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  • Timothy Nkooyooyo

Small-Scale Farmers Navigating Large-Scale Land Based Investments in West Nile Region

Uganda has seen a surge in Large Scale Land Based Investments (LSLBI) driven by domestic and foreign interests aiming to capitalize on its natural resources and fertile lands. This trend aligns with Uganda's focus on agro-industrialization outlined in the National Development Plan III (NDP III) to spur economic growth. However, these investments, particularly in rural areas like Northern Uganda, often fail to benefit local communities, leading to marginalization and exclusion. Despite the region's cultural richness and abundant land, challenges persist regarding land rights and the negative impacts of LSLBI. Northern Uganda's underutilized resources and customary land tenure system, combined with its proximity to neighboring countries, attract speculative LSLBI ventures, resulting in inflated land prices. While proponents highlight economic benefits such as job creation and infrastructure development, the actual outcomes are more complex and often fail to meet the needs of local communities.

Small-scale farmers in Nebbi and Zombo districts, particularly those involved in coffee production, face significant challenges in engaging with large-scale investors entering their communities. Despite the establishment of coffee factories and other ventures in their vicinity, these farmers often find themselves marginalized, with limited participation and benefits from these investments.

This sentiment was eloquently expressed by the LC1 Chairperson of Acwera village in Erusi sub-county, Nebbi district. He lamented how the community had little awareness of their role in assessing large-scale investors entering their area. "In Erusi, we've had three large-scale investors dealing in coffee operating in our area, yet the community was never consulted or invited to engage with these investors," he remarked. "Instead, we only witnessed tractors grading communal land under military protection and the construction of buildings. As the chairperson of Acwera village, I expected our youth to benefit from job opportunities, but this never materialized. Personally, I lacked knowledge of the procedures required to be followed by investors, so I simply turned a blind eye to such matters."

Akello Jenifer, a close neighbor to a large-scale investor dealing in Coffee, highlighted how a lack of awareness about meaningful engagements with the investor resulted in their failure to document agreements promised by the investor and weakened their negotiation stance for better terms for the community. "During our initial engagements with the investor, promises were made, including the construction of a large water dam to replace our small one that often dried up during the hot season," she recounted. "Unfortunately, these promises were never fulfilled given that there was no ground instituted team to monitor the investor’s actions . Additionally, despite assurances of job opportunities for our youth, they were overlooked in favor of workers from other districts. These disappointments left us feeling disheartened, and initially, we chose to remain silent. However, following the awareness training we have received, I am committed to supporting my community in demanding accountability from the investor."

"We see coffee factories here, they do their things, and we don't mind them because we didn’t know that we had a mandate to engage with them, assess their investments and negotiate for better terms for community benefit"- Arach Joyce, Zombo Focal team member. This statement underscored a significant knowledge and information gap that was covered as a result of training LSLBI Focal teams in ensuring meaningful engagements with large scale investors for a harmonious living and association within the community.

Through training facilitated by ESAFF Uganda with funding from OXFAM, the LSLBI Focal teams were equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage effectively with investors and advocate for the interests of their communities. The training covers various components, including raising awareness on land rights, managing land conflicts, understanding legal frameworks governing land tenure, and engaging in LSLBIs. Members of the focal teams express their commitment to disseminating this knowledge within their communities, emphasizing the importance of informed consent and community participation in decision-making processes related to land.

Oriema Ronald, the leader of the LSLBI focal team, expressed gratitude to ESAFF Uganda for equipping them with essential knowledge for meaningful engagements with large-scale investors. He pledged to collaborate with his team to support their communities in fostering harmonious relationships with responsible investments. He affirmed, "I am committed to working with my team to identify and map out all large-scale investments within our communities and to initiate the process of engaging with them for the benefit of our community."

Mr. Orochi Gilbert, the Chairperson of Acwera village, expressed his preparedness to inform community members about new large-scale investments and advocate for community engagement before permitting investors into their community. This proactive approach aims to anticipate potential negative impacts in the future and ensure that appropriate mitigation measures are implemented.

"As a woman, I have been capacitated into supporting fellow women reclaim their rights over land and participating in important decision that are geared into benefiting our community." Giramia Pamungu Winnie, Nebbi LSLBI focal team. She narrated her journey of empowerment, detailing how acquiring knowledge and support has enabled her to actively participate in land-related initiatives and advocate for her rights as a woman in her community, noting the shift from previous practices of uninformed land transactions to adopting a more structured approach guided by proper processes and regulations.

ESAFF Uganda's intervention underscores a recognition of the injustices rampant in the land sector, particularly concerning LSLBIs, which disproportionately affect farming communities, with women often bearing the brunt of dispossession and marginalization. Through capacity-building initiatives such as the Community Engagement and Training (CET) program, ESAFF Uganda is dedicated to addressing land rights issues with an aim of empowering small scale farmers into becoming self-reliant.



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