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Winning the peace, with chilli and videos February 28th, 2016 by

In recent blogs we talked about how the people of northern Uganda are rebuilding their lives, eight years after the end of a bloody civil war. A lot of the effort is provided by enterprising local people, like Omara Waliki who works for the GADC (Gulu Agricultural Development Company). Waliki is an extensionist and a farmer himself, as are all GADC field staff. He also buys chilli and sesame for the company, and runs a small shop and a one-room agency for Post Bank, where villagers can deposit and withdraw money.

waliki stores and bankWaliki is fortunate to live in Palabek Gem, a town just large enough to have a transformer. So Waliki has electricity (most of the time). He also has a TV set, a DVD player and five DVDs compiled by Access Agriculture with training videos relevant to agriculture in Northern Uganda. Thanks to an investment by the international NGO, Mercy Corps, Access Agriculture translated the videos into Luo, the local language. Waliki’s video library covers specific crops, such as sesame, chilli, maize and cassava and general topics such as managing striga, a serious parasitic weed.

Even though Waliki is busy, it is his own self-interest that the farmers he works with perform well. The more they produce, the more they can sell to him, and the more commission he earns. Earning money is a powerful incentive that can be channeled into doing things better.

Successful buying is about successful networking, explains Robert Ogwang of GADC, much of it done on cell phones. Even in war-ravaged, northern Uganda, cell phones are farmer-friendly. Several companies compete to offer coverage; reception is good, widespread and people can buy airtime in increments as small as 15 cents US. Now every village has solar panels to charge up people’s handsets. When a farmer phones Waliki and asks how to make a seedbed for chilli, a new crop in this part of the country, Waliki asks the farmer to turn the soil and break it up. Waliki goes over and helps the farmer finish the task. Waliki also suggests that the farmer invites a few friends over, so they can learn how to make a seedbed, too. Thus helping a neighbor becomes a demonstration, which also strengthens Waliki’s relationships with the local farmers.

handful of chiliesIf the demonstration goes well, the farmers may plant chilli and have a harvest. If they developed some rapport with Waliki at the demo, they may later sell their chilli to him, or their sesame.

Waliki does extension out of enlightened self-interest. When anyone in the community asks to see the videos, Waliki invites them to his home, where he plays them the videos they want to see. (There is even one on making a chilli seedbed). About twenty or thirty people end up watching the videos each time Waliki shows them. The five DVDs have 34 videos, too many to watch in one sitting, but at one time or another, Waliki has shown all five DVDs.

The videos are so good that people still keep asking to see them. The information helps them to improve their farming.

“How many farmers have you shown them to?” I ask.

Waliki says he can’t remember. Neither can he remember how many times he has shown them, “but it is many.”

Only three people are growing chilli now in the area, but Waliki has given seed to 24 others (courtesy of GADC). The farmers are just waiting for the rains to plant their chili, which they will dry and then sell for export, to be made into hot sauce (the fiery kind that comes in tall, thin bottles).

Electricity, cell phones, chilli and learning videos are being combined creatively to help Waliki and his neighbors recover from the losses caused by the war. Winning a war is more than defeating the enemy or even about laying down arms. It’s also about building a viable life again. When the fighting stopped in Uganda around 2008, and people gradually left the refugee camps, they found that their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed. Since then they have built small, thatched houses and have planted subsistence crops. Now people are also growing cash crops, to earn the money that helps families build a more prosperous future.

For more stories on cell phones, see:

More than a mobile

Lost at sea

I thought you said “N’Togonasso”

To watch the chilli training videos, click: http://www.accessagriculture.org/category/65/Vegetables

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