Karimojong Women Embrace Vegetable Gardening in Dry Seasons

Karimojong woman watering her ktichen garden in Losiaket village in Iriiri Sub County in Napak district (photo by Steven Ariong)
A Karimojong woman watering her greens planted in kitchen garden in Napak last week (Photo by Steven Ariong
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Napak, Uganda – Similar to many communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, the population of the Karamoja region, located in northeastern Uganda, relies heavily on subsistence agriculture for food security and livelihoods.

Most families in the region practice both agro-pastoral and pastoral farming to meet their food security and livelihood needs, making them highly vulnerable to climate change.

The region receives minimal rainfall with a long period of drought from September to mid-March, leaving the area dry and making it challenging for families to afford meals.

This prolonged drought forces the region to depend on vegetables supplied from Bugisu and Teso regions, which are sold at high prices, making it difficult for every family to afford.

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The challenging situation has prompted every household in Karamoja to prepare by ensuring that vegetables are available during the dry spell.

Many households in the region have turned to planting vegetables in kitchen gardens, making it easier for families to have meals even if there is no flour for milling, allowing children to consume greens alone.

Ms. Sarah Nakut, a mother of five and a resident of Iriiri Sub County in Napak district, shared that planting vegetables in a kitchen garden has helped her keep her children healthy. She mentioned that the knowledge gained from friends in Teso on how to plant vegetables in kitchen gardens has reduced malnutrition among her children.

Ms. Nakut explained, “As you know the history of Karamoja, it’s a responsibility of women to ensure that there is food at home, build houses while men go for grazing animals and provide security at home. So, I have to struggle to see that children have food at home, and last year it was so difficult.”

The drought of last year made her children malnourished since she couldn’t afford the high vegetable prices in the markets.

Ms. Nakut, who has four kitchen gardens—one for greens, another for tomatoes, and two for sukuma wiki—stated that she has not visited the market to buy food since she started planting her vegetables in the kitchen gardens.

“I am finding it easy; whether during drought or rain season, I don’t lack vegetables. I have them plenty,” she said.

Ms. Nakut rides her bicycle for four kilometers to get water from the borehole to water her vegetables during the dry season. She also sells her greens in Napak district to buy books for her children.

Ms. Nakut has trained many other women to plant vegetables in kitchen gardens, and now almost every household, including schools, has kitchen gardens.

“When Ms. Nakut introduced the idea to us, it looked difficult, but it became easier as we continued. As we speak, this initiative has earned me UGX 700,000 that I would have spent on buying fruits such as tomatoes, onions, and sukuma wiki. But my children just uproot it from the kitchen garden and cook,” said Marget Nachap, another woman beneficiary.

Ms. Nachap added that the only items they buy from shops are salt, soap, paraffin, and matchboxes.

“If it was possible for us to get these other commodities, especially soap, we would not buy them. We would be picking them also without spending any money.

Kitchen gardening is a practice where plants, such as vegetables or herbs, are planted and watered. The practice can be applicable to all regions prone to drought, especially in Karamoja and Turkana.

Betty Kotol, another woman from Auriki Akinei village in Iriiri Sub County, said the practice of growing vegetables in kitchen gardens has helped many mothers in Napak district combat malnutrition among their children.

“In the past, malnutrition was the major problem that used to kill our children. But right now, our children don’t die out of malnutrition, maybe from malaria and other complicated diseases but not malnutrition,” she said.

Mr. Moses Lokol, one of the science teachers at Kapkwata Primary School in Napak, mentioned that the school has also adopted the practice, with about ten kitchen gardens providing greens for children.

He stated that most schools in the district and the region now plant vegetables in kitchen gardens to make vegetables available for the school children.

“Right now, if you go to any nearby market, you will find greens brought from Mbale, 250 kilometers away from Karamoja, and they are very expensive, which the school can’t afford. So, by planting vegetables in the kitchen gardens, it has helped many families and schools to curb the increasing prices of vegetables,” he explained.

Mr. Lokol added that the Karamoja region can excel in agriculture through irrigation schemes if the government provides irrigation schemes in the region.

“The drought that Karamoja experiences always is just because we don’t have an irrigation scheme, but the soil is too fertile,” he said.

Mr. Patrick Okotel, the senior engineer in the Ministry of Water and Sanitation in charge of water for production in Greater Eastern Uganda, stated that the government is making efforts to construct many multibillion dams for irrigation schemes in Karamoja.

“Already we have some big dams in Karamoja like Arecek in Napak and Kobebe in Moroto, and more dams are yet to be constructed in the region for food production,” he said.

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