Where women farm and care for families - and the men go raiding

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By Teddy Curran, Technical Director, AWARE Uganda

Oxen-drawn ploughs increase production & decrease workload

Animal Traction is a benefit for Karamoja women - but why is the practice slow to spread?animal-traction2

The women of Karamoja are predominately the main producers of food and taking care of their families as the men go raiding.

For these women, animal traction is a viable option that could increase women’s production and reduce their workload, if existing constraints to adopting it were overcome.

AWARE-Uganda has formed groups of women in the different parts of the counties in Kaabong District that could allow them to create a scheme that will rotate amongst the women.

In practice, however, the spread of animal traction technology has been slow in several countries –  and particularly, the spread in Karamoja, since farming was not for a long time part of their culture.

Nomadic pastoralists

Traditionally and historically, Karamojong are nomadic pastoralists and never settled in one place. 

Today so much has improved: the women are taking their children to school and building semi-permanent houses, hence, forcing them to produce food that will sustain them during the year,  and won’t have to move to look for greener pastures.

AWARE-Uganda, as part of their vision in improving the lifestyle and standard of living, lobbied for funds that have enabled them to start a scheme that will assist the  few women who have benefited from the project.

This slow spread does not seem to be a function of lack of demand, but of high costs, lack of credit, animal disease, and the scarcity of feed for drought, animals,  problems in manufacturing of drought implements, limited availability of quality implements to farmers, and semi-desert poor weather and soil conditions.

In Uganda, animal traction has not spread much beyond the northern and eastern parts of the country because of the presence of the tsetse fly, cultural constraints, and historical reasons.

Life is easier for women with oxen-drawn ploughsploughing

AWARE-Uganda has formed twenty women's groups; in Kamara, Biafra, Komoreo, Kapedo Lolelie in Kaabong districts, they have already started using animal traction for ploughing and preparation of land, and this has made it easier to plant more hectares.

AWARE-Uganda provided training oxen and ploughs and it has made ploughing:

  1. Faster.
  2. Allowed larger areas to be opened up;
  3. Reduced women’s workloads by transferring some of their work to animals;
  4. Turned the soil well and deep; and
  5. Will increased production.


Evidence indicates that animal traction use can result in considerable time saved.

The study team collected data on the time spent per acre on weeding when using a hoe and when using an animal-drawn cultivator down the inter-row space.

There were large differences. For instance, for maize, when the weeding was done by hand, it took two to four weeks per acre, whereas with animal traction, it took only two to four days per acre. There were also enormous time savings with groundnuts, millet and other crops.

Obstacles Still in the Way

Nonetheless, the special constraints observed in the adoption of animal traction by women farmers in Karamoja and will need to be taken into consideration. These include:

  • Cultural taboos.
    Animals being used for ploughing are against the cultural laws, and therefore against their using oxen. 
  • Gender-based ownership issues.
    It may be difficult for women to own oxen or donkeys, for cultural as well as financial reasons. Even if there are no explicit taboos against their use by women.
  • Fear of oxen.
    It was noted from a group of women in Kaabong that fear of oxen was something they needed to overcome. Such fear may simply be because of women’s lack of experience with such animals.
  • Lack of understanding or of operational skills.
    Due to the high illiteracy rates, women would need patient and more practical skills in training, both for themselves and for the oxen.
  • Expense.
    Others would love to acquire and adapt though not unique to women farmers, high costs can pose more problems for women because of no access to credit.


In Conclusion

As a woman and an agricultural engineer by profession, my heart falls for all women to have full access, direct or indirect, to animal traction as men do, or as much as they would like to have.

Animal traction has potential for increasing agricultural production and reducing women farmers’ workloads, and thus, their exhaustion.

But any attempts at promotion among groups of women farmers will need to take account of social feasibility and economic viability. The study suggests that in countries such as Zambia and Uganda, men would be supportive – although this may vary by location.

In general, animal traction for use by women is likely to be more socially acceptable in places where there is a high level of male out-migration, with a resulting weakening in restrictive taboos and gender-based division of labour.

I, Teddy Curran, will continue to be an engineer with Karamoja at heart.