A Ugandan initiative is training groups of marginalised, landless women in vertical farming and vermi-composting to raise incomes and increase food security in the country’s capital.
Over 880 women from Ugandan slums are producing food crops, such as beans, eggplants, nakatti (a popular green vegetable), peas, spinach and tomatoes, through vertical farming. The women, who are organised into groups and trained by local NGO, Women Smile Uganda, have so far generated €93,482 in sales over 3 years. “They don’t own land so we train them in making vertical farms, and how to grow crops with drip irrigation,” says Lilian Nakigozi, CEO and co-founder of Women Smile Uganda.
The NGO started operations in Kampala’s sprawling slums of Katanga, grouping women into 20, 30 or 50 members. Since 2016, Women Smile Uganda has constructed over 300 vertical farms. Nakigozi explains that they make medium and large-size vertical farms using simply built wooden structures, which accommodate 50 and 100 kg of produce per season, respectively. “And we have two seasons of crop production per year. The 7 m high vertical farms make them convenient to weed, prune or harvest without much hassle,” she says. “We’re building the capacity of the women to increase vertical farm production themselves, and interest is rising rapidly. We have a marketing arm of 15 people that go door to door creating awareness about our products and services, and women leaders in the groups pass on information to their colleagues.”
Each women’s group pays a membership fee of USh50,000 (€12) in instalments and 5% of sales is returned and saved by Women Smile Uganda. “We’re using this money to set up our own vertical farms manufacturing workshop and a demo-farm in Mityana district, north-west of Kampala,” says Nakigozi, which she hopes will also attract agri-tourism revenue.
The women are also trained in how to make compost manure using biodegradable urban waste. “There’s a lot of waste generated in Kampala which we can use for vermi-composting,” Nakigozi explains. The women combine waste paper with cow dung, kitchen waste, earthworms and water, which is then stored in cans to decompose for 10-15 days. “The women mix the compost with the soil before placing it in the layers of wooden troughs that make up the vertical farms,” Nakigozi says. The crops take up to 3 months to mature and are mostly purchased by a fresh produce bulk-buyer based at Kalerwe market, north of Kampala. “We harvest 5-10 bags of vegetables per month, producing a minimum of 60 bags a year,” says Maureen Nalunga, chairperson of the largest women’s group, the Twekembe Women’s Group in Katwe. “Our members are happy because there is a positive change in their lives.”
“In November 2019, we launch in Kampala’s largest slum of Kisenyi; some of the beneficiaries will be Somali refugee women. Currently we’re launching in Arua city, in the north-west Nile region – close to the DR Congo and South Sudan. Here, we’ve registered over 100 women who shall form a group for us to train,” Nakigozi says. Women Smile Uganda intends to reach 3,500 women by 2023 and link them with financial institutions in order for them to access micro-loans.