FEATURE. It had to take the intervention of the district forest officer Mr Khemis Ambaga and some of his colleague district officials to convince the community that the project was entirely set up to benefit them.

"Beneficiaries had a lot of worries about the project saying the government would take over the woodlot project and their land once the trees hand grown but we assured them that the land consent form used to obtain the land will confirm that the project belongs to them," Mr Khemis Amabaga, explained woodlot project.

He continued “This has been a community driven project and nobody is going to interfere with it. It's your responsibility to own the project because it has been set up for you”

Such was the level of misunderstanding and suspicion when the government of Uganda through the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) introduced the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in Kochi sub county, Yumbe district.

The suspicion was only to add onto a tense relationship in the past between the humanitarian agencies and the host community in which speculation and misinformation about land grabbing, unfair employment, etc. had been rife.

But the district team through their inception meetings stood their ground as they explained the importance of the World Bank funded project whose primary target was the poorest people in refugee hosting communities.

Less than a year down the road by press time, the suspicion had faded, many communities had come to terms and despite the project being at early stages, many were already benefitting.

Ms Faiza Ayikoru, a resident of Anyanga village, Kochi Sub County and a mother of three had struggled to fend for the family partly due to an irresponsible husband who didn’t support her endeavours.

She was incorporated in a group of 67 members to benefit from Shs40 million Anyanga woodlot sub-project, different tree species including Gmelina arborea, Eucalyptus and fruit trees have been planted.

But more important for Ayikoru has been the immediate benefit of her daily work on the 15-acre piece of land. A member who comes to work is entitled to a daily Shs5500, shs1500 of which is deducted for savings in the group account.

The shs5500 is obtained from the percentage allocated for labour intensive public works in the project. She says group savings have accumulated to more than three million shillings.

Ayikoru by being a member is entitled to loans agreeable by the group to run her small business of silver fish and assorted food items in the nearby trading centre.

"I had very little knowledge about loans but due to the empowerment from DRDIP, now the loans that I borrow help me a lot in running my business," a smiling Ayikoru reveals.

She is relishing her new family life under the financial empowerment of the project, she says her previously unsupportive husband has had a U-turn and is cooperating with her.

"We used not to take breakfast in the family and it was difficult to provide health care for the children but such problems are no more. DRDIP has elevated my family to a certain level, so with my husband, we want to use all the means to prosper in the business established," she narrates.

Faiza AyikoruMs Faiza Ayikoru speaks during the interview at the site of the woodlot project.

Ms Sony Salama, another beneficiary says although the project has a lot of economic benefits to the members, her choice to join the Anyanga group was largely kindled by the state of the environment.

She recalls how the thick environment of Yumbe that had been covered by rare natural tree species like Afzelia Africana, Mahogany, shear nut among others are no more.

"We have lost such trees to people who illegally harvest them for timber, logs and charcoal as such the vast areas in Yumbe have become bare, but we chose a long term project which will in future help our children through production of fruits and other forest products” she says.

Salama hopes that Yumbe will turn into a food basket for the region if the vast and fertile lands can be established through afforestation ultimately resulting into a better weather favourable for farming.

Another component attached to the Ananga project is Apiary where beehives have been placed taking advantage of the previous existing few trees.

The district forest officer is optimistic that ultimately, the group will reap big benefits but appeals to them to provide security by making fire lines especially during the impending dry spell.

5% of the project funds are used for procurement of sanitizers, hand washing facilities, facemasks and trainings so as to conform to the government of Uganda guidelines on the prevention of COVID-19.

DRDIP was set up to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of protracted refugee settlements through interlinked and investment components.

Apiary DRIPOne of the colonised beehives at the woodlot project site.