Skip to content

Congolese refugees find growth opportunities in Tanzania

Laliya Atondo holds a bunch of spinach harvested from her backyard garden, ready to be prepared to feed her family.

August 23, 2022

By Janice Biehn

Laliya Atondo is a Congolese refugee living in Nyarugusu refugee camp Tanzania. The 42-year-old mother of eight has faced a lot of challenges. There’s never enough food, and her husband sometimes berates her in front of the community as she is not able to contribute financially to her household.

Refugees in Nyarugusu rely mainly on World Food Programme (WFP) food rations to access food. However, rations contain only staple items and are regularly reduced due to WFP’s limited resources. Some refugees have begun planting vegetables in the vacant land around the camp, but many lack the necessary skills and resources to sustainably grow a diversity of crops.

“We don’t have knowledge to think out of box,” says Atondo. “We had not thought that we can be of help to our families. I relied on my husband, and it had never crossed my mind that I can make money from farming. I did not have any technical know-how to do agriculture activities, so we highly depend on the distribution ration we receive from WFP. Sometimes we exchange with beans so as to diversify food as we only eat peas and ugali.”

In May 2021 PWRDF began supporting a three-year project with Church World Service (CWS) providing seeds, agricultural inputs as well as training to sustainably grow vegetables. CWS reached 300 households in the first year and a further 510 households are being targeted in the second year. By the third year, all 810 households will continue to be supported with follow-up and monitoring. The budget is approximately $520,000, with half coming from a 1:1 match from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank account.

Atondo joined the CWS project and received a package of tools and seeds for growing vegetables. “At the beginning I was afraid. How will I manage to provide assistance to my community, as we always think that leadership is for men.” Due to her passion and commitment in her work, her group members selected her as a lead farmer. Through training, Atondo has emerged as one of the champion lead farmers.

Initially her husband thought the program was a waste of time, however he became very supportive after seeing the gains, including availability of vegetables for his family and income from vegetable sales. On average, Atondo earns $17US selling surplus vegetables at the local market. “I bought some clothes for my children, and one time I bought a shirt for my husband. It was a real good day as he was very happy and has no objection for me going to agriculture trainings.”  

Lead farmers are learning sustainable vegetable growing, integrated pest management, seed selection and storage, nutrition and gender equity. They are then responsible to train other refugees in the camps. The aim is for vegetable production to provide important nutritional diversity in the diets of refugee women and children, as well as an opportunity to earn some income through sales of surplus vegetables.

Now Atondo manages 25 farmers and provides support and materials such as vegetable seedling and watering cans. “Through gender training we received, I explained what we learned to my husband and convinced him on how we can develop our family. Now we are planning some issues together which was not happening before.

“Now they are calling me Mama Maua (mother of flowers) due to the attractiveness of my small garden.”

Apart from growing vegetables, Atondo also set some seedlings for seed production, which she expects to harvest and store for future use. This is one of the practices farmers are learning to promote self-reliance for seeds.

Until October 8, 2022, you can join PWRDF’s Wild Ride fundraising campaign or make a donation, in support of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Learn more.