How GARI farm is transforming lives of refugees, host communities in Madi Okollo

How GARI farm is transforming lives of refugees, host communities in Madi Okollo

By Andrew Cohen Amvesi   

MADI-OKOLLO. The residents of Rigbo sub-county in Madi Okollo district and the neighboring refugees in Rhino Camp refugee settlement have started adopting climate smart agricultural practices.

This is after years of believing that the river Nile-belt is not favorable enough to support farming due to the frequent dry spell usually experienced in the area.

But the introduction of Golden Agriculture and Rural Innovation (GARI) center farm has helped to demystify the notion that the area doesn’t favor the growth of certain crops.

Avako poses for a photo in her GARI center farm during its launch last month. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

According to Doris Avako, the executive director of GARI farm, she established the farm in 2018 with the aim of demonstrating whether the Nile-belt is not favorable for agriculture as widely perceived by the residents.

“The reason as to why I got interested in establishing GARI farm is when I did my baseline survey, I found many people in Madi Okollo were only interested in cattle rearing. There were no fruits and they totally believed that fruits couldn’t grow there and also, they believed that the only crops they could grow were simsim and cowpeas,” Avako stated.

“But when I started my demonstration, I was able to learn that rice can grow in lower Madi, equally bananas and fruits can grow there. And my main aim for establishing the farm was to empower the community members and to also show them that nothing is impossible under the sun when given the chance. I also wanted to see my community members being empowered and become self-reliant since most of them have been depending on other sources, they have not been concentrating on farming as a business,” Avako added.

Dr. Debo (R) and the UNCCI Arua Branch General Secretary, Rose Munduni (L) join Avako in showing one of her high yielding orange fruits in GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

Located 12km from River Nile in Wanyange A. village, Odobu parish in Rigbo sub-county, Avako said she was able to produce fruits and many other crops on GARI center farm which is sitting on 17 acres of land.

“The 17 acres of land has been subdivided into sub-plots where I do poultry, goats rearing, orchard management; under the orchard, I have citrus, mangoes, jack fruits, guavas, avocado and other fruit trees. I also do Apiary; I also have banana plantations, coffee and pineapple plantations. I grow crops like cassava, rice and I also promote oil seeds like sunflowers,” Avako remarked.

Now Avako said when the community realized that all the enterprises she has undertaken actually do very well in the area, they started coming to the farm to be trained and replicate the same in their respective farms.

Avako show part of her Apiary section of GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

She said so far, over 1,000 locals and refugees from Rhino Camp refugee settlement have benefited from the farm and are now embracing farming to fight food insecurity and also improve their living conditions.

“Through my demonstration where am promoting climate smart agriculture to see into it that the livelihood of the community members around my farm is improved, community members have been accessing free consultancy, free trainings and we have been doing demonstrations together with them and I have been giving the community members free improved drought resistant varieties of seeds to multiply and many of them have testified that they are doing well. Currently on ground, we have mini-demonstration farms which have been established by other farmers because of the GARI center farm,” Avako explained.

Avako shows some of her products she has added value to and packaged locally. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

Alfred Duku, a refugee at Wanyange in Rhino Camp settlement attested to the benefit GARI farm is giving them, saying it is through the knowledge acquired from the farm that he was able to establish a fruit garden which is now bringing for him money on a daily basis.

GARI center farm which is co-managed by Henry Toko, Avako’s husband, now employs a total of seven people who are tasked to undertake different responsibilities on the farm and are paid on a monthly basis.

Farming as a business

After equipping the locals on good agronomy principles and practices, Avako said she has now taken a step ahead to train the farmers on the need to take farming as a business.

Dr. Debo checks one of the pineaples in GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

“I’m trying to empower them economically on how to do farming as a business because most of them have been farming for subsistence. But this time I’m training them on how to add value to their products and generate money out of them,” Avako stated.

“For example, from my farm, I have been adding value to my products like right now, I make juice out of citrus, that is orange. I have pineapple juice, I make banana juice, I make wine out of rice, I make organic pesticides, I make liquid manure and green tea leaves out of citrus leaves. Even I have honey, I have natural oil which I make out of natural tree species, I have pure paste out of sunflowers and I also make animal feed. These are some of the value addition technologies I teach to my farmers to make more money,” Avako elaborated.

