My field work experience in Karamoja- Uganda, demystified stereotypes about the region

Elizabeth Nderitu is a Kenyan and a beneficiary of the Mastercard-RUFORUM postgraduate scholarship given through RUFORUM and placed at Egerton University, one of the implementing Universities.She is from Cohort l pursuing a masters in of Science programme in Community Studies and Extension, She shares with us her research and placement story

After submission of my Master thesis for oral examination, I was attached to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Kenya Office in Nairobi in the (Markets, Institutions, Nutrition and Diversity) department. I have been working under the scaleWAYS project (Scaling out resilient water and agricultural systems). This research project aims to contribute to resilience of land and water resources, improved health of ecosystems and human wellbeing in the extended Lake Victoria Basin (eLVB). My specific focus is on communities whose livelihoods depend on livestock, fodder resources and the ability of people in the eLVB to systematically produce and avail livestock feed resources in future.

Elizabeth in a Pokot Manyatta at the Ateker Cultural Centre in Moroto

Part of my work with the scaleWAYS project was in the Karamoja region. This region is in north eastern Uganda and it stretches across an isolated corner bordering Kenya to the East, South Sudan to the North and with Ethiopia not far off. The region is named after the people who live there, The Karamajong.  This semi-arid region covers an area of 27,000 Km2.  I come from the Kenya highlands, an ever green fertile plateau and one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Kenya, a region which was reserved during colonialism for the exclusive use of the colonialists and their government, I therefore had no experience in an arid land.  However, I had read and heard so much from various sources and was well prepared for the experience.

I travelled to Karamoja in February, 2020.  My focus in the region was to have a clear understanding of the fodder value chain. That is; what the value chain has been in the past, the current trends and the future fodder options projected by different stakeholders. The aim was to collect as much information from the regional stakeholders as well as observation.  I paid special attention to organisations that have pastoralism aspects in their work. Some of the organisations that I engaged with include Mercy Corps in Kaabong, Wealthungerhilfe, GIZ, Matheniko Development forum in Moroto among others

Learning about the Karamajong culture at Ateker Cultural Centre in Moroto

I expected the region to be a plain, dry and very hot but actually to my amazement,  it is covered with a lot of vegetation in most parts and has a cool breeze. Karamoja has fascinating sceneries! It is not a plain land like I had pictured in my head but rather has beautiful mountains, hills, beautiful rocks and national parks.  The breeze especially in the evening is breath-taking, the people are so hospitable, not to mention the delicious meals!

The general overview about my focus in the region is that since disarmament in the Karamoja, the livestock decreased greatly but with time and especially lately they have started to increase. There is communal ownership of land with the pastoralist moving from one place to another depending on the seasonality of the pasture. The people follow their “normal farmers’ calendar” that depicts that the rains set in between March to April and therefore pasture is available from May to September. October to February is dry period and burning of pasture kicks off and for so that reason; and that’s when the pastoralists migrate to other districts like Loyeel in Karenga districts.

The people majorly keep the indigenous breeds of cattle though with increased urbanisation there exists some improved breed especially in Moroto. I observed that even though this is an arid area it is not as dry as the bordering Turkana side in Kenya. According to the informants, during the dry months, the Turkanas drive their animals to Karamoja region for grazing purposes. They co-exist peacefully most of the times apart from when cattle raids happen which are less common. There is also a dam constructed in Moroto and it serves both the Karamoja people and the Turkanas. There is enhanced security in the region since disarmament though the Karamajong are slowly acquiring guns from the Turkanas but the government of Uganda is always keen to intervene. The informants also noted that one important aspect of the Uganda cattle raids as compared to Kenya is that; most of the times the stolen cattle are always recovered while in Kenya in most cases there is no recovery.

Agricultural activities have increased in the region, with farmers growing maize, sorghum, millet, cowpeas and groundnuts among others. This has been causing conflicts between farmers and the pastoralists. There is also encroachment in game reserves. Though majority of the people depend on naturally growing pasture, there is increased sensitization on the importance of fodder production. Some of the farmers are now making hay with the increased markets especially in Kenya and the urban areas where farmers practice zero grazing. There are various organisations trying to harness the same. For example, Mercy Corps has pilot project of some fodder crops but the uptake is still slow. The main challenge is behaviour change because the people are used to moving from one region to another for pasture. The pilot consists of Napier grass, Rhodes grass, elephant grass and lablab as the legume. Though the Napier grass did not do well.

Fodder grass
A visit of the Resilience project on fodder production in Kaabong

The gender perspective was also an important aspect that I looked into. Gender inequality is very common in the region. The men own livestock, women have a responsibility to take care of the household and also carry out the farming activities. In areas where there is fodder production, women are the one taking the lead yet they have little or no control on the finances that come with that. The youthful men carry out searching for pasture, maintain security of both animals and the community and also do the raiding.

Overall, my experience in Karamoja was very fascinating. I not only learnt a lot, but also created networks with different organisations and identified various fodder intensification opportunities. I am very grateful to RUFORUM and ICRISAT for the experience to work in the scaleWAYS project on Fodder intensification in the extended Lake Victoria basin. I seem to learn a new thing on daily basis and I am growing tremendously professional wise.

For More Information about RUFORUM Contact;
Maureen Agena
Communications and Advocacy
Tel: +256-417-713-300 (Office)
Direct Line: +256-417-713-326

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