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South Sudanese Refugee In Palorinya Settlement Embracing Agroecology To Promote Community Resilience To Climate Change


The on-and-off civil conflicts and the political instability in South Sudan have led to the largest ongoing refugee crisis in Africa. According to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 2 million people have fled, and many have settled in Uganda while a number of them are still coming into the country.

In the Palorinya refugee settlement in Obongi district, the West Nile sub-region is one the biggest settlements where a large number of them have been resettled. While here, they face difficult living conditions of increasingly long droughts due to climate change effects. But have to depend on small-scale farming to sustain their families topping on the food support received from the different organizations to increase their sustainability.

Salah Bullen, 37, a father of 14 children with 2 wives and a South Sudanese refugee living in Ibakwe Village in Palorinya settlement narrates his adaptation to the harsh conditions when it comes to farming.

Salah Bullen at his home instead in Ibakwe Villiage, Palorinya Settlement. Photo by Sharon Muzaki

He and his family have felt the impacts of the climate crisis since their settlement in 2016. However, he has managed to practice small-scale farming to support his large family by securing two acres of land through renting from the host community and another acre given by a friend.When I settled here with my family, life was hard, especially with not having enough food to sustain my big family, but as the head of the family, I asked myself what I could do to support them in this foreign land and the only option left was to carry out farming. I have since then always tried to find small money every season where I rent an acre of land and a good friend of mine has always given me one other acre to make it to two, and I am so grateful to him” Bullen said.

Salah Bullen’s prepared land for planting. Photo by Sharon Muzaki


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But he has also utilized the small space at his homestead where he practices crop rotation by planting different crops like sorghum, maize, potatoes, cassava, and banana plants on the same piece of land. And also rearing a few goats for survival. “This area is drier compared to where I come from in Eastern Equatorial South Sudan, the dry seasons are longer compared to the rainy seasons and it has been hard to plant and harvest, so I must have options at the end of the day. Planting different crops at the same time on my small pieces of land has worked out for me to have different harvests at the end of the season. I can tell you that it is only food that we refugees are hunting for since the food rations have been cut by the different supporting organizations,” he explained.

The small piece of land surrounding his home where he has grown the different crops. Photo by Sharon Muzaki

The effects of climate change in the region;

In the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) zoning, there is West Nile 1 and 2 and Obongi district is in zone 2. This has an impact on rainfall variability where the region is always subjected to receiving little and delayed rainfall.

However, the Agricultural officer of Obongi district, Martine Guli explains how the farmers both the refugees and nationals, are advised about the impacts of climate change.With these impacts of climate change in Obongi district, we have looked at coping mechanisms with farmers to minimize the risk but also get the harvest and the only way to go is climate-smart agriculture practices that will be able to minimize and mitigate climate change and build resilience with farmers, by so doing things different to be able to get harvest”.

Salah Bullen’s maize garden in Ibakwe village. Photo by Sharon Muzaki

“We have always advised them to do proper timing of the season because these have changed where we are no longer able to predict seasons and even UNMA weather focus has failed at times. For example, if the rains are coming late as usual, we ask them to select a variety that is short and early maturing so that it escapes the drought”.

Farmers should go for varieties tolerant to drought, soil and water conservation technologies have been considered in the region so that the little rains should be utilized, though the adaptation levels are still low among the farmers.

Leo Omara the Location Manager and a Trainer of trainee (TOT) to people of concern (PoCs)in Palorinya settlement and Obongi district at ForAfrika emphasized his concern to strengthen farming methods in the region as a way to mitigate the climate change crisis. “We are training Good agricultural practices (GAP) in Agriculture and farming like manure use as a business to increase production hence creating room for resiliency besides negative factors of production such as unreliable rain, pest control and diseases, weeds and maintenance of enrichment with nutrients. Under this one, we handle value chain and marketing to our PoCs for effective enterprise selection.”, Omara said.

About the seeds they plant;

However, the long droughts faced in the sub-region have always had an impact on their farming where most seeds do not sprout at the end of the day.

Bullen says he finds the seeds bought directly from the local farmers better than the seeds given to them by the different organizations. “The seeds from farmers are resistant to the weather here and always sprout out easily, I have tried to plant the grains given to us but they have always failed me. So, I do not plant them at all and if I do not have money that season to buy seeds early from farmers, I always forgo the planting”. 

