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Meet Peter Karanja, an enterprising Refugee from Kenya who has turned around his fortunes to become one of the few successful refugees

Most times when calamity falls and people have to leave their country to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, they tend to fold their arms and wait on food aid because the mentality is always that the situation is temporary.

But some arise with an enterprising mind and readily to face their challenges no matter where they go. For a man who crossed into Uganda through the Busia border in 2007, following the violence that broke out in Kenya after the 2007 general elections, Karanja was not sure of what lay ahead of him as a refugee. His parents had died and his wife survived a massacre that took place in a church in Eldoret where the couples’ first child was killed. Going back to his country was out of the question. Even now, the thought of returning to his home country is one he has chosen to ignore.

When Mr. Karanja arrived in Uganda, he was taken to Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement together with other Kenyan citizens that sought refuge in Uganda. He had UGX 70,000 which he says was exhausted before he could even settle. His wife had an eight months old baby at the time, their second child.

“With all my money exhausted, I knew I needed to do more than just wait for food aid. I had a wife and a child to take care of. I sought to do casual work within the camp,” he narrates.

A few months in the camp, he, like other new entrants, was given a small piece of land and two kilograms of maize seed. A number of his peers ate the seeds; others did not do anything with it. He, on the other hand, did not only plant all his maize seed but also asked to plant the seed from other refugees that did not like the idea of growing food. They were sure they would go back home soon anyway.

“My first harvest yielded about 12 bags of maize. I was excited. I requested for more land and I got an acre which I put to use immediately,” says Mr. Karanja.

He used proceeds from the sale of the maize to buy 5 goats. The goats have since multiplied to 30 in five years.

“I started with local goats but I sold them when they multiplied and bought boer goats,” he says adding that today, his farm has expanded to ten acres of Maize and 22 boer goats, Kuroiler chicken, ducks, among other things.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations working with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) as an implementing partner has been supporting refugees with agricultural inputs aimed at boosting their production of food with an aim of reduced reliance on food aid and also increase availability of nutritional foods to supplement their diets.

Karanja is among the refugees that have received some inputs including maize and vegetables seeds, kuroiler chicks and chicken feed. In January 2015, he, together with other 4 000 refugee households received a number of inputs and technical support under the FAO ECHO funded project for refugees.

“I was trained by facilitators from FAO and DRC on managing poultry. After the training I got interested in keeping chicken. FAO gave me 10 chicks and chicken feed from which I have learnt a lot as far as poultry is concerned,” he says, revealing that he has ordered for 300 more chicks to expand his poultry farm which currently consists of birds given to him by FAO.

His choice of the kuroiler chicken is mainly because they grow fast, are resistant to major diseases and can be kept under free range system. He also plans to use some of the maize he has planted as feeds for the chicken.

Karanja is targeting the high demand for eggs within and around the refugee settlement camp which he says remains unmet by suppliers who buy from the neighboring districts.

“In the next one year, I want to be the leading supplier of eggs in the camp and outside the camp,” he says.

Karanja, though a refugee, has built a semi-permanent house indicating his transformation overtime from when he arrived and got a temporary shelter that was only covered with a tarpaulin. From his second maize harvest, he was able to build a grass thatched hut from which he moved last year to occupy his current house.

According to Karanja, in a bad season, he makes profits between UGX 700 000 to 1 million while in a good season; he can make about UGX two million in profit.

While the majority of the 2007/8 refugees from Kenya have returned following the end of the clashes, he and his wife Julie Wambui are not ready to return because his wife has not recovered from the trauma she suffered watching her parents and her first born child burnt to death. In fact, the couple would like their children to grow up and study in Uganda until they finish university.

To his fellow refugees, Karanja says that they should unfold their hands and make themselves useful since they are not sure when peace will return to their countries.

According to Mr. Atem Ding, a facilitator with Danish Refugee Council, Karanja is one of the few enterprising refugees in the Kiryandongo Settlement Cluster C who have chosen to work and improve their livelihoods – an initiative that has not been embraced by many.

“When we identify people who are interested in agriculture, we support them by training them as well as giving them the necessary inputs required to kick start their ventures,” he says, adding that Karanja’s small farm has become a learning center for other refugees.

Article by: Agatha Ayebazibwe, Communications Officer- FAO

UN Agencies in Uganda