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Participatory Approach to Food Security in Uganda

By Erin Culbertson and Moses Kalyebara

Erin Culbertson has been the Technical Writer for Plan Uganda since July 2003. As part of her primary degree in Public and International Affairs, she researched community-based malnutrition initiatives in developing countries and volunteered at a malnutrition centre in Cape Town.

Moses Kalyebara, an agriculture graduate of Makerere University, Uganda, has worked for Plan for 7 years as the Country Agricultural Advisor. Before this, he was one of the managers of a British tea company and the manager of agro-processing for an INGO called World Learning.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following to the project in Uganda: David Kyeyune, Project Coordinator for Food Security, Cassiano Kansiime, Community Development Coordinator (CDC), Martin Nzabala, (CDC), and the communities of Kasana and Bamunanika in Luwero District.

Schoolboys registered in school feeding programme

Plan is an international, non-governmental, child-centred development organisation without religious or political affiliation (see box for the basis of the organisation's operations). For more than 12 years, Plan Uganda has worked in partnership with Ugandan communities to establish successful health, education, income generation and housing/sanitation improvement programmes that are meeting the needs of over 300,000 people. This commitment to communitydriven development has helped the organisation win the trust and confidence of community partners.

Plan works in four districts in Uganda (Kampala, Luwero, Kamuli and Tororo), primarily located in the central and eastern regions of the country. Over 80% of families in Uganda rely on subsistence agriculture. Low agricultural productivity, degradation of natural resources, and limited access to modern agricultural technologies and markets are all factors that may reduce families' household incomes. It is difficult for families to raise enough food for survival on this land, let alone additional food to create an income basis. Children suffer the effects of this poverty, as food insecurity leads to deficient diets and malnutrition.

Vision and basis of Plan's work

Fundamental to Plan's operations is the organisation's vision of a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people's rights and dignity

Child sponsorship is the basic funding component of the organisation, with over one million children and families enrolled. Plan strives to achieve lasting improvements in the quality of life of deprived children in developing countries through a process that unites people across cultures and adds meaning and value to their lives by:

Child Centred Community Development (CCCD) is Plan's basis for planning, resource mobilisation, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of all programmes. It is equity-based and requires a change in relationships between and among individuals and institutions at all levels - children and adults, the poor and the elite, females and males. CCCD emphasises inclusiveness, respect, shared learning and the importance of actively engaging children and adults in matters that affect them. Plan has begun (and will continue) to shift its programme approach away from one based upon traditional top-down delivery of services, towards one that is more child-centred, participatory, and community-based.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching poverty reduction targets and development goals in Uganda. The pandemic has resulted in the death and illness of men and women in their prime ages, thus reducing the productive labour force that is engaged in agricultural production and also creating a large number of orphans in Uganda. Some farming families affected by ill health and death from HIV/AIDS have stopped planting traditional food crops, such as nutrientrich beans, and have replaced them with less nutritious root crops that are easier to produce. When the primary breadwinner of a family falls ill, the entire family's food security is threatened. Additionally, a person living with HIV/AIDS needs to maintain a balanced, adequate diet to boost her/his immune system. To make ends meet, many families are selling off livestock, crops their children should be consuming, and household assets. In order to address the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, food security, and nutrition, crops and production technologies that require less labour and inputs, yet retain micronutrients, need to be promoted. Higher value food crops, such as coffee and vanilla, also will be promoted to improve nutrition and income-generating activities.

Food security project

In response to these factors, Plan developed the Strengthening Food Security for Children and Families Living in Poverty Project. The project is being implemented in one district, Luwero, which is located about 45 km from the country's capital. It began in January 2004 and is projected to end in December 2008. The project was created through funding by the Douwe Egberts Foundation.

The overall project objectives include:

In Plan Uganda's new Country Strategic Plan, the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) is used to understand and analyse the circumstances of vulnerable children and their families and to identify the families that qualify as 'chronically poor' and those that are 'economically vulnerable.' Targeted livelihood interventions for the families will be used to improve the food security and household incomes only for those families identified as 'chronically poor.' For the 'economically vulnerable' families, capacity-building exercises, agricultural training programmes, and income-generating activities will enhance their abilities to provide for their children's basic needs.

Vanillapods growing as part of project to support cash crops

The 'chronically poor' include the severely disabled, terminally ill, child-headed households, the unemployed and the landless. People living with HIV/AIDS and their families will also fall into this category, particularly as the parents become weaker and eventually die, leaving widows, orphans, and child-headed households in precarious situations. This category of people has difficulty participating in community-managed projects. Studies have shown that targeted transfers of agricultural inputs can increase the livelihoods of the poor, particularly if they utilise the transfers for investment and improved productivity.

The 'economically vulnerable' include cash crop farmers, orphans, informal sector workers, the elderly and widows. This group could potentially benefit from different interventions, such as micro-credit programmes, training in modern farming techniques, and capacity enhancing activities.

Community participation

After raising awareness in communities about the project, over 1,000 farm families were identified by their communities through the SLA. Using a participatory approach, a 'social map' was created which included the number of people living in houses, their livelihoods, and the heads of the family. Both the 'chronically poor' and 'economically vulnerable' were identified, as various project activities could benefit the different groups. These participants received training on project structure, management, documentation and objectives.

One quarter (25%) of the participants selected were women. This number is lower than targeted, because coffee is traditionally seen as a man's crop and most women do not have ownership of the coffee gardens. Gender-disaggregated data was collected on women's involvement in and control of coffee farming. The role of women in attaining food and nutrition security is extremely important, particularly because experience shows that women transfer improved food/nutrition security and income to their children.

The project was developed and implemented in collaboration with local government structures, an NGO called Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP), and Ibero (U) Ltd. In this project, Plan is adopting a community-managed project approach for certain components, such as animal provision. The project has embraced the concept of farmer-tofarmer extension, in which model farmers voluntarily support approximately five other farmers.

The model farmers receive special training in topics such as coffee agronomy, post-harvest handling, soil and water conservation, and internal control systems. They are also provided with necessary tools.

Project impact

By the end of the first year of the project (January 2005), a number of outputs and impacts have been realised:

The future

Coffee plantation support group

Key issues identified throughout the project will be addressed in the upcoming years. Seasonal changes and unreliable weather conditions have proved a particular challenge, since this delayed crop planting and so influenced the timing of seasonal harvesting.

More attention is needed on the gender aspect of the project. Community awareness sessions could address the involvement of women in coffee production and the production of other cash crops - particularly in the case of AIDS widows who are supporting their children. Additionally, more interventions are needed specifically to target and involve child-headed households in cash crop production.

Coffee production alone will not guarantee improved food security in households. For farmers with limited resources, food crop production for consumption and income generation remains vital for attaining food security. Integrated farm management, which does not focus on a single cash crop, is needed to sustain the farm's natural resource base.

For further information, contact Moses Kalyebara, email: and Erin Culbertson, email:

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Erin Culbertson and Moses Kalyebara (). Participatory Approach to Food Security in Uganda. Field Exchange 25, May 2005. p39.



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