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Karamojong drop cattle rustling for crop farming

Karimojong-women weeding their beans in Lobanya parish Kotido district, Karamoja region. (PHOTO BY MAFABI)

Kotido-Karamoja region was once a dreaded place as marauding Karamojong cattle rustlers’ wreaked havoc on the unsuspecting communities.

But with the now completed UPDF disarmament programme, where most of the notorious gun wielding communities have surrendered their guns, the place is now blossoming with agricultural produce.

The once frightened locals  are now back to their gardens and their efforts  can clearly be seen with well-tended gardens of  sorghum, millet, beans, simsim rice, ground nuts and potatoes.

In village after village despite the dry spell, gardens have areas of green; people can be seen in their gardens digging, what does this mean? Karamojong are slowly adapting to farming alongside the traditional pastoralism.

All these are potent symbols of a new and future Karamoja under the Karamoja Agro-pastoral Development Programme [KADP], an local NGO operating in Moroto and Nakapiripiriti districts.

Mr John Nagiro the LCV chairman for Nakapiripirit says besides providing development services to facilitating and empowering the local communities to have a more sustainable development with improved livelihoods of Karamojong pastrolists, the NGO and now with the government’s Operation Wealth Creation are also re-directing the pastoral communities to farming as the basis of their livelihood.

And now with the communities actively involved in farming one wonders whether Karamoja is adapting to a dual way of life –that’s living a life of a crop farmer while at the same time keeping along with the traditional pastoralism.

In a new move meant to enhance the use of funds, the third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf III) has now trained about 40,000 beneficiaries in enterprise management over the next five years.

NUSAF III was approved by the Parliament of Uganda on 3rd September 2015.  This was followed by the approval of the financing agreement by the World Bank in March 14th 2015.  And it was meant to provide a funding IDA loan of 130 million dollars for the Project.

According to the RDC Moroto Mr John Keem Napaja, the move to the third phase of NUSAF was largely due to the outstanding success of the NUSAF2 and a response to requests by the communities of Northern Uganda for further NUSAF interventions.

Mr Napaja said the main focus of NUSAF III is on providing effective house-hold income support and building the resilience of poor and vulnerable people in Northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-region.

“And today NUSAF III and OWC have helped livelihoods in Karamojong sub-region by enhancing household income generation, teaching local Karamojong how to do crop farming, building resilience and fostering the long-term sustainability of the Project’s out-puts,” said Mr Napaja.

The community harvesting ground nuts in Lobanya-village Kotido district, Karamoja region. (PHOTO BY DAVID MAFABI)

Nusaf was created to facilitate the reconstruction of northern and eastern Uganda after years of war ravaged the areas and led to the breakdown of several infrastructures and livelihoods.

Dr Robert Limlim, the NUSAF Executive Director says half of the funding released to kick start the implementation has gone towards addressing disaster risks related to the prolonged drought experienced in the region.

“Whereas the first two phases of the project focused on revamping of schools, roads and health facilities, Nusaf III, a five-year project worth $130m (Shs 460m), targets to impart skills in a bid to transform the financial livelihoods of beneficiaries in line with government’s efforts to have a middle-class economy,” said Mr Limlim.

According to Mr Napaja the renewed sense of hope is testament to the future of Karamoja under the Uganda NUSAF III and OWC being implemented the districts of in Kotido, Moroto, Kabong, Napak and Nakapiripiriti that form the greater part of Karamoja region.

“And do you know that one thing you notice on returning to Karamoja every year is that someone has splendidly done well out of selling agricultural products, sorghum, millet, beans, Sim sim rice, Ground nuts and potatoes away from cattle rustling,” said Mr Napaja In village after village despite the dry spell, gardens have areas of green; people can be seen in their gardens digging, what does this mean? Karimajong are slowly adapting to farming alongside the traditional pastoralism.

Inside people’s houses is maize hang traditionally all over the house to dry and there is no single family you will find in Lobanya without food; this eastern Karamoja is in farming because it is located in the green belt.

Mr Peter Okello, the LCI chairman of Lobanya village in Lobanya parish in Kacheri sub-county in Kotido district says besides providing development services to facilitating and empowering the local communities to realize sustainable development with improved livelihoods of the Karimojong pastoralists, OWC and NUSAF III is re-directing the pastoral communities to farming as the basis of their survival.

Mr Okello, a Jie warrior says that whereas OWC’s aim is to develop the local organisations working in Karamoja to effectively support people centred efforts, especially the marginalized agro-pastoral groups for equitable development, with agriculture now taking centre stage government now intends to create a self-reliant people through agriculture.

Mr Bari Paul, the chairman of the farmers in Lobanya village who has adapted to farming says at first he wondered whether it was worth the effort dropping pastoralism to take on agriculture when NUSAF III and OWC introduced the idea not for long ago.

Mr Bari says he does not regret dropping pastoralism for farming because it has earned him money from selling his agricultural produce and his family has had enough to eat.

“I have discovered shortly that I wasted a lot of time looking after cattle when farming pays within a short time and provides food for one’s family rather than depending on WFP food rations and this is what I am teaching my people, we must stop begging and get to the garden,” said Mr Bari.

Ms Maria Dodoi another farmer in Lobanya says “There is a ray of hope for Karimajong to adapt to farming and other economic activities outside pastoralism but this is dependent on how NUSAF III, OWC and government prepares the people right from the grassroots.

Despite the long spells of drought in Karamoja sub-region, PML Daily noticed during the tour of some of the local farms that Karamoja region has virgin fertile soils that can support the growth of Sim Sim, Beans, Maize, Sunflower, Millet, Sorghum, Potatoes, Onions, ground nuts and Rice.

Mr Paul Loyanga, former Jie cattle rustler [now reformed] says however that many a Karamojong are a lazy lot so much attached to cattle with a negative attitude towards farming, this explains why vast fertile land in Karamoja region has remained virgin to date.

Mr Ambrose Tukei, the LCV chairman for Kotido says Many farms springing in up in Karamoja region attest government’s OWC programme commitment to transforming the region from a traditional pastoralism community to a modern agro-pastoral community.

Mr Tukei revealed that despite being areas for notorious cattle raiders, Lobanya, Kacheri are slowly adapting to farming as the basis of their livelihood.

The Pokot, Pian and Chekwii in Amudat and Nakapiripiriti districts respectively, the Labwar, Dodoth and the Jie tribes within Karamoja region, the leading cattle raiders in the North East of Uganda and Western parts of Kenya are also changing to farming.

The Karamoja younger generation – more outward looking, better educated, a bit less tribal-minded less dependent on the pastoralism seem more inclined to transforming their area from traditional pastoralism to pure farming.

Ms Caroline Atiang, a traditional Karamojong and a member of Kawuyang farmers group says she has been seeing WFP in Karamoja ever since she was born and that she would like to impact on his people to change to farming to exploit the virgin fertile soils to end WFP existence in the region.

The young generation feels that rather than merely disarm the Karimajong, the government should have sought an overall objective of improving the living conditions of the Karimajong through provision water retaining centres, micro-finance and micro projects in areas of education, health, livestock agriculture, community and environmental development.

“We also instil a saving culture in them, we want part of the food harvested sold and the income appropriated well with both women and men in essence we don’t want women to be left behind. Even the formation of farmer groups we have taught them to be gender sensitive,” said Mr Limlim.

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