By Christine Kabazira
Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe District occupies an area of 250 square kilometers. It is the largest settlement in Uganda and second largest in the world consisting of five zones and a total population of 227,000 South Sudanese refugees. 87 percent of the population are women and children.
Uganda is the third largest refugee hosting country in the world, a home to 1,293, 582 refugees as of June 30th 2019 according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Being in a country with an agricultural background, refugees from South Sudan have also embarked on agriculture for food production and income generation.
When refugees come to Uganda, they become unemployed and face many problems that come with unemployment. To solve this problem, the refugees in Bidibidi have embraced commercial agriculture, growing various cash crops to earn an income to boost their ways of living.
Ismail Matata, a South Sudanese refugee who came to Uganda in 2016, found his livelihood in cotton growing. Despite the negative effects of cotton growing on soil, Matata gets his income from this farming activity.
In 2018, the international NGO Mercy Corps introduced a cotton growing project in Bidibidi to boost household income and resilience among refugees. Mercy Corps aims to empower people to recover from crisis and build better lives.
How refugees acquire cotton seeds
Mercy Corps, which runs an Innovation Center in zone 3 of Bidibidi settlement, works in partnership with Gulu Agricultural Development Company that provides cotton seeds to the refugees at a full cost.
After harvesting his first harvest that he had planted in 2018, Matata says he received 700,000 UGX (about $189 USD), that he used to buy food, clothes and other basic needs for his wife and children.
Despite the poor performance of cotton growing in Uganda and elsewhere in the region, Matata has found livelihood in this farming activity and urges his fellow refugees to also embrace the project. According to Matata, cotton growing has helped him build friendships with the Ugandan host community members from whom he hires land for his cotton growing.
Olega Muzamil, the agricultural program assistant at Mercy Corps, said that the organization chose cotton because
the kind of seeds (SZ 914) they give out are modified and take a very short time to harvest. That’s why they thought cotton would favorably compete with other cash crops.
He also noted that besides the growing of food crops to sustain their lives, refugees needed to grow a cash crop to be able to gain a side income. He added that obtaining a market for this product would not be a problem since Gulu Agricultural Development Company buys the harvested cotton.
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