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Editor's Note: I believe, at this point, it is impossible to be an organization with field operations in Uganda to avoid discussing our work in that country and our role in helping rehabilitate families affected by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Over the next several days, we'll talk here about our work with families in northern Uganda and share stories from families who have gone from being victims of the conflict to thriving in what is actually a very fertile part of the world.

Heifer International began the Gulu Women Dairy Farmers Heifer Project in 2007, approximately a year after LRA attacks on Ugandan soil ended. In 2009 Heifer began the Promoting Small Holders Food Security and Income in Lira, Gulu and Amuru Districts of Northern Uganda through the Dairy Value Chain Project.

Photo by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International

The armed conflict of the past decades in northern Uganda widened and deepened the physical, mental and economic impoverishment of the population in many areas. The vast population took up long-term residence in internal displacement camps; and as a direct result of the conflict, much of the greatly treasured livestock were killed. Many families have been caught in a downward poverty spiral, characterized by declining food intake, poor education and health services, degraded and disappearing grasslands for their herds, and little-to-no access to commercial market systems.

However, northern Uganda is very fertile with a stable rainfall pattern suitable for both forage establishment and livestock management. Crop production is the main form of economic activity, with average land access at four acres per family. The major crops grown in this district include beans, millet, potatoes, sesame seeds, rice, sunflower and cassava. The wastes from rice and sunflower can be used in making animal feed.

Nevertheless, through agricultural production, households are often unable to generate enough funds to meet the basic necessities of life. Consequently, women and children suffer most from malnutrition.

Despite the continuing constraints, smallholder dairying remains a durable strategy to increase household income, as it provides a secure livelihood, promotes women's social and economic status, conserves ecosystems and respects cultural values. In addition, the economic climate in northern Uganda is favorable for integrating smallholder dairy farmers into the formal marketplace and supply chain, as milk consumption increases. Therefore, Heifer has worked with smallholder farmers in community groups to increase their resilience and ability to ensure food and income security at the household level, through the purchase and placement of pure-breed dairy heifers among poor smallholder farmers, coupled with continued training, follow up on proper management and breeding of the heifers. These efforts have strengthened the capacity of families to provide for their nutrition and earn significant and reliable cash income to be able to meet their household needs. Furthermore, provision of draft animals to these families has increased crop production through enhanced acreage, thereby ensuring food security and more income from crop sales.

Later this week, I'll introduce you to a family who suffered greatly for years, living in displacement camps and watching their loved ones be abducted or killed. After participating in a Heifer project, however, they now grow enough food to feed their family three times a day, with surplus that's sold to pay for school fees, transportation and more livestock.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.