UGANDA: Making the most of security and livelihood gains in Karamoja

Published on IRIN, by ny/kr/mw, October 25, 2011.

Catherine Namoe straightens up from the back-breaking task of harvesting cow pea leaves to answer some questions. It is tough work, she says, and the men do not help much. Even if the rain does not come again to turn the plant’s yellow flowers into pea pods, the leaves can be dried and stored for a while, and may help feed her family over the long, hungry season in Uganda’s northeastern region of Karamoja.  

Namoe’s options are slim. She gestures towards distant hills rising out of the semi-arid savannah. She could spend a day walking there, barefoot, cut a bundle of firewood from the remaining trees, take it to the nearest trading centre and sell it for a possible 500 Ugandan shillings (US$0.20) – enough to buy a cupful of kerosene or cooking oil or a few spoonfuls of sugar.

Yet her story is a tale of relative and still uncertain success. She and her fellow 1.1 million Karamojong, who come from more than 20 inter-related ethnic groups, are experiencing an unprecedented period of peace and opportunity … //

… Conflicting visions:

But what happens if the rains are not so good next year? According to Martin Orem, coordinator of the Coalition of Pastoral Civil Society Organizations in Uganda (COPASCO), Karamoja’s low and irregular rainfall makes agriculture very difficult, explaining the region’s traditional, pastoral economy; in times of drought herds can be moved – crops cannot.

Orem welcomes increased government attention to Karamoja but worries that “very senior people are saying that pastoralism is outdated, keeping our people in poverty, remaining backward”. He calls for closer consultation with communities in framing development plans.

“We recognize there must be change and we know for sure that pastoralists want to diversify their livelihoods, but it would be unfortunate for government to think they can think for communities,” he added.

Lopira of the Warrior Squad Foundation agrees, noting that many projects fail “because they are not properly consulting the people”.

“The government position is that people should settle; we understand… It is very difficult and expensive to provide services to pastoralists. If you help people to settle it will be more cost-effective to provide basic services,” said Omar Ayman, Oxfam Uganda country director. “[But] this may not be the best option for arid and semi-arid environments… If we decide on your behalf that we’re going to make you a farmer, that’s not right.”

Declining livestock numbers: … (full text).

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