Lucy in her garden with her granddaughter. Photo: Action Against Hunger, Uganda
Several years ago, Lucy Lakello and her family arrived in the Kiryandongo settlement in northern Uganda after fleeing violent conflict at home in South Sudan. Since the conflict began, nearly a million South Sudanese – mainly women and children – have fled to neighbouring Uganda. Refugees in Uganda are provided with a small plot of land and permitted to work and go to school, but finding a stable livelihood is often an uphill battle.
Lucy and her family faced many challenges when they arrived. They shared a cramped mud hut that leaked badly during the rainy season and struggled to access adequate food. But their situation began to change for the better when Lucy received training through our ENABLER project, where she learned to cultivate oyster mushrooms – a lucrative and fast-growing crop that she quickly turned into a successful business, bringing in over $80 each month.
The ENABLER project provides tailored support to refugees and vulnerable Ugandans based on level of need. A primary goal of the program is to increase self-sufficiency and improve livelihoods of female-headed households like Lucy’s. With the training, in addition to her mushroom business, she planted a flourishing garden where she produces a variety of nutritious crops including fruits, peas and chia seeds.
Lucy packing her fresh and dried mushrooms to sell at the market. Photo: Brian Kimanthi for Action Against Hunger, Uganda
“My life suddenly improved,” says Lucy. “With what I earned from my first harvest, I built a decent hut for my mother. Then, I built a new house for my children and me. We are healthier. We eat mushrooms at least twice a week, and I can buy other foods to help improve our diet.”
Lucy’s mushroom business not only allowed her to meet her family’s basic needs, but also plan for a more prosperous future. She can cover the school fees for her children, her grandchild, and her five nieces and nephews. She also joined one of Action Against Hunger’s Villages Savings and Loan groups, where she saves a few dollars every week.
“This project has proved to be very popular among the refugee community,” says program coordinator Cuthbert Aongat. “Mushroom growing is relatively easy, and in four weeks, refugees are able to get returns on their investment.”
Despite her impressive farming knowledge and skills, Lucy’s business was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, she was unable to access the raw materials she needed. School closures also meant more mouths to feed at home.
“With such a big family, I needed to diversify to ensure that I could feed all of them,” Lucy explains.
“From my mushroom savings, I bought a few vegetable seeds and, with the help from Action Against Hunger staff, we set up new nursery beds of onions and [collard greens],” My vegetables are doing so well. Together with my children, we set up more nursery beds.”
Lucy shows a recently harvested mushroom crop. Photo: Photo: Brian Kimanthi for Action Against Hunger, Uganda.
Revealing her entrepreneurial spirit, Lucy soon found opportunity amidst the challenges of the pandemic. As prices in local markets increased as a result of movement restrictions, she began selling her surplus crops.
“Venturing into crop production helped my family navigate through the COVID hardships smoothly. We constantly had food to eat and could afford basic items such as soap, sugar, matches, and salt from the income we earned from the vegetable sales,” she says.
Lucy was soon able to resume growing mushrooms, but the lack of access to good quality materials remained. She found herself frustrated by the scarcity and poor quality of the substrates – the base material that provides the nutrients and energy that mushrooms need to grow.
Our team trained Lucy and four other mushroom growers on how to multiply seeds and substrates at home, improving crop quality and yield while making them less reliant on outside suppliers. The growers were also provided with the starter materials and tools needed for production.
With her new skills, Lucy immediately got to work. Now, with help from her family, she produces her own seed spawns and substrates at home. Together with the other mushroom growers, she also hopes to sell spawns locally to other producers. The group agreed that they will sell their products to the community at a price one-third less than the suppliers they used to depend on.
Lucy feels empowered by her new skills and is excited to have the ability to produce her own materials. After a first successful attempt at producing spawns and substrates, she is looking to scale up and increase her production.
“I am forever grateful to Action Against Hunger for empowering me,” she says. “The tools and skills they have given me strengthened my family’s economic, health, and social stability.”
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