Monday, October 28, 2013

Ruhiira, A Beautiful First Trip to Uganda

On their most recent trip to Africa, Judy and John spent two days in the Ruhiira village cluster, one of 12 clusters participating in the Millennium Villages Project (MVP). Ruhiira is located in the southwest corner of Uganda, not far from the borders with Tanzania and Rwanda. This marked John and Judy’s first visit to Uganda, and it exceeded their expectations, from the beautiful countryside, to the lovely people, to the comfortable weather. They met with MVP staff, toured the villages, visited the two Eliminate Poverty NOW project sites, and met people involved in the projects.

Members of the Kabuyanda Farmers Cooperative
The first of those projects is the Kabuyanda Grain Warehouse. The goal of the project is to increase farmer income, achieve better prices by safely storing crops after harvest, jointly negotiating selling prices, and contracting with major feeding organizations like the World Food Program. Results have been mixed. A 300 metric ton warehouse was financed by the Craig Family Foundation (precursor to EPN) and a farmers cooperative was formed with the goal of gaining 500 members. Currently, the cooperative has only 125 participating farmers and only a fraction of the warehouse capacity is being used, so there is potential to achieve significantly higher farmer participation and income generation with more proactive leadership. John and Judy officially commissioned the warehouse during their visit, which was a nice honor.
The other project they funded in Ruhiira is the Kabuyanda Women’s Craft Cooperative, a women’s cooperative that creates a variety of crafts to generate extra income for the family. Funds were provided to test a new line of beaded jewelry. The test went well, and John and Judy found a wide variety of beaded products being sold at the local co-op as well as through local retail stores.

Members of the Kabuyanda Crafts Co-op

Farmer Paul

Judy and John also had a lovely visit with Farmer Paul, a retired military man with a thirst for knowledge and openness to new ideas. He is a prime example of what a diversified and integrated approach to farming can achieve.  The MVP provided Paul with training, an $800 prized dairy cow, and a hearty breed of goats from South Africa. In addition, Paul planted a garden where he grows fruits and vegetables for sale and personal use. He grows grasses that he feeds to his cow and goats, then uses the manure to fertilize the fields. The manure also is used in a biogas system that produces the gas he cooks with, eliminating the need to cut down trees for firewood, as well as the smoke that permeates most homes. Paul has dramatically improved his standard of living. He has built a new home, financed a retail shop for his wife, and sent his kids to university. He has also given offspring from his cow and goats to other farmers in the community so that they can begin to enjoy the same benefits as him.

John and Judy were particularly impressed with the progress made in infrastructure in the cluster. A network of all weather roads has been cut through the steep terrain, connecting the villages to each other and to the outside world. A water management system has been implemented that provides 9,000 people in the cluster with safe, easy access to water. A prototype shared solar power system was installed, providing power to approximately 120 businesses and households in the area. And the government is installing power lines that will connect the cluster to the national power grid, a decision that MVP had been advocating for many years.
The major goal for economic development in the region is to increase the economic value and diversity of farming activities. Ruhiira lies in the heart of banana country, and bananas are the cornerstone of the economy and local diet. There is much to be said about this subject--we are preparing a blog post dedicated to it! 

All in all it was a wonderful and rewarding trip.

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