The prolonged drought, coupled with already reduced food and cash ration support for refugees in Uganda, is threatening food security in settlements.
Uganda has experienced one of the worst droughts this year, greatly affecting all agricultural activities and output. Refugees who ventured into agriculture to supplement the food rations they receive while in the settlements were equally not spared, a situation that has since triggered a dire food crisis.
John Gai, a father of 10 children at Cluster L in Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, is among some of the farmers who took to large-scale farming early this year, hoping to reap big. Gai says he planted maize on a one-acre farm within the settlement but only harvested one bag of dried maize due to the dry spell.
He notes that the majority of the maize he planted dried up due to the scorching heat.
Gai says he had banked all his hope on agriculture since he did not qualify for relief assistance along with his children after arriving at the settlement in 2019 from South Sudan. He says the little food and cash ration his mother and relatives receive hardly keeps the family for more than two weeks.
John Juma, 25, a refugee at Cluster B in Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, says he made a huge loss in the last farming season from the two-acre maize farmland he hired at 200,000 Shillings. Like Gai, Juma says he opted to grow crops to supplement the food ration his family receives, but notes that the long dry spell has affected their dreams and, as a result, the family now only survives on a single meal per day.
Thomas Bigirimana, a Tanzanian refugee at Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District, reiterates the same concern. Bigirimana, who earns a living by growing vegetables, says his venture was badly affected this season, and now he is unable to take care of his family.
Bigirimana has called on development partners to invest more in irrigation facilities for the refugees to help them mitigate the ever-changing climate.
His call was equally welcomed by the French envoy to Uganda, Jules-Armand Aniambossou, during a visit to Nakivale Refugee Settlement, where he observed a need to invest in skilling refugees in smart agricultural practices to mitigate climate change. Aniambossou noted that there is also a need to improve the storage facilities within the refugee settlements to ensure what is harvested by the farmers is properly stored.
“We have to work together on the new challenge on the effect of climate change but also how to improve on the storage because it’s one thing to harvest and it’s another thing to be able to take all the opportunities of the work you did before,” says Aniambossou.
The French government, in a bid to strengthen food security among refugees, last year funded a one-year project on food security and livelihood in the districts of Isingiro and Kikuube. The 1.2 billion schillings food aid project is implemented by Action Against Hunger (ACF) in both Nakivale and Kyangwali refugee settlements and is aimed at addressing malnutrition, improving livelihoods, and mitigating climate change.
Mark Mutaawe, the settlement commandant at Nakivale Refugee Settlement, acknowledges that the long dry spell has had a toll on farming among the refugees in the settlement. He says Isingiro District, in particular, being a semi-arid region in the Ankole corridor, faced the gruelling effects of the drought that affected both hosts and refugees.
However, Mutaawe notes that there is a need for the establishment of irrigation facilities to help farmers sustainably grow crops throughout the year.
He says there is a need to address the aspects of environmental protection and livelihood improvement that few partners within the refugee settlements are undertaking.
The World Food Programme (WFP) reduced monthly food aid and cash rations provided to refugees in the country by 40% last year, citing a drop in funding.
In Nakivale Refugee Settlement, refugees receive 13,000 shillings in cash relief, down from the 31,000 shillings they used to get previously, according to Mutawe. The new arrivals, however, receive food in kind, consisting of 12.4 kg of maize, 3 kg of beans, and 0.9 litres of cooking oil.
Uganda is home to some 1.5 million refugees, with the majority (about 60 per cent) of the total population being from South Sudan, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).