Growing up in rural Uganda, I had the grim opportunity to witness firsthand how poverty and hunger intersect. As smallholder farmers, my parents did backbreaking labor tilling their fields by hand to provide food and income for our family. In spite of their hard work, the productivity of our farm was low, so that we never had enough food to eat and would often go hungry. Malnutrition and kwashiorkor -- a protein deficiency that manifests as swollen bellies in children -- were common sights in my village. My parents never gave up though, and they sent me to school with the hope that one day, I would return and help transform my family and my community.
Upon completing my education with a degree in agriculture, I became a development worker, joining the ranks with others seeking to reverse the cycle of poverty. Now, as a project specialist at One Acre Fund, I work with farmers to improve food security in Uganda, and I’m advocating on behalf of smallholders across Africa as an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.
Starting a career in agricultural development wasn’t easy, but I always knew that my expertise and personal experiences growing up in a farming household could help contribute toward ensuring that people across Africa have enough to eat. I have always had the desire to help eliminate hunger and poverty among rural households in Uganda, and that reason drove me to join One Acre Fund.
One Acre Fund is working with more than 500,000 farmers across Eastern and Southern Africa, but its program in Uganda is relatively new -- it started as a small pilot project and launched officially in 2016. With a similar mission to eliminate poverty and hunger among smallholder farmers, I soon learned that One Acre Fund was the right place for me. The nonprofit sector in Uganda has been very helpful in nurturing ambitions and talents of young people, and One Acre Fund is no exception -- the organization puts a lot of emphasis on staff skills development through training and the delivery of its program to smallholders.
New Opportunities, New Hope
Now, I have spent nearly two years at One Acre Fund, leading various teams and conducting trials on how to control the virulent striga weed, which has attacked many farmers’ crops in Uganda. This and many other innovations by One Acre Fund are opening up opportunities for increasing crop production. While we still have a long way to go, I believe that one day, my dream of eliminating hunger will come true.
This belief was affirmed by David Mutakubwa, a farmer participating in one of our trials who this year harvested eight bags of maize on just a quarter of an acre of land -- double the amount he used to produce before joining One Acre Fund. David’s harvest benefited from a superior seed variety provided by the organization and training that he received on improved farming practices. When I went to visit him earlier this year, the strong, green stalks of maize still growing in his field were an early indicator of what was to come. David could not stop smiling when I asked him how he felt, and whether his harvest would improve from the previous season.
“My son,” he said, “I had never imagined that I would even harvest maize again from these lands. Most of us had lost hope of growing maize, but now we feel that there is a future ahead.” Maize is a staple food as well as a cash crop in the Busoga region. Due to poor production, David and many other farmers have suffered from food insecurity and very low household incomes. Now, he has a reason to smile because his family will have something to eat.
Although David broke many production records within his community, other farmers were not so lucky. Prossy Nabtanzi of Bukatovu village only harvested 20 kilograms of maize on a quarter of an acre – just about one bag. Her village was hit by severe drought, and she struggled to deal with an outbreak of armyworms. Prossy reminds me of the work that still lies ahead in realizing my dream and the dreams of many Ugandan farmers. Although Prossy is struggling this year, she still believes that the next season will be better, as long as she receives adequate rains. The success of other One Acre Fund farmers has given her courage, and she wants to work with the organization next season.
Nelson Mandela, the apartheid resistance leader and former president of South Africa, once said that “It always seems impossible until it is done.” I’ve learned that it’s only those who fall several times but find the courage to rise again that often succeed. With the support of One Acre Fund, Ugandan farmers will soon be liberated from food insecurity and hunger. That is the motivation that keeps me going.
Moses Ariong is a project specialist on One Acre Fund’s field operations team in Jinja, Uganda. This year, he’s a fellow for the Aspen Institute’s New Voices program, which aims to amplify the voices of experts from the developing world. Moses is speaking at the World Food Prize’s 2017 Bourlag Dialog in Des Moines, Iowa, on a panel about how young people can get involved in agriculture. To learn more about careers at One Acre Fund, visit our jobs page.