The vegetables from Fautine Barenzi’s new garden now supplement the food aid he and his family receive. PHOTO: DRC

Innovative farming boosts food production for refugees in Uganda

An innovative farming model being implemented by the Danish Refugee Council is beginning to bear fruit for refugees and their Ugandan hosts.


Despite a continuous flow of refugees from neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and South Sudan, Uganda continues to keep its borders open.

However, hosting a huge refugee population—1.23 million as of April 30—does not come without its challenges and one of the consequences has been that the area, which used to be available to the refugees for agriculture has been reduced.

At the beginning of the influx from DR Congo in December 2017, Kyaka II, a sprawling settlement in southwestern Uganda, had a population of about 27,000.  Today, the number has risen to 91,365, according to the most recent figures released by the Ugandan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“The influx has tripled the population of refugees in Kyaka between January 2018 and April 2019, putting a lot of pressure on the available resources. The key resource affected is land,” said Adams Aswani, DRC Kyaka II Area Manager adding:

“The previously available land that refugees could access and work freely on is no longer available, as it is allocated to the new arrivals. The refugees live in an agricultural community, and with this limited land available, their livelihoods are seriously affected.”

To address the livelihoods challenge, DRC has been implementing an innovative farming model since 2018, with the aim of improving food security, protecting the environment, and boosting household incomes in Kyaka. The model, which goes under the name “the 30x30 unlimited plot” after the size of plots of land given to new arrivals by the Ugandan government, is being implemented by DRC with funding from the American people through the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

“Land for farming is a challenge in Kyaka especially for the most vulnerable,” said Fred Kintu, DRC’s Senior Livelihoods Officer in the settlement. “The 30x30 unlimited plot is meant to address the challenge by ensuring intensive farming of vegetables, cereals, bananas and tubers throughout the year.”

Maximizing the outcome

In May, during the rainy season in most of Uganda, Kyaka’s undulating land is lush green with crops gently swaying in the fields while the farmers work in their gardens.

Faustine Barenzi, 30, fled to Uganda from DR Congo in February 2018. He was among 200 refugees and host community members who expressed interest and was selected and trained by DRC on how to farm and maximize the output of their plots of land.

During a morning visit to his home, Barenzi was at work on his plot.

“We were taught by DRC to cultivate small pieces of land and to get more out of it,” Barenzi said as he walked in his fenced land, hosting his home and a garden of maize, vegetables and young passion fruits planted along the poles used to fence off the land.

“I hope to get enough food for my family and to sell some when all the crops mature,” said Barenzi, whose family of seven is already using the vegetables in their garden to supplement the food aid they receive.

Barenzi’s neighbor, 36-year-old Bahati Nzengiyunva, is also from DR Congo.  He, too, was among those trained by DRC.

“I was taught how to demarcate my land to be able to plant different crops like cabbage, spinach, onions, maize and even trees,” said Nzengiyunva as he fed a goat, he recently bought from money earned doing manual work in the settlement: “I also learned how to plant cabbage in sacks filled with soil. It is something I didn’t know and I will bring this knowledge with me the day I go back to DR Congo.”

Mother of two, Uwizeye Clementine, was not among those trained by DRC, but inspired by others she has carved out a small patch of land next to her kitchen where she now grows vegetables.

“My husband saw gardens with vegetables somewhere, and I have always wanted to have my own vegetable garden but I thought we didn’t have the space,” Uwizeye said. “It turned out we actually do have enough space,” Clementine said.

“When you move around the settlement, you will notice that other farmers have started picking up the farming model, we taught. It is evidence that the knowledge is spreading—the adoption of the farming methods is leading to an improvement in household food security”, said Fred Kintu, DRC’s Senior Livelihoods Officer in Kyaka.

In total, the 200 farmers, who were trained, have 16 different crops in their plots, including fruits and Grevillea trees, planted as a long-term strategy to protect the environment, since refugees and their hosts mostly use charcoal and wood as cooking fuel.

The farmers were provided with seedlings by DRC, in addition to a simple irrigation system to water their plants during the dry season, enabling farming to go on throughout the year.

“The farming model is a timely intervention that will go a long way to supplement the food and dietary needs of refugee homes in the face of the reduced plots of land being allocated,” said Aswani, the DRC Area Manager.