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Disrupting the Status Quo: Women’s Access and use of land as a Natural Resource in Acholi Subregion.

In many parts of the developing world, access to and use of land is an essential source of security against hunger and poverty. Unfortunately, most traditional African practices have entrenched unequal land rights – which mostly disadvantage women. This is not different from the Acholi subregion in Northern Uganda, where GWED-G is implementing a project titled Promoting women land rights and community seed bank in Acholi Sub-region. The project seeks to empower women to first access land and then put it good use by growing indigenous crops that can lead to food security and sovereignty. Through this project, the organization seeks to contribute to food sovereignty by encouraging local famers to use indigenous seeds as opposed to the genetically modified seeds.

The project started in 2020 and is now well into the second year of implementation. GWED-G has been able to target and reach out to over 20 women groups in four sub counties in Gulu District. The idea is to create a critical mass of empowered women who can access land, use the land as a natural resource to grow indigenous seeds and share the seeds with more women after every harvest season. This helps to reduce the dependency on the genetically modified seeds which are not only expensive but also harm the land in which it is grown. During the last year, the project targeted a total of 215 community members in form of capacity building trainings. One of the project strategies is to use organized groups such as the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) to mobilize women and other key stakeholders to join the movement.

As a result of the training, some women have been able to gain access to and use land at their matrimonial and maiden homes. The trained women have also taken the initiative to speak with clan leaders, other male and female counterparts, and their spouses about the importance of women having access to and using land as a natural resource. Women's testimonies are enthralling; they demonstrate that this is not a losing battle. For example, her husband and mother-in-law gave Angwech Jennifer of Pageya village in Unyama Subcounty, Gulu district, ownership, and use of two acres of family land. She is currently working on obtaining her own land title. Another lady, Anenocan Filda, is working with her husband on the land title for their traditional portion of land, Unyama S/C pabit Village.

“My name is Angwech Jennifer, and I'm from Pageya Parish in Koro Sub-County, Omoro District. I'd like to express my gratitude to CIV-FUND for supporting a project that resulted in the acquisition of 2 hectares of land. This is due to the project's training of community leaders and some men on the importance of women owning land. My husband and mother-in-law returned home from the training with a positive attitude and immediately assigned the land to me and gave me control over it. Now I'll be able to use it to produce more local seeds, which I'll sell and pass on to others.” - Angwech Jenifer district, Omoro District.

The road to land ownership is not for the faint hearted. Solidarity is paramount and this is guaranteed through building a strong movement of leaders who support each other. Local leaders and stakeholders were also involved in the process; because of their training, more women now have access to land for agriculture and local seed production – leading to food sovereignty. Village saving groups such as Can Obalo Anyim, Can Rwede Pe, and Opar pi wa, for example, have each been given land by village leaders to grow indigenous/local seeds. Millet, cassava (okonyo ladak), soroko, sim-sim, pumpkin, tomatoes, and all types of vegetables are among the seeds planted by the groups, which promote their economic income and social empowerment. Another group, "Opar pi wa," produces porridge flour from pumpkin and has more products made from local seeds. Some members have sold some of the indigenous seeds to other community members. Through their partnerships, GWED-G has ensured that there is a market for these local seeds outside the district.

The change:

Positive change from the intervention is visible as some men have been mobilized and educated and are now champions and advocates for women’s access and use of land as a natural resource. Some men in the community have built trust by allocating land to their wives, who will use and manage it to produce food for family consumption and sale. For example, Ms Angwech Jennifer, a Pageya Ocer member, and Anenocan Filda, a member of the Can Rwode Pe VSLA group, both testified that their husbands gave them land to own and use. This has in turn strengthened family relationships and promoted peace and unity in the home, and many women in the groups have testified to financial and emotional progress in their homes. The VSLA groups have evolved into a platform where women can support and counsel one another in the event of family and marital difficulties; the women plan and work together in the group.

“My name is Ocaya Latigo, and I am happy to have joined the women's VSLA group, even though I am a man, because my wife encouraged me to do so. I received training in the group, and with the help of CIV-FUND, I was able to improve my livelihood. I planted pumpkins, which I am now processing into porridge flour, which I sell for UGX12,000/= per kilogram. As a result of this business, I've now purchased a cow and two goats. May gratitude goeas out to the project for including men like me.” - Ocaya Latigo, Gulu District.

The project has also resulted into strengthened customary land mechanism at the dispute resolution platforms, allowing women and vulnerable groups to be represented as part of the informal justice system.

Local seed banks have been established at the sub county level. Rural women have been able to access and share indigenous seeds – some of which have already been passed after the previous harvests. This has reduced the pressure of accessing the expensive GMO seeds – all of which cannot be replanted in the subsequent seasons.

Accepting challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey are all crucial aspects of life. Even though the project has progressed in leaps and bounds, there are still some obstacles to overcome, such as Some women still live in fear and are hesitant to associate with or speak out about their own problems, especially when it comes to human rights violations (inferiority complex), which makes change difficult to achieve.

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