Hungry for Change: The incredible journey of Janet Ilonya

The human right to food guarantees freedom from hunger and access to safe and nutritious food. Several key human rights principles are fundamental to guaranteeing the right to food. It is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11).

The farm planning approach implemented by IDF partner, FRA is an approach which was further developed following ‘under the tree shed’ discussions held with project beneficiaries in Soroti and Katakwi districts in response to the severe food insecurity situation they were facing coupled with social conflicts at household and community level which were increasing vulnerability to a spectrum of social conflicts like child trafficking, domestic violence among others. Todate, over 80 farmers have been transformed directly and indirectly as a result of the farm plan model.   

51 year old Ilonya Janet, chairperson of Ajeepet Otuu Farmers group in Asuret Sub County, a farm planning champion, a new tailoring student at Mukula-Ngora, and the newly appointed treasurer of Asuret Site Lite Collection Point -a bulking food store in Asuret Sub County- is a force to be reckoned with. A widow with more than 6 children to feed, many of whom had been transferred to her by her family members unable to sustainably feed them, has become a beacon of hope to her community.

This journey with Janet started with her volunteer-ship to championing the FRA farm planning model in her group. Faith in the agronomic principles this model stands by led Janet to reorganize her resources to fully enjoy the returns this model brings. Case in point, at the start of this partnership, FRA contracted a soil specialist to survey and profile Janet’s land. After an assessment of Janet’s land, the consultant concluded that the current positioning of her garden and house where not suitable for farming. The consultant further concluded that the land on which Janet planned to place her garden was infertile. This infertility was attributed to the land being rocky, characterized with a lack enough soil nutrients that would make it impossible to grow crops. She was further advised that the most fertile area on her land suitable for growing crops was the area on which her house was built.

During our visit to Janet’s garden 6 months later to document her progress, we were shocked to discover that Janet hadn’t only taken the advice to heart, but to practice. With the piece of information she gathered from the consultant, Janet broke down and rebuilt her home in the rocky area, leaving the area that once held her home, to be her garden. Janet restated during our visit that she has never looked back since.

Prior to the interventions by both FRA and her on-ground partner Soruda, Janet testified to practicing poor and traditional farming methods where she had 100% seed ploughed with an eventual harvest of only 68% which was a big loss. When it came to post harvest handling practices, it would yield her less food and income. She noted regrettably the way her family used to harvest and store food with no system for separating what to sell and what to eat. This she noted, led to food going bad in the store and finally they would throw it away.

With interventions from both Soruda and FRA, today Janet plants citrus, cassava, potatoes, green vegetables, sim sim, groundnuts, maize, and sorghum in her planned garden. Among these, she sells sim sim, groundnuts, maize, and citrus. She saves cassava, potatoes, maize and sorghum for household food consumption. Among the benefits Janet identified since she started using the farm planning methods, was the reduction in food wastage by her family. “Farm planning helped me plan for the food I was producing…. Now, we come out of the garden with a specific portion of food to sell and to eat” she said.  Ms. Janet now celebrates her labor of better farming practices from 32% loss to 5%. Success accumulated from these changes where recognized with her appointment as the new treasurer of Asuret Site Lite Collection Point, a bulking food store in Asuret Sub County. This has motivated her to confidently bulk 95% of her harvest.

The biggest benefit I have gotten from FRA is knowledge. I have acquired knowledge for eternity, this same knowledge, I pass it on to others including my grandchildren. We learnt about the right to food and how lacking it increases vulnerability in households and child trafficking. Timely cultivation, early land preparation and proper apportioning,” said Ilonya Janet, farmer Ajeepet Otuu village, Mukura Sub County. Janet further explained how 3 of her neighbours now also plant cassava in straight lines after seeing the much she harvests besides other 31 members in her group.

The collection site was started in 2014 by WFP in partnership with SORUDA and War on want as a center for training, leadership, advocacy and farm planning. The center was not only set up to control the produce prices from middle men who would reap farmers at the farm-get-point but also motivate farmers to increase production through better market connections. The site now has over 600 members compared to 270 members in 2014 and this is attributed to the several trainings and sensitizations through FRA. “Before FRA, group members did not know how to broadcast seeds and majority were not following the best agronomic practices. I know proper post handling methods and market access techniques,” explained John Paul, the FRA-SORUDA field extension officer, Asuret sub county, Soroti District. She added that FRA also provided knowledge on counselling between men and women on what to cultivate for home consumption and cash crop which minimizes household conflicts and fights.