Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting an agribusiness in Northern Uganda – a region with a deep history of strife and resilience. In 1988, conflict began in Uganda between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a sectarian religious and military group. As the conflict escalated, the government forced masses of people into camps under its “protected villages” policy of 1996.
The government repeated the measure in 2002 and 2004, during heightened military operations against the LRA. Removed from their homes, businesses, and the places they knew, these citizens were uprooted from their previous lives, officially becoming internally displaced persons (IDP).
The road from Kampala was excellent, and the population grew more and more sparse as we traveled north. The land grew greener by the mile, however, we noticed that very little of it was actually under cultivation.
We visited a factory that had been deserted at points during the insurgency that had plagued the region, and at one time the rebels had even been sleeping inside the company’s warehouses. However, now that peace has returned to the region, the population has begun to leave the camps and return to their farms. Yet as the conflict lasted for over 20 years, farms hadn’t been cultivated for a generation.
We traveled the (no longer so good) roads to speak with some of these farmers, who were required to keep records of their productivity, and I asked farmer after farmer why they hadn’t noted any crops last year. “We have only just come back from the camps,” they said.
We had visited with several farmers and it was getting late in the day, so the field manager suggested we head back to town. One of the field officers insisted that we visit one last farmer.
“He is so excited for us to visit,” she said. “He would never forgive me if we didn’t visit his farm.” As we skidded down the muddy roads to his farm, we stopped at a bridge that was flooded from the previous night’s rains. So, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and waded through. On the other side of the valley, we met Joseph Okwera, a 73-year-old farmer who had only just returned to his farm after over twenty years in an IDP camp.
As we approached his farm, we yelled out greetings, but Joseph, who is somewhat hard of hearing, was focused on hoeing his plot and didn’t turn around. When he finally did, his dropped his hoe and ran to greet us with an enthusiasm that was only outmatched by his smile.
The field officer communicated to him in Acholi, and we learned that Joseph had returned this season and cleared the 20-year-old brush from his land. He tilled the land with his hoe and had planted seeds. Though he was only farming 0.4 acres, he had big plans. He stretched his arm out to show us the land he would clear and plant, by his own hands, for next season. His 74th year.
Amon Anderson is an Acumen Fund Portfolio Associate in East Africa.