For 31-year-old Thomas Okot, feeling self-pity for his physical disability has never crossed his mind. It has instead made him more determined to succeed in life amidst the many challenges he has faced.
A Difficult Start
Thomas was born a healthy child but was later attacked by the polio virus at the age of two, leaving both his limbs paralysed. He currently uses an improvised walking stick to move around and carry on with his duties.
“Farming has liberated me from poverty, as I can now look after my family of five properly. My children go to school and receive medical care whenever they are ill because I can afford to get them better treatment,” said Thomas, who is practising mixed farming in his village of Kamdini, Wol Sub-County in Agago District, northern Uganda.
Thomas lives in a region of Uganda where 70% of the population is said to be economically marginalised, and 60% live in absolute poverty. Despite the area having volcanic fertile soils nestled between greenery and beautiful hills, his family would occasionally harvest only one sack of maize from their three acres of land. One sack of maize generates less than 290,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately $100 or €70). With no side income, Thomas could hardly pay for the upkeep of his family.
The Uganda Youth Engine (UYE)
In 2021, as Thomas pondered his next move, GOAL Uganda began mapping out areas in the district where it would later introduce the Uganda Youth Engine (UYE) project. This livelihoods programme was implemented in four sub-counties of Agago, including Wol, Adilang, Geregere, and Kotomor. The objective of the project is to enable 3,500 young men (30%) and women (70%) between the ages of 18 and 35 to access dignified and fulfilling agricultural work within the cassava, soybean, and sunflower value chains in Uganda.
In addition to its goal of empowering youths, the project also improves and ensures that young entrepreneurs have the information skills and coping mechanisms necessary to engage actively and sustainably in the agricultural market system. About 2,476 youth farmers have benefitted from this project since its inception in 2022, and the project continues to support about 1,238 youths every farming season.
Programme participants are divided into two groups, with one group being youths who have never engaged in farming as a business, and the other group being youths who have engaged in farming as a business. The project profiled partners who could provide business development skills training, financial literacy training, and input and output demand aggregation and online marketing training. These trainings are facilitated by Community Marketing Agents (CMAS).
Joining the project
After carefully listening to the GOAL facilitators, Thomas decided to join the project with the aim of learning more about crop production to boost his family’s income and secure better living conditions.
“I gained skills in post-harvest handling, good agronomic practices, savings skills and business development, among others, which are currently helping me to grow my business.”
Among the agricultural value chains available, Okot decided to venture into soybean production. He applied the techniques he was taught and was able to plant two acres of soybean and harvested four bags at the end of the season.
Okot said he was able to sell each of the bags at 195,000 Ugandan shillings (About $52 or €48), amounting to approximately 780,000 Ugandan shillings (About $230 or €190). He then used the money to engage in off-farm activities and bought one cow and 21 goats.
“I was also able to finalise the purchase of a 2-acre piece of land, where I currently live. Besides these investments, I also engage in Village Savings Loan Association (VSLA) activities which enables me to save money for future development instead of wasting it,” he said.
“I was previously just surviving with knowledge on how to farm better and improve my life. I had no savings and would basically feed hand to mouth. I thank GOAL for opening my eyes now that I have the income to sustain my family.”