The agriculture program of CRESS is mainly based on training, supplemented by a few key items of materials and equipment such as vegetable seed, tools, water containers and sprayers. Our training focuses on sustainable organic techniques for growing vegetables and now training in the planting, establishment and maintenance of fruit trees. Training refugees means that they will always have those new skills and be able to take those skills back to their home country when possible. Current best practice refugee policy recommends support of refugees in safe havens close to their homeland for when they return. Uganda offers this for refugees from South Sudan which borders the north. Taking these skills back to their homeland means that they will be instrumental in helping rebuild their country. It also means they have these skills for their own livelihood survival strategies whilst continuing to be refugees. Impact testimonials from this training can be seen at https://cressuk.org/agricultual-training-south-sudan/
Vegetable growing and fruit tree growing produces short term benefits for the refugees as they can grow their own fruit and vegetables. Nutritionists working in Africa use the saying that we aim for everyone to eat fresh vegetables and fresh fruit every day. Better nutrition helps with child development both physically and cognitively which will give long term benefits. Benefits in health and nutrition are also aided by the selling of excess produce for income which is usually spent my most refugees on medicines and school fees, as well as extra food during the dry season between their own harvests.
Refugee camps and settlements always experience deforestation in the surrounding areas because aid to refugees includes food aid (as uncooked grain) and some non- food aid in terms of plastic sheeting and blankets. However, it does not usually include fuel with which to cook the grain they are given. That means refugees are left to collect fuel for cooking themselves from the surrounding areas of bush woodland. The areas around the South Sudanese refugee camps in Northern Uganda are now, after four years, severely depleted and denuded. Reports of a change in environment are common such as more wind, less rain with increased drought, and heavier rain when it does come leading to flooding. These local environmental changes are themselves exacerbated by regional and global climate change.
Refugees are not usually supportive of tree planting, unless as paid labour, which may help the environment in the long term but does not help them in the short term. Refugees are now receiving less and less food aid during the food distribution leading to food scarcity at the end of the distribution cycle every month, and hence more severe and ever-increasing food insecurity. Fruit trees offer the potential of addressing both these short- and long-term issues by providing fruit in the short term but also some of the much-needed environmental services in the long term if planted in sufficient numbers.
What are the long-term benefits of planting fruit trees to a transient population who may at any time move back to their own country is about where in the long term are these refugees most likely to be residing? Reports from South Sudan imply the war there is still far from over and from press briefings there seems no sign of lasting peace. It is unlikely the refugees will willingly return home in the foreseeable future and certainly not before the time for fruit to develop from most of the fruit tree species we plant. In our discussions we believe that most refugee families will operate a multi-strategy survival approach with different family members accessing what food aid is given out in the camps, others establishing a more permanent home in and around Mijale which is located between the camps and South Sudan, whilst other family members may well return to South Sudan to take advantage of any possible survival opportunities there. This means that the refugees we seek to help will be reliant on the fruit trees we help them plant in that area for many years if not decades to come. The fruit trees will offer them the best permanent and secure food and income source as compared to their other survival strategy options. Therefore, fruit tree planting is very necessary at this stage and an important supportive aid intervention.