Salesians’ Vast Agribusiness Project Expected to Impact Thousands of Refugees in Uganda

Community workers at Don Bosco Refugee Services Palabek take refugees at Palabek Refugee Settlement through farming lessons in preparation for the 'Rebuilding Lives' agribusiness project

On a hot and dusty afternoon at Palabek Refugee Settlement in the Northern region of Uganda, a mother in her mid-thirties is seen in the company of other women almost her age who are soaked in sweat, hammering big boulders to prepare gravel for sale.

Christina Achan (not her real name) hails from South Sudan and has been a refugee in Uganda twice, first when she was a child and now as a mother of five.

Refugees at the camp rely on relief food given by the World Food Program (WFP). With the food rations having plunged immensely during COVID-19, people with big families such as Christina are forced to look for other means for survival, including taking up the arduous and less rewarding job of breaking stones.

Sometimes, they bring their children to work to boost their daily earning, which is mostly 4,000 Uganda Shillings (about 1US$) a day.

“This is the second time I am in Uganda as a refugee… I have five children to feed, the food I receive from the World Food Programme is hardly enough for my five children,” Christina says, her eyes fixed to her 13-year-old daughter who came to work with her mother.


The 35-year-old was barely five when her parents fled from their home in South Sudan owing to the 1989 Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) insurgency that wreaked havoc in the East-Central African country.

In 2011 when South Sudan got independence, her husband who had been among SPLA rebels was integrated into the new South Sudan army, but when the civil war broke out in December 2013, he left the army and joined the ‘In Opposition’ (IO), a rebel group that had emerged.

Christina who was left to take care of her children single-handedly says, “I started cultivating crops and rearing some animals. But when insurgency became heavy in April 2017, I had to leave my home areas and came here in Uganda for safety.”

Fr. Lazar Arasu, a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) who, for the past five years has been ministering among refugees at Palabek Refugee Settlement says that Christina’s case is not an isolated case at the Refugee camp where majority of inhabitants are young single mothers whose husbands were caught up in insurgency in neighboring South Sudan.

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Palabek houses about 56,000 refugees from South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other neighboring countries who fled their respective countries due to insecurity, poverty, among an array of other factors.

An estimated 86 percent of inhabitants of Palabek Refugee Settlement are women and children, Fr. Arasu says.

The refugees, the Indian-born Cleric tells ACI Africa, experience a myriad of challenges, key among them lack of food and other basic items.

Most times, the refugees are forced to minimize their food intake and sell part of the food-ration to buy soap, clothes, medicine and other household necessities.

When the lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19, the food rations at the refugee camp were reduced, first by 40 percent and again further by 20 percent.


“Since January, the refugees have been unable to sell food, instead struggle to find more,” Fr. Arasu says.

He explains, “Currently a refugee receives about 4 kilograms of maize flour, 2 kilograms of beans, half a litre of cooking oil and a few grams of salt once in a month. This can barely sustain refugees such as Christina who have five children.”

To help alleviate the suffering of the refugees, SDB members based at Palabek have embarked on an agricultural project aimed to create food security and employment opportunities among the refugees at Refugee Settlement. 

For a start, five pairs of cows have been bought and given to the farmers for training in the project dubbed “Rebuilding Lives.”

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And out of the required 164 acres for farming, 16 acres have already been acquired through hire purchase and land donation for the vast agribusiness project.

Within three months, SDB members have also bought a quarter acre of land in a commercial area for the market stalls where the farm produce will be sold.

The project targets 2,920 beneficiaries who are to include groups of farmers and others who are engaged in poultry, kitchen and mushroom production, tree planting and energy stove production.

Through the project, the Salesians are seeking to target the most vulnerable members of households including youth and women aged 18 and above, Fr. Arasu who is the Director of the Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services told ACI Africa.

The beneficiaries are to work in groups, save their income, acquire assets and venture into businesses and compete favorably in the labour market.

“Through self-sustainability, the refugees are expected to support themselves and their families,” Fr. Arasu who explained the project said.

He added in reference to the refugee beneficiaries, “They are expected to involve themselves in other income generation activities, care better for the environment, and engage in women empowerment and other social promotion activities.”

Beneficiaries will also be equipped with business, saving and investment skills. They will also undergo Gender Based Violence (GBV) training and life-skills for youth, the Indian-born Cleric says.

“Our participant ratio is 70 percent refugees and 30 percent host community,” Fr Arasu clarifies in a report to ACI Africa, and adds that participants in the project will be expected to have at least 4 dependents under their care.

“Through this food security project, we expect to serve at least a total of 11,680 people. Indirectly we hope to serve a large number of infants in the age brackets of 3 to 6 years who are often forgotten in terms of nutritional, medical and early childhood development needs,” he adds.

Fr. Jose Ubaldino, a Salesian missionary from Venezuela who is the current Coordinator of the Agriculture project believes that the Don Bosco project will achieve its objective of reaching out to the refugees and the host community in rebuilding the lives of the refugees.

“Once we meet the food needs of the people, we improve the standard of life, help people to achieve better education and contribute to overall peace,” said Fr. Ubaldino. 

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.