Challenges

However, Avako said when it comes to value addition, she lacks processing machines like juice processing machines, packaging materials and also limited funds for doing proper branding of her products.

On the other hand, Avako said she has been facing a serious challenge of wild bush fire which some years back burnt and destroyed almost everything she had invested in the farm.

The local water harvesting technology Avako is trying to promote in GARI center farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

The other challenge Avako is grappling with is the dry spell due to the low belt of the Nile whereby any time, there is drought which destroys whatever is planted.

But Avako said she has come up with measures on how to temporarily address the issue of the dry spell by planting vetiver grass to conserve the running water besides harvesting rain water in reservoirs and underground tanks.

“I’m also planning to have plastic tanks where I can harvest enough water to sort out the challenge of the dry spell,” Avako promised.

Avako said the other problem is also the mindset of people who still see farming as a dirty job and also believe that farming is for the poor rural people, a mindset she is trying to work hard to change.

She equally said the issue of inadequate funds is greatly affecting the progress of her farm.

Avako shows some of the vetiver grass she planted in her farm to conserve running rain water. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

“Since I started the farm, I have not gotten any support whether from the Local Government or from Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs). I have been struggling with my little resources which have made it very difficult for the farm to progress as I expected,” Avako noted.

Appeal

“My appeal to the government is if they could work hand in hand with me to see that we promote good and climate smart agriculture, the better. Since there is climate change, we can easily fight the challenges related to climate change and we can come up with mitigation measures in order to avoid the problems caused by climate change. By doing so, we can empower our people, employ them and also improve their household income, food security and nutrition at large,” Avako said.

Some of the local breeds of goats Avako is promoting in GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

She also observed that since all government and NGOs’ efforts are directed towards production, she encourages them to work along the value chain of agriculture to at least support production effort, post-harvest handling process and value addition.

Avako said sometimes farmers don’t earn good money because they end up at production without proceeding to value addition yet one can harvest good monies after adding value to his or her products.

“I urge the government to encourage our farmers to consider value addition as a priority in order to earn good income,” Avako, also a member of Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) Arua city branch appealed.

Leader’s take on GARI center farm

During the launch of GARI farm, Dr. Ronald Debo, the UNCCI Arua branch chairperson was impressed by the volume of work done by Avako and her husband on the farm.

Avako shows Debo some of the seed multiplication innovations she has come up with at GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

“I’m impressed by the way they have modeled their farm with the little resources they have without proper support, they have done tremendously well. We saw the fruits site; the oranges, the mangoes, we have been in the pineapple plantations, we have seen coffee growing in Lower Madi, in Rigbo sub county and no one could think that coffee would grow here and as we know now, money is in coffee. So, if coffee can grow in the West Nile especially in this hot place, this is an eye opener to all of us,” Debo said during the launch of the farm recently.

“We also went down and we saw the apiary, we saw the goat farming, we saw the poultry, we saw the piggery that is coming up. I’m really impressed with this. Then the value addition facilities; we saw wine generated from rice, we saw green tea leaves, we saw liquid manure and so many initiatives taking place in this rural setting. I’m really very impressed with the amount of work done here and it is my prayer that this farmer gets financial support from the banks; the Agricultural Credit Funds and support from any other partners because she is training local people and the refugee community,” Debo emphasized.

MP Afidra speaks during the launch of GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

As Arua chamber, Debo promised that they are going to support Avako and see how to link her with partners locally and internationally.

Debo who extended a cash contribution of Shs400,000 towards the development of GARI farm also pledged to support Avako with packaging and branding materials for her products which will later be marketed through the office of UNCCI Arua branch.

Avako poses for a photo near one of her mango fruits in GARI farm. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

Similarly, Ronald Afidra, the Lower Madi County Member of Parliament (MP) expressed gratitude to Avako for starting the farm which is now transforming the lives of the people in his constituency.

Afidra encouraged his people to embrace the trainings offered by GARI farm especially on value addition so that they can be able to make money and come out of poverty.

Afidra equally pledged to extend financial support of Shs500,000 to Avako to help her in running some of the farm activities as he continues to link her to partners at national and international levels for more support.

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