Grace’s seeds cultivate change in hungry communities

Grace stands with her daughter in her retail shop, now the only dealer of high-quality seeds in her rural area in northern Uganda. Photo: Caitlin Turnbull/Mercy Corps

Auma Grace has big plans for her retail business. Since participating in Mercy Corps’ Healthy Practices, Strong Communities (HPSC) program in rural Uganda, she has become the only female seed dealer in Kitgum District, selling in-demand seeds like white sorghum, a cereal grain, to area farmers. Now, she wants to expand.

In northern Uganda, where Grace lives, families are recovering from 21 years of conflict that destroyed houses and farms, and forced millions to flee.

Since the war ended in 2008, many formerly displaced families have returned to the area eager to rebuild their lives. But overgrown farmland, weak infrastructure and recurring droughts make it difficult just to grow enough food, let alone earn income.

That's why we're helping people like Grace grow more crops, feed their families and find secure ways to make a living by providing agricultural and business training in their communities.

When Grace became involved in Healthy Practices, Strong Communities, she already operated a small retail shop in her rural village in Orom, selling items like soap, salt, cooking oil and produce from local farms. We helped Grace expand her inventory to also include high-quality seeds, a commodity not regularly available in her remote area.

Through HPSC she received business training to help her better manage her store, and was connected to urban seed distributors that could supply her shop with seeds.

Now, as the only seed dealer in her region, Grace has given her business a boost and made high-quality seeds available to the surrounding rural villages. And better seeds mean better crops, which helps ensure a strong business for Grace and bountiful harvests for her community.

The gardening groups formed by HPSC also benefit from having a local source of seeds. Through these groups, community members work together to farm crops for food and income. And to ensure they get the most out of their harvests, the groups receive nutrition and agricultural training on things like proper harvesting, pest management, correct planting seasons and nutritious cooking.

Grace’s gardening group, Rowot Omiyo, consists of 30 people — 25 of whom are women — who together farm sesame, peanuts, beans, white sorghum and vegetables. She says the training from Mercy Corps has helped them learn how to grow more crops and prepare healthier food for themselves and their families.

The group plans to save money to invest in their farming initiatives, one day purchasing a tractor, oxen or piece of land where they can farm without paying rent.

And Grace has similar plans for her business. She’s going to use income from her own farming to invest in her retail store, eventually becoming a larger-scale seed distributor.

In the meantime, she’s busy making small improvements like building better storage for her product, marketing and fostering relationships with local farmers. With her new business and agricultural knowledge, Grace is ready to grow — and she’s not wasting any time.