Julia Jordan - Horticulture Irrigation Project in Eastern Uganda
By Julia Jordan
In eastern Uganda, small-scale farmer groups are experimenting with irrigation and water management strategies to overcome the challenges of climate variability and to improve their livelihoods. In partnership with these farmers, the Horticulture Irrigation Project (HIP) is working to develop sustainable, appropriate irrigation technologies for vegetable crop systems with a participatory and gender-focused approach. During the six-month period of July-Dec 2017, with support from the Henry A. Jastro fellowship and the Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture (RIFA), I had the opportunity to join this partnership to explore the gender and social dimensions of these efforts, using qualitative research.
Unique of typical irrigation projects, I worked most closely with a non-governmental organization called the Teso Women’s Development Initiative (TEWDI Uganda) – a major partner in the HIP collaboration – that serves as an effective community-based advocate for gender equity on a variety of issues beyond just irrigation. Over tea and a snack of roasted groundnuts or millet porridge, we would discuss how we could address the issues of women’s participation facing the project, problems of inclusion and exclusion, and the complex power dynamics within the irrigation groups, often a reflection of broader gender norms and inequities.
I accompanied TEWDI’s project officer, Helen Akucu, on the several-hour, multiple vehicle journeys to each of our six project sites, to visit with farmer irrigation group members, see how crops of onion, tomato, or ebo were faring, facilitate discussions about gender-related issues or concerns about the technologies, and speak with farmers about their experiences as members of the irrigation groups. TEWDI’s years of experience in the Teso region, vast knowledge of cultural nuances and gender justice work, and tireless dedication, made them an excellent partner not only in fieldwork, but also in the development of my research questions.
The primary aim of my study in Uganda, which is the basis of my master’s thesis, was to understand the ways that intersectional gender issues encourage or hinder farmers’ meaningful participation in small-scale irrigation development processes, and their ability to benefit from such processes. Using qualitative data from interviews, project records, observation, and focus groups, I examine specifically what makes participation “meaningful,” and for whom. Given the many differences between farmers’ experiences and engagements with participatory irrigation – such as age, marital status, family structure, and other relations of social power – this work approaches irrigation not only as a technical and economic activity, but also as a process of social change.
In addition to research, the Jastro and RIFA awards enabled me to develop and facilitate workshops on gender and irrigation design with undergraduate students of agricultural mechanization and irrigation engineering at the local university, Busitema. These workshops encourage the students to consider social impacts of technologies on rural agricultural communities in Uganda, and how they might avoid and mitigate unintended consequences throughout the design process. Through the relationships I have built in this project, I am continuing this work by collaborating on a student-led learning program and curriculum development with Busitema University faculty.