Guli emphasized his role in ensuring that his farmers receive high-quality seeds given to them from any organization, saying that they are inspected by his team before they are used, to make sure they are disease-free and tolerant varieties for the region. “Many organizations are complying to the required standards while some do not but there are penalties when caught if the right procedures are not followed,” he said.

“In the seed industry right now in Uganda, we have so many seed companies which are over 30 where many of them are not doing the right work because of money. We the quality of the declared seeds at the farmer level, we are quite confident with it because if you are producing seeds at the farmers’ level in Obongi district, you must go through my hands, I regulate, register, train, monitor, and even do inspections in the field three times before the seed comes out. The seeds which have been around here for some time have adapted to the agroecological zone, so they are tested and when climate change hits in terms of drought, it is resistant.” he added.

Uganda Red Cross Society is one the organizations that has always extended support to farmers in Bidi Bidi and Palorinya Refugee Settlements by giving them seeds of their choice to grow food crops.

Thomas Edward Akol, the Programs Manager, Food Security and Livelihood at Uganda Red Cross Society addresses the concern of poor germination of the seeds, a complaint from the refugees that most of the seeds given to them do not sprout or germinate and also explains the mechanisms used to prepare these seeds before they are given out to the farmers for use. “One reason why the germination can be poor is because it wasn’t the right seed fit for the agroecological zone that was procured and distributed or the seed was not viable. When I say viable either the viability test was not conducted to see that it was able to germinate or it was just distributed because before you distribute seeds, you have to know that it is fit for the agroecological zone and also be able to conduct the viability test to find out its germination ability. For example, the cereals and legumes we always say the germination should be above 90%.,” Akol explained.

  The germination test procedure;

 Akol explains how he conducts his germination test, he says you can either do it from the laboratory or use local materials. “I normally use cotton wool to act as soil, I wrap it into a newspaper to act as a blanket because once I leave the cotton alone the water can easily dry out or anything can happen: the wool is affected or any paper that can allow it to get into the seeds, have water penetrate the seeds, I wrap them, lay the seeds and count 100 seeds, you can either count 100 or 50 but it is better to count the highest to be100. But once you have put them down, make sure that the time you put them on the wool, it is moist with some water and with the paper down. After putting the seeds, add the water, wrap them properly, and then put them where there is a little bit of sunlight, not direct. Do that for 2 to 5 days. Within 0 to 5 days the roots should be able to sprout. Once the roots sprout, you count the seeds that sprouted to those that haven’t. If out of 100 maybe 96 have sprouted, this gives you a percentage that these can adapt and germinate, if only 40 seeds have sprouted and anything below 75% isn’t viable enough for planting”.

A sample of the germination test of the bean seeds showed 96% to easily germinate. 

“And for the small seeds I put the paper down, the normal printing paper, I write down the seed type and name. if it is tomatoes, the variety is indicated because if there are several trials, I might open and confuse them since these seeds look alike.

A sample of a failed germination test of the tomato seeds.

Secondly, it can also be that the seed was okay but was stored for a long time in stores and then distributed after it had bypassed its actual period of germination. The other issue may be contamination during transportation. So those are all possibilities that could have occurred.

So, when it comes to agroecological practices, one can be an issue of late planting, the seeds were planted when the moisture contents in the soil were low, so it could not favor the germination to take place. That is why they found that it was just a few seeds that were able to sprout out. When the seeds were planted when it was coming to the end of the season.

The last option would be they were hybrid seeds so they required fertilizers to aid the germination and these seeds require a one-time planting as opposed to what we call Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs). The other possibility is that if it is an OPV, it’s either a third-generation that has been recurrently planted before it is gotten from farmers. Seed companies sometimes buy these seeds from the farmers, and do not do proper sorting but package, dress them up, and sell them. For OPVs, we always recommend the first and second generation. At times you find that it is past the third-generation seed so when it comes to germination it does not do well.

A sample of a germination test of maize tests showing 96% sprouting.

