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World Food Programme (WFP) Uganda launches a Self-Reliance Model for refugees in Uganda

WFP Country Director, Abdirahman Meygag at the launch of the Self-Reliance Model in Isingiro

The first time I was in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe District, which was many years ago, I was utterly stunned. I saw life with a different lens and setting; thousands of refugees with pockets of hope in their eyes, hanging onto distant dreams, and almost resigned to the thought that it will shine again tomorrow. Food came in platefuls of rumours and water in droplets of a nightmare. Life was tough. But with the continual support from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in collaboration with the Government of Uganda and other partners, there’s relief.

Today, WFP, and its partners, have launched the Self-Reliance Model in Isingiro District to support refugees and host communities transition from depending on humanitarian assistance to meeting their own food needs.

The Self-Reliance Model, funded by the governments of Ireland and Norway, will invest over USD 15 million to promote income generation among refugees, increase their access to social protection, support social norms change, and equip refugees with financial skills.

“WFP is committed to implementing projects that address the root causes of the challenges expressed by the people we serve. Over the years, refugees have clearly communicated their desire to be given the tools to take care of their families so they can live a fulfilling and dignified life,” Mr Abdirahman Meygag, WFP Uganda Country Representative said during the launch of the project. “The Self-Reliance Model is our response to refugees’ requests. Our assistance should support refugees to get back on their feet.”

The project will first be implemented in Southwestern Uganda and West Nile, which have some of the oldest refugee settlements in the country. Having stayed in Uganda for many years, these refugees can generate their own income through agriculture. The fertile soils and two adequate rainy seasons are particularly conducive for refugees to engage in farming as a business. 

WFP is already supporting communal farming for refugees and host communities by providing them with solar-powered irrigation to produce enough to eat and sell through their vegetable gardens. Farmers have also returned to their communities to share knowledge and encourage others to grow food on their small parcels of land. Under the Self-Reliance Model, WFP aims to scale up such interventions to enable more people to earn a decent living from farming and other activities.

“We have already seen from WFP that it is possible to build self-reliance, and that after people receive emergency humanitarian response, they can stand on their feet and transform their own lives,” Hon. Hilary Onek, Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugee said. “Uganda has become an example of what is possible when we prioritise humanity over fear, compassion over division and solidarity over indifference. As the country that hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa, we know from experience that there is need for comprehensive development approaches that go beyond immediate humanitarian support.”

Of the 1.5 million refugees Uganda hosts, 1.4 million receive support from WFP. Conflict and climate crises in the region continue to drive the influx of refugees into the country. In 2023, at least 130,000 new refugees arrived in Uganda, most fleeing conflict in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

WFP continues to provide food assistance with full rations to refugees for their first three months. Thereafter, they are prioritised based on their vulnerability and given a 30 percent or 60 percent food ration accordingly. WFP is using the prioritisation approach alongside the Self-Reliance Model to ensure efficient distribution of food assistance while empowering refugees to become self-sufficient and less reliant on external assistance in the long term.

“The United Nations is committed to providing innovative interventions that holistically address the challenges that refugees are facing and give them tools to earn a decent living and contribute fully to society,” said Ms Susan Ngongi Mamondo, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uganda. “The Self-Reliance Model is an example of a model that will enable not just WFP but also other UN agencies, partners and government to not only implement self-reliance projects but be able to measure progress, learn and improve services.”

Aside from supporting farmers to make a living, the model provides training on financial literacy and promotes savings groups. That way, refugees are able make more informed decisions on how to manage their finances and invest in their future. WFP also works with the government to strengthen social protection and ensure that people have a safety net in case they are unable to work and take care of themselves and their families.

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