Tomato is one of the most important vegetables globally; widely used in cooking and eaten raw as salad. Tomatoes provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The monthly market value of tomatoes in Arua and Adjumani town is estimated at Ugx 600 million (150,000 euros) and Ugx 294 million (73,500 euros) respectively. Every 2-3 days, a truck delivers tomatoes from central and eastern Uganda into the two districts.
With relatively good rainfall in West Nile – and given the strategic location of the region – it could be expected that farmers would grow tomatoes locally to supply the market and even export to other areas including South Sudan. However, people here grow tomatoes (and other vegetable crops) mainly for home consumption. The few farmers who venture into vegetable growing for markets are faced with a myriad of challenges including erratic rains, disease and pest infestation, and limited skills in good farming practices to produce the quality the market demands.
Considering the availability of permanent rivers in the two districts, the fact that tomato only takes a short time to grow, and the willingness of some unemployed youth to enter the venture after learning about the market opportunity, PALM Corps enrolled 45 youth (host and refugees) in Terego district to start market- oriented tomato production in 2020. The project – with original funding from BMZ through Welthungerhilfe – was later scaled up to an additional 75 youth in Terego and Madi Okollo district when further funding was secured from Ayuda en Accion. Another 90 youth in Adjumani were included in collaboration with Action Against Hunger with funding from the European Union (EU RISE).
Training: PALM Corps contracted the East-West Seed Company in April 2020 to conduct the first four-month hands-on training. Each youth was provided a small piece of land to plant at least 150 tomato plant. They were then guided by an E-W trainer and PALM Corps staff to learn tomato growing from nursery establishment to collective marketing. The training turned out to be a great practical learning experience for the PALM Corps staff too. To ensure continuous supply to the market vendors, a staggering approach was introduced, i.e. tomatoes were planted in month-long phases. In the second year, the two best performing youth were engaged as Community Based Trainers to train the new youth.
Access to land for refugees: The youth were organized into mixed groups composed of host and refugee youths, with the youth from the host community obtaining land along permanent rivers from landlords. The incentive for the landlord was to nominate a family member to participate in the training. All group members (refugees and host) had equal access to the land given.
Solar irrigation: Solar irrigation (capacity of 10,600L/day) was installed for watering the plants during dry spells. This was probably the most important input given that the lower Albertine region of West Nile in which the project is implemented (Terego, Madi Okollo and Adjumani) receives little rain and is very hot. This enabled the youth to venture into off season production when the price of tomato increases from 1500/kg to 3000/kg.
A total of 145 youth completed training in market-oriented tomato growing; about 90% of them are gainfully engaged in it. The youth have earned a cumulative amount of 105 million shillings (26,250 euros) from tomato growing. Five youth have acquired their own small irrigation systems, while 15 more of them are in discussion with Tulima solar company to acquire them through a loan. About 50% of them have acquired assets including secondhand motorcycles (transportation of tomatoes), animals and land. One youth constructed a two-room semi-permanent house, while another rejuvenated his shop which had collapsed when COVID19 restrictions were imposed.
Challenges being addressed (Lessons)
Gender: Only a low number of female youths enrolled in the project. This was attributed to the heavy physical work, especially staking the tomato plants. So, in the next cycle, PALM Corps is introducing heavy mulching as an alternative to staking and will expand to growing of cabbage and onions which are comparatively less work intensive. This should allow us to attract more female youth.
Land conflict: There was one case of land conflict between the landlord and a neighbor which interrupted garden activities briefly. However, This conflict was resolved when PALM Corps engaged local leaders and elders to amicably discuss on the issue.
In consistent supply: There are occasional shortages in supply of the tomatoes to market vendors whose daily business is selling vegetable. Vendors need to be assured of supply whenever the market demands. This calls for collaboration with other development partners and local government.