Farmer-led Economic Development (FLED) ini Pader District, Northern Uganda

Farmer-led Economic Development (FLED) in Pader District, Northern Uganda
by André Leliveld

Last June I made an interesting visit to Pader District in Northern Uganda. Pader district (pop. ± 250,000) is located along the road connecting the towns Lira and Kitgum, and is part of the historical homeland of the Acholi people. Pader was severely affected by the over two-decade war in the region between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. During the peak of the war, from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, the entire population of the district was living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. In 2006, a ceasefire was agreed upon, and since then the LRA has withdrawn from Northern Uganda, moving westwards into North Eastern Congo and the Central African Republic.

Soon after the ceasefire in 2006 and the withdrawal of the LRA, people in Pader started to leave the camps and returned to their land to take up their lives and livelihoods. Many emergency aid and rehabilitation programmes entered the region to support people in their attempts. When I travelled in the region last June, I actually saw no town or village without a sign or postmark from one or more of these organisations. My goal was to visit the programmes of a different player though, namely the Farmer-led Economic Development (FLED) programme. The FLED programme is supported by the MWH Foundation, both financially and by providing knowledge and expertise on entrepreneurship. The MWH Foundation is a Dutch private Foundation and impact investor supporting among others projects which aim to realize sustainable economic development in East Africa. The MWH Foundation advocates and promotes that its FLED programme is an example of a new approach to rehabilitation in fragile, post-conflict areas. MWH uses socially responsible impact investment to promote economic recovery as the key to successful rehabilitation. In Pader, MWH has invested in a ZOA programme which aims to raise agricultural production and food security among subsistence farmers, and this year it also established a commercial social enterprise (The HUB) as a vehicle for local economic transformation, and promoting commercial and profitable entrepreneurship among individual farmers and collective action. In both programmes MWH takes a long time perspective, that is, 10 years at least. The FLED programme aims at filling the gap which in many cases arises when rehabilitation organizations with a funding cycle of 12 to 18 months leave the post-conflict area, but have not contributed to an environment which allow people to build up a sustained and solid economic base for their livelihoods.

Will such an approach work? With this question the MWH Foundation came to the African Studies Centre (ASC) more than a year ago, asking whether it could be instrumental in conducting a long-term action research which could help to raise more insights in this question. The insights from this action research should contribute to the action learning trajectory within the FLED programme. The months thereafter I had several discussions with the various stakeholders in the FLED project in the Netherlands and in Uganda, and last September MWH Foundation and the ASC have signed an agreement to collaborate in an action research on the FLED programme for the coming five years in Pader District in Northern Uganda. It will not be a ‘classic’ pre-determined five years research programme; given the environment in which the FLED projects operates, flexibility is the key word here. Over the years to come, research modalities will be formulated and conducted in close collaboration with the various stakeholders. Action research pur sang, conducted in a scientific responsible way, which can raise findings that both from a practitioner and academic perspective can lead to new insights on post-conflict economic recovery of households and of farmer households in particular. Within the ASC the project with MWH relates to the research domain ‘well-being and resources’, in which the themes of food security and the role and future of African agriculture are, among others, focal points. Marleen Dekker and undersigned will be the principal ASC researchers in the project.