Poverty, Environment and Food security; Reflections from Alebtong, Uganda

By Anthony Kadoma, Ugandan hub`s Research Administrator

Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network’s Ugandan hub had the pleasure to host the third annual symposium in Lira district in February 2019. The symposium attendees came from Uganda, Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria and Scotland- UK. During this event, the Ugandan team launched their research report on the scoping studies that were carried out. At the launch, representatives of the community where data had been collected attended, leaders at the sub-county as well as the district were in attendance. At the plenary discussion, it was firmly recommended that a stakeholders meeting be held in Alebtong where a number of issues raised in the report could be discussed in detail and action points be outlined and implemented.

Following this recommendation on 12 July 2019, under the leadership of Dr Alex Okot, a stakeholders meeting was held in Alebtong with the objective of sharing and exchanging views on poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and food security. Using participatory methods, each of the invited stakeholders was given the opportunity to present his or her efforts towards the three main areas of 1) poverty reduction 2) environmental sustainability and climate change as well as 3) food security at the community level. The community members were also encouraged to present their challenges, what they have done to overcome them, what they feel they are capable of doing and where they need help.

A female participant presenting her community concerns during the meeting

Rich discussions ensued as stakeholders from Makerere University, Apala Widows and Orphanage Centre (AWOC), representatives from Apala and Abia sub-counties, sub-county representatives from Abia and Apala as well as Alebtong district exchanged ideas. There was open discussion on issues between community members and their leaders and the role of AWOC (CBO) was clarified to key stakeholders. There was exchange of ideas on how best community challenges could be addressed. This happened because the community member representatives pointed out their key challenges with regard to food security, poverty reduction and climate change and the leaders present responded to them.

A representative from the district responding to concerns raised by community members

The meeting was also a chance to reflect on the key challenges identified in organizing stakeholder meetings. Mobilizing various stakeholders takes time as they are engaged in a number of other activities. There is fear of being accountable especially on the part of those in leadership positions. There was limited time to discuss all issues in detail and there is need to manage differing expectations presented by the stakeholders. It dawned on members that there is a high possibility of participants engaging in blame games. Some lessons were learnt in the engagement process.

We learnt that it is possible to organize a very successful stakeholders meeting with thorough preparation and informing the potential participants in time. Sharing the agenda is very crucial and keeping to it will make the meeting enjoyable. However, when the actual discussion starts, it is easy for people to move back and forth on the issues on the agenda. Issues of power can easily be at play as those who are from government and politicians most often want to suppress and impress the community members. On the other hand, if the environment is not very conducive, the community members will not be free to air out their concerns and just listen for fear of being reprimanded after the meeting. The members of the university and community based organizations are change agents facilitating and encouraging open and candid discussion between the community members and their leaders.

Since the communities always have several issues when they meet their leaders, it is better for the moderator to clearly articulate the objectives of the meeting. Like in this case, reference to three points of food security, poverty reduction as well as environmental protection was done repeatedly. This is so because the discussion would want to veer off to politics and other service delivery concerns. The moderator is very key in preventing the participants from veering off the agenda and engaging in blame games if actionable points are to be arrived at. The notes collected at the meeting will help inform Ugandan SFA hub to develop more relevant proposals for funding to address community needs.

Five members of SFA Uganda hub members that participated in the stakeholders meeting