One of our PhD Students, Faith Mitheu, recently tavelled out to the NIMFRU project communities in Katakwi to observe the final FAMVAC and Listening Group meetings. Faith's PhD is on the quantitative analysis of impacts of floods on livelihoods and linking this to weather forecast information through the Livelihood-based forecasting of flood risk (LIMB) in Uganda. Read about her time in Katakwi here:
At the end of February, the sixth and final Farmers Agri-Met Village Advisories Clinics (FAMVAC) within the National Impact-based Forecasting of Flood risk in Uganda (NIMFRU) project took place in Katakwi District in North Eastern Uganda. I was lucky enough to join the NIMFRU team together with Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST) and Uganda National Meteorology Authority (UNMA) on such a splendid activity. It was also important for me to attend such meetings, not only to add value to my PhD, I am conducting research on impact-based forecasting of flood risks, but to get first-hand experience on the day to day lives of these communities and consequently how their livelihoods can be improved through research projects such as NIMFRU. The FAMVAC meetings have been taking place every month since September 2019 to ensure that farmers in the district are well aware of the weather information, and to consequently help shape the planning of their farm activities to avert the impacts of floods on their livelihoods. In addition, experts in various matters including agricultural management, maternal health, and environmental conservation were involved in training the radio listener group members about various ways they can diversify their livelihoods. Topics included advice on improving livestock and crops, establishment of tree nurseries, poultry keeping, sunflower production among others. The trainings would then be captured by a local radio station, ETOP radio, to be broadcasted as per the timelines already established (Sunday at 2pm EAT and Monday at 10am EAT) to ensure that the entire community is enlightened.
The wise say that you learn more about people by interacting with them, hence I was very excited that I would be visiting the communities in Katakwi District. My journey started from Nairobi, Kenya on a fine Sunday morning. The journey from Kampala to Soroti started the following day, Monday 24th February 2020, with the whole team and we arrived at 2am Tuesday. The few hours of sleep and the fatigue did not however dampen the mood to start off the field trips to the villages of Anyangabella, Agule and Kaikamosing in Ongongoja, Magoro and Ngariam sub-counties respectively.
Having been in stakeholders’ meetings before I started my PhD, my initial thinking was that this will be just like a normal stakeholder set-up meeting, more of a facilitator-audience setup with presentations and questions. However, when we arrived at the first venue (Anyangabella village), I was surprised to find so many people; men, women, youth and even children. Secondly, the informal nature of the set-up and how sessions were designed was intriguing. There were approximately 82 farmers present from Anyangabella village. The sessions in the other villages followed the same set-up. I sat through the sessions listening and taking notes as I was keen to learn more about the villages and especially on their understanding of weather data. The facilitator Mr. Asalu from UNMA took the farmers through various sessions including development of the flood calendar for the previous season, interpretation of the next season weather predictions and a question forum session. I was also taken aback by how much farmers knew about weather information and how enthusiastic they were to learn more and more about what to expect in the coming season. I had an informal chat with Ongongoja sub-county agricultural extension officer – and he had this to note;
“The FAMVACs has really impacted a lot on these people. At first, they were very ignorant of the weather information given. But after seeing that whatever is predicted is what happens, they now can make use of the weather information to plan their farm activities”
-Mr. Omongole, Agri-extension officer
FAMVAC meeting session at Anyangabella village, Ongongoja sub-county
For the next two days, we had the same set up of village clinics at Magoro and Ngariam sub-counties with approximately 68 and 58 farmers present from Agule and Kaikamosing villages respectively. The same enthusiasm among farmers was also noted. For instance, while having a chat with a farmer at Agule village, I asked her if the information has helped her in any way, she had this to say:
“floods have been devasting us every season. But since FAMVACs started, we do not fear the floods anymore because we now know what we need to do and what to plant. For example, in September the water was very much and hence we concentrated on digging furrows and planting rice. We are very grateful to FAMVACs and we wish that the project can be extended”
-Rose, Farmer, Agule Village
Farmers in Agule Village displaying their September, October, November and December flood calendar
The four-day field visits culminated with a stakeholder meeting at the Katakwi District office to present on the progress and finally in Anyangabella Village where the Farmer Voice Radio (FVR) Listener Group (LG) meeting was held. In Anyangabella, 12 LG members from the 3 villages were trained on other activities including establishing a tree nursery, sunflower production and how to handle the desert locust as ways to improve the livelihoods of the communities. These topics also formed the content for the ETOP radio to be disseminated to the whole community on designated time.
Upon reflection, I now understand why the radio program to disseminate the weather information and advisories to the community was named Acauta Akoriok which means ‘farmers get light’- because for sure the farmers have been enlightened. Subsequently, seeing how the information can transform these farmers livelihoods, and for this case just weather information and advisories, I can imagine what more and more relevant information can do considering the existing information gap between the disaster responders and the affected communities. This has helped put my research on ‘data and information for informed decisions on flood risks’ into perspective. The key message here is that research can only make a difference in the real world if we change from the traditional ways of doing research to a bottom-up approach, which means listening to the communities needs first before the design of research. For sure the NIMFRU project has been in the forefront to ensure such impacts are achieved in the communities. Kudos to the entire team!