In 2017, Carolyn Othieno came to Tacoma North Rotary to tell us about a school she and her friends in the Circle of Friends in Action (COFIA) had been supporting in the town of Tororo in Eastern Uganda, where Carolyn grew up. They had been providing school supplies and a meal each day to the children. After a few years, enrollment had grown from 200 to 700 students when the word spread that there was food. Hunger was a major impact on student learning, but the ability to feed so many students wasn’t sustainable. Improving farming practices in the surrounding villages would enable families to feed their children and provide needed income.
More than 80% of Uganda’s population depends on farming for food and income. Farming practices in rural Uganda have been handed down over many generations, crops are not healthy, susceptible to drought, and low yielding. These conditions make farming difficult. People live in deep poverty, lack nutrition, and have very little income.
Since Carolyn’s club presentation and our initial trip to Uganda to see how we could help, Tacoma North Rotary has been working with COFIA and Carolyn’s family in Uganda, with the partnership of other Rotary clubs in Pierce County and support of several District Community Grants and private donations. Over that time, we have developed a 15-acre Demonstration Farm on property Carolyn’s family owns, formed a farming collective comprised of 60 women in three nearby villages, and installed water wells open to the community in every village we are present. The women have gained confidence from farming in groups, as well as knowledge of a variety of crops and best farming practices. They have earned income to support their families; one woman put a new roof on her hut, another purchased a mattress for her mother.
We have formed a social enterprise organization called COFIA Uganda who’s objective is to foster greater health and widespread economic empowerment in the Tororo District of Eastern Uganda through sustainable farming. Since it was established in 2018, with the help of a District 5020 Community Grant, the COFIA Demonstration Farm has developed into an organization with a staff that provides training in modern farming practices, tools, seeds, organic fertilizer, and pesticides to farmers in the region. COFIA Uganda is also partnering with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and Makerere University on agricultural research and effective farming practices. These organizations consult throughout Eastern Africa.
In July of this year, COFIA Uganda held its first annual Farming Exposition. More than 400 farmers attended over three days. They received training from the researchers of NARO and saw healthy crops on the Demo Farm that clearly demonstrated the potential of farming with the technologies and practices that NARO provides. The NARO researchers were impressed with the large attendance and very glad to be sharing their knowledge directly with the farmers in the villages. For the farmers, it was an unheard-of opportunity to have contact with experts like these.
Most of the farmers attended all three days, many of them traveling 15 miles or more; on foot, bicycle, motorbike, or with the assistance of transportation provided by COFIA. The Rotary District Community Grant that funded this exposition covered all the expenses, so this was free to all participants, and a meal was served for all each day. From a survey of the attendees, we learned that 83% of them depend on farming for daily meals and income, 60% have never received training in farming though half of them have been farming for more than 20 years, more than half of the attendees were women. The crops they are most interested in growing and receiving training for are maize, peanuts, cassava, and tomatoes.
The success of the recent Farming Exposition demonstrated that we need to scale the reach of COFIA Uganda. The Demonstration Farm, the Women’s Farming Collective and our relationship with NARO are the nucleus of something bigger. We are crafting a Rotary Global Grant in partnership with the Rotary Club of Kiwatule in Kampala, Uganda. They are very experienced with global grants in their country, with a Past District Governor in their club Xavier Sentamu, who is serving as their District Foundation Chair. We feel very good about the partnership, especially after meeting at one of their regular club meetings, introducing ourselves, talking about the potential of the grant, and having them participate at the Expo.
Our goal is to collect $50,000 in funding between clubs in Rotary District 5020 and District 9213 in Uganda and the matching potential of the districts and Rotary International. With three clubs at $5,000 each, we can reach the maximum match for Rotary District 5020 ($15,000) and the 80% match from RI ($12,000) for a total of $42,000. The rest will come from the Rotary Club of Kiwatule in Kampala, Uganda, their partner clubs, and matching through District 9213 + RI, as well as private donations.
Elements the Global Grant will fund (over two to three years):
- Build on the relationships formed with 400 farmers at the Farming Exposition to expand the reach and impact of COFIA Uganda with other farmers of the region
- Expand the Farming Collective into new villages, from 60 to 120 women or more
- Build a network of Key Farmers to improve their farms and demonstrate best practices
- Build a network of farmer trainers in the COFIA program to expand the reach of our relationships and dissemination of knowledge and farming inputs
- Expand access to NARO seeds and training materials (with COFIA and Rotary co-branding)
- Provide regular seasonal training to local farmers around best practices, at the Demo Farm and at remote farming sites
- Conduct annual Farming Expositions
- Build relationships with markets to provide access for farmers in the COFIA program
- Help each farmer to be financially secure through their participation in the COFIA program
- Build a sustainable economic model where COFIA Uganda can sustain the training and support and continue to grow into more areas of Eastern Uganda
We have begun our draft application and hope to have the grant approved and under way in for the first season of farming in Spring 2023. The work of Rotary has been greatly benefitted by our relationship with COFIA Uganda and the Othieno family. It has also been rewarding doing all this in partnership with other clubs, principally Tacoma #8 and Puyallup Rotary. Together we can do so much with the resources of Rotary to empower even more farmers in the villages of Eastern Uganda.