Rural Women in Agriculture Share their Voices Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Luck Brian Wamboka

On 21st May, 2020, FRA with partners organized a webinar under the theme “Rural women who feed the world speak out: The Impact of COVID 19 on rural women’s productive capacity in the agricultural sector”.

The meeting aimed at creating space for rural women as the primary food producers to voice out on the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to feed the world and ground the economy on firm ground to recovery. It also aimed at generating and documenting real life experiences of rural women in agriculture amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; coping strategies that can be adopted to buffer the impact of shocks faced by these women even after the pandemic; and be used as cases to influence policy process for improved food and nutrition security.

It was also a space for rural women farmers with experience in livestock production, poultry, food vending and crop growing to speak out on the state of food production and productivity in terms of challenges and opportunities amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. The identified rural women farmers were mostly those who live in areas facing climate change emergencies such as floods and droughts. These experiences contributed to the enrichment of the discussion.

Sustainable food supply in Uganda greatly depends on rural women who are at the center of producing most of the food, supplying 77% of the labor force in agriculture. Despite their resilience, women bear numerous challenges including limited access to finance, natural disasters and unequal control and access to natural resources compared to men. If these vulnerabilities faced by women are not urgently addressed they might lead to consequences of food shortages, price hikes, under-nutrition, mass starvation and death especially among our most vulnerable populations. Thus, supporting women with appropriate mitigation measures to manage agricultural risks and providing them with spaces to share their experiences is a prerequisite to accelerating production and productivity in the sector even after the pandemic.

Margaret Kagole, a rural farmer from Buliisa district while addressing the meeting highlighted that farming activities have been limited by the effects of COVID 19 where women farmers find it hard to access their gardens and markets due to the prolonged lockdown by government that has limited the transport system. Christine Nabwami a farmer from Mityana district added that the effects of climate change characterized by heavy rainfall is increasingly destroying property and crops hence incapacitating women from carrying out farming activities.

Juliet Okecho, a farmer from Bukedea was concerned that women are finding hard to access finances as the situation found them when they were not ready. She noted that women groups are no longer operating like they used to but are rather working separately to plant food crops to sustain their households. However, she noted that in her community through the Bukedea Poverty and Monitoring Association, a few selected women are taking part in the government programs of sensitizing farmers from home to home encouraging them to respond to the situation by growing crops to ensure food is available. She added that similar messages have also been shared on radios where those women are invited to speak.

Martha Asio a farmer from Wera Sub County in Amuria noted that COVID 19 found farmers unprepared and access to the market is currently very challenging. She noted that through WEDA, a local NGO she is working with some women leaders are sensitizing their fellow women farmers to adopt simple farming methods kitchen gardening to sustain our families with nutritional and adequate food. She added that they have sensitized families to put in place sanitation facilities as one of the actions to mitigate the outbreak of COVID 19.

Jennifer Nangole, a pastoralist from Karenga district noted the limited access to extension services, production resources like land due to restrictions on movement. She added that access to extension services has been limited as CSOs who have been actively supporting government to extend those services to rural farmers can no longer permitted to move and offer support. Currently, women are bearing the burden of providing food for their families yet they are no longer accessing markets for their produce. She also noted that water related challenges continue to manifest in the district as many people continue to struggle to get water for livestock and household use. It is predicted that there will be limited rainfall in the region this year which could limit food production and productivity. However, Jennifer highlighted that the situation has encouraged men and children to provide agricultural labor in their farms in preparation for the after effects of the pandemic.

Kongai Margaret, a farmer from Soroti reflected on COVID 19 as a “double edged sword” that has presented both opportunities and challenges. She has managed to prepare her farm, grow crops and get a bumper harvest especially from vegetables and cereals. She has been to sell her produce moving from door to door to obtain income to cater for her family. On the other hand, she presented her fears that people no longer have money to purchase which could in the long term result into price fluctuations and food waste owing to the bumper harvest.

Among the recommendations, women proposed that government should enhance the provision of extension services and support women with quality agricultural inputs and market information to enhance agricultural production and food availability in pandemics like COVID 19. The agricultural inputs should be made available and accessible by farmers at district level. Secondly, government should strengthen transport linkages to ensure that rural women farmers can easily transport their produce to markets. This will address issues of food waste especially by households with bumper harvests having nowhere to put it. They also request government to respond to the current floods affecting their crops by providing appropriate technologies and put the run offs into proper use in times of scarcity.

In conclusion, Joan Leon, the Senior Programs Manager at Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, East Africa Regional Office shared her message of solidarity by commending rural women for supporting their families amidst such a global pandemic of COVID 19. She encouraged FRA to continue supporting rural women to engage in such platforms to share their experiences, lessons among themselves and use it as an opportunity to generate policy proposals to government inform policy change.

The meeting that was supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, OXFAM in Uganda and Trocaire and held in partnership with National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Uganda Debt Network, Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) and Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organisations (COPACSO) attracted 90 stakeholders including rural women farmers, representatives from civil society, researchers, and academia among others.