ISU group to visit Uganda to learn how center has improved rural life

AMES, Iowa -- An Iowa State University group is traveling to East Africa this week to learn more about how an Iowa State University center has improved the lives of rural Ugandans. The Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods was established in 2003 to help rural residents of developing nations increase food security and farm incomes.

Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy is leading the group, which includes Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture; Robert Mazur, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods; Lorna Michael Butler, the Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Gerald A. and Karen A. Kolschowsky of Chicago, who provided gifts to establish the program in the College of Agriculture. The U.S. delegation also will include other donors and Iowa State students.

"Over the last two years, activities in agricultural development and community nutrition have made steady progress in rural areas of Uganda," Mazur said. "We have been working collaboratively with Ugandan academic counterparts and colleagues in a local nongovernmental organization on ways to improve the lives of farmers and farm families."

The center is working with residents of rural Kamuli District, which is about three hours from Kampala, Uganda's capital city. The Kamuli District is among the poorest and least developed areas of the country. More than 80 percent of Kamuli households depend on subsistence farming for their livelihood.

The center has partnered with Makerere University of Uganda and Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO), a local nongovernmental organization, to provide Kamuli communities with expertise in agriculture, crop storage, value-added processing, marketing, farm business development, food security, nutrition and health, small-scale livestock production and natural resource management. Since 2004, 70 farm groups have been involved with center-supported activities, impacting about 800 households.

One focus of the program has been to help make safe drinking water more accessible to the community of Namasagali, where a four-mile hike has been required to reach water to carry back to homes. The Center has worked with local organizations to establish two new deep wells to provide water to the community as well as the Namasagali Primary School that serves nearly 700 students.

"The Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods is one way that Iowa State University can help make the world a better place by facilitating leadership through service," Mazur said. "As a land-grant university, a key part of Iowa State's mission is to serve those who need our help."

The center, which may be the only program of its kind at a U.S. university, was created in the College of Agriculture to strengthen the capabilities of rural people in developing countries to utilize agricultural and natural resources to achieve food security and improve nutrition and health. The center applies science-based and indigenous knowledge to promote sustainable rural livelihoods in developing countries.