“Land is everything here,” says Alex Vickers, BMS World Mission worker in Gulu, northern Uganda.
With land comes the possibility of growing crops to feed your family and pay for your children’s education. “If you have land,” he says, “you have a future for your family.”
But land isn’t easy to come by and there are two big problems.
While it is a struggle to get hold of any land, those who do manage to get their land back find they have no security. Why bother working hard to irrigate your fields if they are just going to be taken away again?
The other major problem is that people do not know how to use the land they have as traditional farming methods are often inefficient.
Dealing with just one of these problems is not enough. This is why BMS is supporting the Ugandan Christian Lawyers’ Fraternity (UCLF) as well as Alex and his team who, by targeting both land security and farming issues, are restoring hope to those who have been dispossessed.
Amos, a paralegal working with UCLF, has helped people like Moses to find out exactly where their land is and to get land security.
“People came out of protected camps and went back to their homes,” says Amos. “But they had lost sight of the boundaries of their land, so there are a lot of wrangles. In Gulu, I help to educate people about land rights.” Amos also mediates land disputes and enables people to get legal title.
Henry, a beneficiary of the work of UCLF who, like Moses, was forced off his land for years during the fighting, says: “After the war, I came back to my land and someone else was using it. I didn’t think that I could do anything, but thanks to the training from UCLF I was able to get my land back.”
Armed with land, Moses, Henry and thousands like them face their second great challenge – making something from it.
This is where Alex and his team come in. They teach people to honor God in the way that they farm by using a system of cheap, natural farming techniques that enable them to increase their yield by up to threefold.
Using traditional Ugandan methods, but tweaking them to make them much more efficient, the team helps farmers to get the most out of their fields while also protecting them.
With his land returned to him, Henry received training from Alex. “Before the training, I was using farming techniques passed down through my family,” says Henry.
“I was broadcasting seed and not using manure. Thanks to the training, the volume of crops from my fields increased, and I can get more produce from a smaller area.”
Moses has seen his life transformed through the work of UCLF and the agricultural training, and he has come a long way from the Internally Displaced Person’s camp of his youth. He doesn’t feel hopeless anymore.
“Land is the source of survival,” he says. “You grow your crops, you farm your animals and you survive, even though you haven’t gone to school.”
By restoring land and independence to Moses, Henry and others like them in Gulu, UCLF and Alex’s team are bringing God’s love and justice to those whose lives have been shaped by violence and oppression.
All this is done by building relationships, letting people know their legal rights and teaching them to look after their land as God calls us to.
“It is our responsibility to guard and protect this environment, this land,” says Alex. “It’s not our land. Yes, we might have a legal title to it, but, in a thousand years’ time, whose land is it? It remains God’s land.”
Editor’s note: Part one of Sarah’s column is available here.