Incomes and access to high-quality tree-planting material have improved through nurseries run by women and youth, thanks to an Australian-funded project.
In the Mount Elgon region, women and youth comprise a critical labour force for farming. However, they also bear the costly burden of inefficient land-management practices and unpredictable weather.
Consequently, agricultural production and incomes are low and food insecurity is high. In addition, limited practical knowledge and inadequate supply of quality tree-planting material hinder adoption of agroforestry among female and young farmers in the region, according to a study to understand factors limiting or facilitating uptake of agroforestry technologies in the region.
‘Empowering youth and women to expand and effectively run sustainable tree-based ventures and increase their understanding of the many benefits and opportunities of trees are essential prerequisites to overcoming the various natural resources’ management and livelihoods’ challenges within the fragile Mount Elgon ecosystem,’ remarked Hillary Agaba, director of research at Uganda’s National Forestry Resources Research Institute.
To bridge the knowledge gap, the Trees for Food Security project in Uganda has so far conducted six training-of-trainers workshops in Mbale, Manafwa and Bududa districts. The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research.
The workshops aim to empower female and young farmers in various farming contexts with the best practices and strategies for collective action on agroforestry. This is in a bid to enhance effective, wide-scale dissemination of agroforestry knowledge and associated benefits.
Richard Namunyu, a model farmer explaining about a multipurpose tree-Calliandra calothyrsus to women and youth. Photo: National Forestry Resources Research Institute/ Charles Galabuzi
‘Enhancing participation of women and youth and access to information is critical in adoption and sustaining agroforestry innovations that contribute to improved food security, livelihoods, reducing climate-related risks, and restoring land productivity,’ said Clement Okia, ICRAF Country Representative in Uganda.
The training attracted 424 women and 356 young people from the three districts. Training was delivered in the local language (Lugisu) and learning was facilitated through a combination of methods and techniques, including active participatory lectures, discussions and practical field sessions. Model farmers hosted and led the field-based sessions, explaining various on-farm agroforestry practices and ways of managing tree–crop interactions.
For the participants, the training offered a platform to learn and share about how to address problems — such as over-shading of understorey crops, competition for water and nutrients and low crop yields — when trees are integrated in farmlands.
One of the outcomes from the training has been increasing establishment of tree-based enterprises by farmers and community-based groups so as to earn a better living.
‘The training opened our eyes not only on the numerous benefits of trees but also on tree nursery operations and management,’ said Bashir Wapaya, chairperson of Namanyonyi Youth Group. ‘We took it up and applied what we learned to start and run a tree nursery as a business.’
Started in 2017 and registered in 2018, Namanyonyi Youth Group has 16 members, nine of whom are female. In their commercial nursery, they raise a variety of seedlings from indigenous and exotic tree species, including fruit trees, such as mango (Mangifera indica), avocado (Persea americana) and jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), through to multipurpose ones like Eucalyptus grandis, Terminalia superba, Albizia coriaria and Cordia africana. Other than the tree nursery, the group also commercially grows maize and beans. Wapaya acknowledges that during the three years the group has been in existence, their lives have been uplifted.
‘I have personally bought a motorcycle from proceeds earned working in this tree nursery,’ said Wapaya.
To start them off, the project provided potting bags, shade mats, watering cans and seeds. The youth group earned about UGX 2.5 million (USD 672) in profits from sale of tree seedlings in 2019 and hope that this will rise to UGX 7 million (USD 1882) by the end of 2020. To increase their revenue streams, the group hopes to invest in a stationery shop to provide printing and photocopying services at affordable rates to the community.
They also plan to expand production capacity at the nursery from the current 60,000 to 500,000 quality seedlings per year to tap into the increasing demand in the region. In future, they plan to purchase a bigger piece of land that will permanently host the nursery and a community learning centre and knowledge hub for demonstrations of tree breeding, management, agroforestry tree technologies and soil and water conservation techniques.
For Alaisa Nagudi, a mother of three, the skills acquired from the training are yielding returns.
‘My work at the nursery is mainly potting and pricking of tree seedlings,’ she said. ‘We are paid standard rates according to labour provided and the profits from sale of seedlings are later shared amongst members. I have been able to pay school fees, house rent and provide food for my children from working in the tree nursery. I am setting aside part of my income to enable me to start a boutique business, which I believe I am also good at.’
Another group, Nkoma Youth Development Association is also running a savings and credit scheme from income generated from their commercial tree nursery. This is enabling members to access loans for improving their livelihoods. The group is also commercially rearing goats, chicken, dairy cows and pigs to boost their income.
The Mbale Rural Resource Centre, which is managed by the Trees for Food Security project, has brought access to superior agroforestry planting material closer to farmers. Over 800,000 quality tree seedlings of various multipurpose tree species from tested and verified seed sources have been produced from the centre and tree nurseries run by trained community groups. The seedlings are distributed to farmers and organized groups, including schools and churches. At the Centre, farmers are able to access a wide range of reference material and expert advice to enable them to select and grow trees that match their specific contexts.
The project has also gone a step further to build the capacity of tree-seed dealers, nursery operators and tree farmers on sourcing quality tree seeds, management of tree pests and diseases in nurseries and basic practices for quality seedling production. This is geared toward raising standards in tree germplasm production and ensuring availability of high-quality tree planting material with desirable traits.
Additional reporting by Charles Galabuzi, Ruth Kinuthia and Catherine Muthuri. The Trees for Food Security project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and implemented in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. For more information about the project, please contact Catherine Muthuri, project manager: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Charles Galabuzi, project coordinator, Uganda: email@example.com.