He also added that the treatment of the seeds has nothing to do with germination. “We always dress those seeds just to protect them from what we call any soilborne pathogens during the time of planting. Because when you plant the seed there are soilborne pathogens that affect the seed as it germinates. Where you find there is discoloring of the leaves or the seeds are affected by a disease in the soil so it’s just to protect the seed as it tries to come up. It is a blanket for the seed and it also supports the seed during the time of storage, preventing any pests during that short period of storage”.

According to Akol the maize seeds that easily adapt to such ecological zones that receive little and short rains like West Nile and Karamoja, are Mm3, bazooka, Longe 5H (Nnalongo), and for sorghum, SESO-3 can do well.

Advice to the farmers when it comes to fertilizer use, especially the refugees?

According to Akol, in the West Nile region, the soils are not so depleted to need inorganic fertilizers unless a farmer wants maximum output but for now, farmers here basically use organic fertilizers and inorganic fertilizers are expensive especially for the refugees to afford, and do not know the ratios to mix them. So, they can either place more of the fertilizers and kill the seed or less, and in other words, the soil becomes more acidic. It’s important that before farmers are given the fertilizer they know how to use it. Demonstration processes are put in place before they go to full-scale fertilizer use.

At the moment, there is no need for inorganic fertilizers unless like in refugee settlements where the soils are depleted and have been used now and then but still we have always advised them to use the organic fertilizers at hand like the use of the household/animal waste, they can do the mulching, crop rotation, and conservation agriculture.

“This time when you plant the legumes, next time you plant the cereals, but you will find most of the farmers continuously plant one type of crop season after season. For example, maize is a heavy feeder. Once you plant a heavy feeder in the first and second seasons, in the next seasons, the soils are already depleted. Where you need to plant the legumes to replenish the soil,” he elaborated.

Advice to farmers in the refugee settlements in these times of climate change?

Furthermore, Akol says that at Uganda Red Cross Society, we advise farmers to embrace Climate Smart Approaches or Climate Smart Agriculture. When you look at these approaches, we look at things like minimum tillage as opposed to conventional cultivation that farmers have been using.

The use of organic fertilizers is one approach we are looking forward to and do more use of cover crops. “It is upon us agencies to support, encourage, and train them to carry out some of these approaches because there are seeds that act as cover crops off-season, say bean husks,” he says.

Minimize the use of polythene bags and disposal because these have affected the soils. When a farmer plants seeds while polyethylene is in the soil, they prevent the water from percolating down the ground. “If there is proper disposal of plastic and this other polythene, it will help us prevent the effect of climate change as they do their crop production”.

Minimum tree cutting because these trees help to replenish the nitrogen into the soil but also should have tree sheds within the homes, they can work as both holders, shades, wood, and also a source of income like the Sesbania sesban trees can be used, they are fast growing. Other fast-growing tree species can be planted within homesteads.

A homestead in Palorinya settlement. Photo by Sharon Muzaki

They can also adapt to energy-saving technologies that could avoid the use of wood. “Right now, at a cheaper rate they can use craft cooking stoves, if a family can afford it, we have biogas that can use food scraps and animal waste. And alternatively, we now have these cooking stones that are being promoted, they might be expensive but in the long run, they are effective. But not forgetting solar energy is quite green and the way to go, and West Nile is really hot to support the use of solar energy”.

The West Nile sub-region experiences a prevalent and pronounced lack of climate change resilience and food insecurity yet most of the households in the sub-region are predominantly agrarian.

Also, the sub-region experiences long droughts compared to rainfall seasons and the farmers are aware of the occurrence of drought as a climate change hazard and many have been affected by it hence reducing agricultural productivity.

The limited access to climate change information in the West Nile points to the need to develop gender-responsive awareness and information packages to improve awareness and adoption of climate adaptation interventions.




Sharon Muzaki
Author: Sharon Muzaki

Uganda’s Sharon Muzaki has been with UGStandard Media since 2019, reporting on the environment and climate change. In an area where three quarters of the population makes a living through agriculture, her reporting has contributed to important discussions about the ways that agroecology can be used to support local farmers as the changing climate impacts the success of current farming operations. While working for UGStandard Media, she has attended numerous trainings at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications, honing skills in storytelling, data journalism, and mobile storytelling. In just the past four years, Muzaki has also sought training in agroecology, environmental coverage, climate journalism and multimedia journalism.



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