YUMBE. Mr Jimmy Kenyi, 32, a South Sudanese refugee living in Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe district has learnt to cope with the challenging environment in his new home in exile.
As is usually the case with many refugees, Kenyi says at first, he had a big problem understanding Ugandan laws besides the general hardship of a new arrival.
But he proposed to sail clear of the sole dependency on aid agencies and time has judged him to have excelled in his quest.
"As food rations continued to be cut, we couldn’t as refugees sit down and watch without finding solutions. Some of us started utilizing the small plots allocated (30mX30) and others borrowed from the host community for cultivating crops," he says.
Kenyi uses this land for planting crops like cassava, maize, beans and vegetables procured by organisations including Dan Church Aid (DCA); harvests from the gardens supplement the monthly food ration his family receives from World Food Program (WFP).
Apart from the food rations from WFP, refugees also get assistance in non-food items but most recipients have complained that the amounts received are not adequate enough to cater for their monthly demand.
Kenyi says partners were able to give them agricultural and vocational skills which have transformed the refugee community in the settlement.
"We don't now rely much on the partners to give us everything but cultivate crops and engage in commercial activities to supplement the food ration from WFP. So many organizations are working with the refugees to ensure that they become self-reliant," he says.
Despite the obvious land shortage and the harsh conditions due to drought, Kenyi has a plan of opening up a big plot for commercial agriculture.
"If land is adequate and the issue of drought can be addressed through the establishment of irrigation systems in the settlement, we would forget about the food rations but instead get food from our own garden which could reduce the burden on the partners," he asserts.
Widowed Mary Masa, 38, another refugee from Kajokeji is involved in the labour intensive quarrying to meet the extra needs of her seven children.
Although greatly traumatised by the loss of her husband and close relatives, she recollected herself to start the enterprise in 2017 to primarily supplement the food ration.
She narrates that her daily activities involve getting up early morning leaving the children at home, after a thorough excavation of the stones using a hoe, she ferries them to her sight to break into smaller aggregates using a hammer.
Basa sells a trip of aggregate at Shs 65,000 and earns about Shs195, 000 a month depending on the market which money she uses for buying necessities like Sugar and medicine.
However, the business has been hard-hit due to slowing activity in construction works at the settlement and Basa has to sometimes wait up to three months to receive a customer.
She was allocated a rocky plot for settlement not suitable for agriculture but that has equally been no deterrent for the determined Basa.
She has hired a piece of land from a member of the host community for cultivating crops from next year partly to offer an alternative to the less profiting quarry venture.
Another refugee Mr Jacob Lopisa, 32, a father of two and a former teacher with Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) had to think quickly after the termination of his contract in April, 2020.
He has resorted to planting green vegetables in part of the 30mX30m land allocated to him as a source of income to address some of the family needs.
"Organisations like Dan Church Aid supported me with assorted vegetable seeds like Ocra, tomatoes, Amaranthus, Onions which I am planting after the termination of my contract as there is no employment yet," he says.
Mr Michael Nabugere, the settlement commandant in the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) says food rations for the refugees have been cut to 70 per cent per person due to funding challenges related to the impact of COVID-19.
"The host community through the landlords have been generously supporting the refugees with land. We have acquired more than 500 additional acres of land for refugees especially for Agriculture," he says in response to the reduced food rations.
He urges the refugees to utilise the land effectively but laments that the challenge is lack of seeds, farm implements and other Agricultural inputs that can help the refugees to get a good harvest.
Bidibidi refugee settlement hosts about 231,000 South Sudan refugees with the majority being children and women.
The refugees are settled in five zones located in Ariwa, Romogi, Kochi, Kululu and Odravu sub counties in Yumbe district.