Struggling with the Drastic Corona Measures in Northern Uganda
For Judith Wucakowun, like millions of farmers across Uganda, drastic corona measures are taking a heavy toll on her very livelihood.
Judith is a 34 year-old teacher from Nebbi district in northern Uganda who resorted to farming when her teaching career could not help her cover the needs of her sickly child. Since 2016, Judith has invested her time and money into planting cassava and tending a vegetable garden with her brother 15 kilometres from her home close to a water source.
Through the High Flyers project, Judith gained skills in agronomy, business management and was linked to a successful local farmer for a long term mentoring relationship. This helped her to overcome local cultural barriers that threatened women’s participation in agriculture, produce and sell high quality produce in the markets. However, with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Judith is facing challenges in coping with the new situation.
“We were told in the news to avoid close contact, and to wash our hands with soap and water regularly to prevent the spread of the new (Corona) virus. But we also heard that the transport was to be shut down. That was my biggest worry because our garden is 15 kilometres from home and we have some workers who are now stuck there. We decided to put the farm very close to the river so that we don’t have to worry about water supply during the dry season and it has been a good practice. Although now boda bodas (local name for motorcycle taxis in Eastern Africa) can no longer carry people and they charge a lot of money to transport food, so my brother and I have to take turns walking there every week to take food for the workers.
We also noticed that the vegetables are just getting wasted because we cannot take them to the market. First of all there is no easy transport and also people are no longer buying perishable food from the markets so the prices are too low for us to make any profit. Even cassava is so cheap these days, and farmers are now just drying and storing their harvest for sale later. So it is hard to find food.
The challenge for me is that I have a child with special needs, who needs close attention, special feeding and a lot of care but our movements are restricted and it is hard for me to provide the way I used to. My young sister who helps me to look after him when I am not around is also another mouth that I must feed at this time. I sold my cassava in the last harvest and I was planning to plant some more, but with this unreliable rain, all I can do is prepare the land and wait for now.
I´m so lucky that the last time my brother and I went to the market three months ago to sell our tomatoes, onions and green pepper, we made some good profit. When we divided the earnings, I was able to take about UGX 400,000, which is what me and my family are surviving on right now.
I managed to buy some soap and I tried to encourage my household to wash hands regularly like we were told in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but I see issues in our community. People, especially the men, are so used to coming together in the trading centre to drink local brew in the evening and so there are many clashes with the police when they try to force them to stay home. It is just against our culture.
Right now my biggest concerns are two: how can I get market for my produce and how can I continue to keep my child safe. I am thankful that he hasn’t had a major medical need for the last few weeks since there has been a lockdown, but I need to be prepared. For now we have been told to rely on the Local Councilor to give us a letter and transport if we need to go to hospital, but I hope I can get access to proper food for him so that he doesn’t have to fall sick.”
About High Flyers program
With support from Youth Business International and Argidius Foundation, ICCO Cooperation is implementing the High Flyers program in northern Uganda to assure, accelerate and enhance young entrepreneurs’ successful transition from micro enterprises to small businesses and establish a secure pathway to growth from the often precarious early stages.