Last week I was in Gulu, Uganda, one of the largest cities in “Acholiland,” a part of Northern Uganda. Many of the poorest of the poor farmers in Uganda currently live in this region, which was once described to me as the “breadbasket of Uganda.” Just a few years ago, this city was engulfed in the horrific conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan Defense Forces. Both sides committed atrocities during the conflict. Somewhere between one and two million people, which is most of the population of Acholiland, were put into “Internally Displaced People” camps. Since the LRA was raiding rural villages to steal food, kids, and whatever else they wanted, this action was meant to strategically reduce agricultural production, and starve the LRA out of the bush areas were they were hiding.

By now, most people have left the camps and are returning to farmland. Agricultural training is a huge problem in this area, as many young people grew up in the camps, and have never had a job, education, or agricultural experience. However, even more dire is the need for basic agricultural infrastructure, such as decent roads, electricity, irrigation, and access to decent seed. In some ways, Acholiland is in a transitional phase – war has reduced infrastructure building, and many of the small scale projects that the Gates ICT for Ag calls for will likely have little impact until this basic post-war infrastructure can be installed.

There are some lingering challenges in this area that will likely outlast transitional infrastructure building projects. It would take a whole book to describe the complex social and economic issues that have raged in this region, but in short, due to the government’s questionable treatment of people in IDP camps during the LRA conflict (many of which were Acholi), there is a great deal of mistrust of government ag agencies, such as NAADS.

Because of the dire circumstances of people in this region, it’s difficult to leave some of these problems behind. There are countless challenges that ICT solutions could be used to address. However, the Gates ICT in Ag grant calls for innovative and scalable ideas, and many people in Acholiland likely need more basic things like large scale civil engineering projects. That’s not to say that a project involving ag extension might not have an impact, but for farmers to take part in agricultural¬† economics, they first need roads, electricity, and markets.

NAADS Cheats Farmers Article