the poverty line, their income is still low which means they are very vulnerable to changing circumstances. Climate crisis is disrupting the traditional indicators of the right time to plant seeds, and often planting is followed by too little or too much rain, causing crops to fail.

In our programmes we work alongside farmers to understand the potential markets in their area, and we bring community groups together to form a plan.

In Kamuli, the groups identified an opportunity to grow soya beans for both grain and seed. Working alongside our enterprise experts, they explored more than 20 ways in which value can be added to soya – such as making soya milk, livestock feeds, and mixing with cassava flour and oil to make the popular snack bagiya.

Once they are earning enough to invest, they will be able to collectively buy the technology they need to take their enterprises further, such as connecting to electricity and accessing refrigeration. And by working as a co-operative they can sell their produce in bulk to access larger markets and earn higher prices.

Enterprise development is crucial to ensuring that farmers thrive, and don’t just survive. But we are directed by one overriding principle.

When working with farmers like those in Kamuli we must ensure that enterprise doesn’t come at the expense of family nutrition. The temptation may be to produce cash crops such as sugarcane and coffee, but if they offer no direct nutritional benefit to the growers their families will be vulnerable to climate and market fluctuations.

Our priorities are...

Ensure food security and diversity for the family

Sell to the local community to generate income

Access value and access wider markets

Moses Tusibira headshot

“It begins on an African farm, but where does it go? We see a future full of potential.”

Moses Tusibira Project Coordinator, Uganda