Aggrey, our Communications and Fundraising Officer in Uganda team visited two families in Kamuli recently as part of the first NGO to visit the region. A region gripped in dependency by the local sugar cane industry, Aggrey writes of staring poverty in the face and the impact of big industry upon the lives of dependent farmers.

It is 2 O’clock when we arrive at the compound and the cooking area of Faridah, a mother of three, is unused. Broken and unwashed utensils are left unattended around the kitchen. A mother hen and her three chicks are pecking at the dirty utensils. But there isn’t much they are picking.

You are the first NGO in our area. Your tyre marks are the first in my compound

Faridah is holding on tightly to her one year old baby, Bangi Mebra. She is sleeping. Her other children, Tracy, 8, and Edson, 6, are away at an uncle’s place. In the background, three children from the neigbourhood are munching on raw sugar cane. The noise of their chewing drifts over the silence, as they crush the canes with gusto. However, they are not eating it for enjoyment; this will be their only 'meal' of the day.

As Faridah and her husband, James, show us around their one acre sugar plantation, I ask if the children have had anything to eat today: 

“Nothing, they have eaten molasses. It is Mebra who feels the hunger most keenly. But that one, I just give her a dose of homemade sugar cane vodka and then she will sleep,”

When I enter their house, I notice a two inch matress that passes for a bed for parents. There is no indication that the children have their own bedding. Tattered clothes are strewn across their 'space' and maybe, when night falls, these tatters will be gathered into a makeshift bed for Edson and Tracy. It seems that Mebra still shares the bed with her parents.

I visit a neighbour, Ceasor and his wife Mary and their five children. They have about 2 1/2 acres of land available to them, but already two acres are under sugarcane occupation. While they hope to send their children to school and build a decent house, there is no evidence to that.

Looking at their humble home, you ask yourself how they survive as a family in this place. You look poverty in the eye the moment you enter their home. You look at the children munching away at the cold sweet potato it brings a tear to your eye. At times like these you can't help but ask how they have not cursed their God.

There are no plates, no cups and only a couple of pans grace the kitchen. Bushes have grown up alongside the house, they do not have a pit latrine, they borrow a neighbours.  Clean water in Kamuli and this part of the district is unheard of. There are people in this part of the world who have never seen water coming out of a tap and they are as old as sixty years. I realise it would be foolish if I asked how many meals they have a day. There is no indicator they eat. Their cooking area has not seen fire in such a long time. 

Caesar and Mary are the true poster of Kamuli poverty.

Kamuli District is one of the 10 districts that make up this region of Eastern Uganda. Much of its land is under sugar plantations thanks to contract farming where indigenous landowners are out-growers. The region itself is particularly fertile, and surrounded by Lake Kyoga and the Victoria Nile. Any crop could survive here. But investment in the region is low, because of the surrounding water and marshes the road network is poor, and impassable in places.

Because of the ‘attractions’ of sugar cane cash, many youths drop out of school to be cane cutters and early marriages are the norm. Primary school completion is the worst in the country. 

As an offshoot of the sugar cane industry,a trhiriving vodka making cottage businesses in and around Kamuli has exploded. As a result, there are high level of alcoholism in Kamuli. It is the reason children are not going to school. It is the reason the area lacks food as much of the land is under cane occupation.

James sums up their plight:

“I see no hope. My parents and grandparents depended on sugarcane growing and they could not send me further in school. I am not sure if my children will not be like me. Sometimes I run away from home for days because I do not want to see my children hungry. When I come back, my wife Faridah quarrels that I have been with other women. Maybe Send a Cow you will help us now that you have come to our area. You are the first NGO in our area. Your tyre marks are the first in my compound”

Please help us give families hope by supporting our Kamuli appeal