The challenges of being a female farmer in Uganda

Nambiro Fatuma is a single mother of 4 kids that fully depend on her. She, on the other hand, depends on her income that comes from a family farm owned by her father. “I produce bananas, maize, beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, mangoes and avocados…” she says. “I once thought about starting a poultry enterprise but due to lack of skills and knowledge and also lack of initial capital, I was withdrawn from this and remained active only in agriculture.”

How easy it is for a woman being a farmer in Uganda?

In order to achieve being a farmer here in Uganda -and in many other developing countries- a woman must be in good relationship with her husband. This may sound a bit strange to you, but it is the first thing that came on my mind considering what I have been through all these years. Secondly, I must say that it is essential acquiring innovations and knowledge regarding farming and agriculture. These, can be achieved by the help of NGOs and Government agencies which are targeting women and striving for woman empowerment. Moreover, deep inside her she must believe that she can farm like a man. Last but not least, I believe that capacity building for women in farming sector could also help a lot.”

But that’s not just it. All of the above is just a small part of the reality that holds women back from being as capable farmers as men. Because, you know what? They are as capable as men. That is something on which no one can argue. But, given the circumstances, the truth is that inequality rules.

The challenges of being a female farmer in Uganda
Miss Nambiro Fatuma while answering the questions of the interview for Food Security Center in the presence of FSC’s External Associate and Program Manager in Uganda, Emmanuel Buchana.

Female and male farming cannot be the same because -in many cases- IT IS NOT the same. “Well, that is true…” agrees Fatuma and continues explaining the reasons.

In some communities, married women are allowed to grow food only for home consumption, whereas men can also grow food for business. But even if -at some cases- a woman happens to harvest her produce and takes the surplus to sell it, men monopolize the market and it is up to their decision whether she can actually sell it and what price she will get. But this is not the only problem we are facing. In addition to all of the above, in most of the cases, men decide where the women can seed for any incoming season.” Fatuma, doesn’t have her own land to cultivate. You see, women -on the contrary to men- are denied the opportunity to own a family property and they are not even allowed to inherit their family’s belongings (farms included). Given the circumstances, women empowerment seems utopian since there are women who cannot even own things that legitimately should be theirs.

Despite this (frustrating) fact, Fatuma keeps on striving for a living and her father’s family farm remains her one and only asset. But do her efforts pay off as she wishes they would? “Some seasons do pay off, but others don’t. That is mainly due to the inconsistent weather changes… We have periods of abundant rain, but there are also periods of prolonged dry spells. The problem is that -nowadays- you cannot always know when drought will hit and for how long it will stay…” And as if these challenges weren’t enough, Fatuma tells us that a successful harvest depends on one more thing which has nothing to do with climate change.

“There are many cases in which dealers provide us with fake seeds. Seeds that lead to a bad harvest or to no harvest at all. This is happening because dealers do not care about the quality of seeds. They are just thinking about how they can earn more money – and for that reason they sell a low-cost product from which they earn more. We, on the other hand, are losing a lot more than the money we give in order to buy the seeds.”

Despite the difficulties, though, Fatumo moves straight forward and she is trying to be ready for the future. “I would like to learn more about agro-ecological farming practices and be able to incorporate them on my field. Through them, I would be able to keep the soil fertile for a longer period of time. Through agro-ecology, the eco system is also maintained and this can increase the chain of food supply all year round – not to mention that it is also good for our health and the health of our kids and those of future generations. In addition, I believe that it would be very helpful having access to improved seeds, resilient to climate change and -of course- to improved animal breeds equally adapted to climate change. Moreover, if the state would like to empower women as far as farming and agriculture is concerned, they could do it through women group education and through the creation of village saving and loan associations (VSLA) for women.”

As we resume our talk, we ask Fatuma to share with us her deepest wish for the years to come. “I would love to see public and private institutions organizing more special events through which they would target women farming groups in women enterprises. Last but not least, capacity building in aspects related to farming and agriculture would be essential for us as I have mentioned above.”

By reading again and again all the things that Fatuma shared with us, I feel the need to say once more that women empowerment and environmental sustainability can only be achieved through equality and education. These two factors, are essential in order to guarantee prosperity for future generations.

Photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

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