An improved market in Northern Uganda supports locals and refugees alike

  • August 26, 2022

  • Yumbe, Uganda

In order to tackle the issues that lead to poverty in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world, a multi-pronged approach must be taken. One of the prongs should be aimed at supporting local development in the last mile and hard-to-reach areas of these countries, which are intrinsic to the overall achievement on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both locally and nationally.

The newly-renovated Lobe Market with sturdy stalls with storage unites and awning, supported by the water tanker in the back. Credit: UNCDF / Nasser AlQatami.

Special consideration should be taken for border towns that serve as crossroads for trade and business. In Uganda, a district by the name of Yumbe serves as the connecting point between three African LDCs. The district and its town of the same name are a trading and selling point for business owners from Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not only does it allow for different goods and foodstuff to reach other regions, but it is also a safe haven for many refugees fleeing war in nearby regions. The district is the home to the largest number of refugees in Uganda, sheltering 270,000 refugees, most of them from South Sudan. This is almost half of the district’s population of 630,000.

The Local Government Excellence Fund (LGEF), is a discretionary performance-based grant facility managed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) programme that supports district investments in local infrastructure for economic empowerment of women and young people, including refugees. The Fund pioneered an allocation formula, which takes into account the refugee population in refugee-hosting districts, such as Yumbe, and increases their allocation proportionately. Since then, this practice has been institutionalized by the Government of Uganda as part of its intergovernmental fiscal transfers to districts.

Through the Fund, Yumbe District has upgraded a market called Lobe with improved amenities including storage, segregated sanitary facilities, children’s play area and a breastfeeding room. The market accommodates 130 market vendors and has provided a blueprint for market infrastructure in other participating districts.

Market sellers gather for a weekly meeting and exchange about the produce and crops in Lobe Market. Credit: UNCDF / Nasser AlQatami.

The Lobe Market is unlike any other in the same area, it is built with weather-resilient materials. It caters to women by providing them with necessary shelter, a room to breastfeed and an area where children can play. Moreover, water is supplied through a storage unit in the middle of the market so that vendors, their families and shoppers can stay hydrated in the heat and wash their produce. The water is harvested from the awning on the market roof and saved from the rain.

Since the programme focuses on locals and refugees, the market has attracted vendors who are from South Sudan. Salwa Ondo, 24, has made the trek by land to leave her country with her husband and 5 children. Her family fled the country during the conflict between the government forces and their allied militias and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA/IO).

Salwa Ondo, a refugee from South Sudan, sells her tomatoes in one of the protected stalls in Lobe Market. Credit: UNCDF / Nasser AlQatami.

Her husband works in the transportation of goods, and she takes care of selling the goods at Lobe Market as a vendor amongst the many women that work there. Ondo said: “We moved from our home in Moro [in the Northeastern part of South Sudan] to find work here. Despite the fact that I only speak the Kakuwâ language, I was welcomed as a vendor.”

She continued: “Moving here is not without its hurdles, I find that my family struggles to pay the rent of the place we are staying in, so we try to make ends meet by selling the goods in Lobe Market.”

However, Onda says that despite these difficulties, selling in this market is much better than her previous vocation, which included digging and general field work. She says it was hard labor and is of a sporadic nature, sometimes she would go for days without work or pay.

Her sales are mainly centered around tomatoes, beans and sesame paste. She also takes pride in the fact that she can speak the language of her people when clients come across the border to buy goods.

She has one of the most active stalls in the market and she says she can concentrate on work during the day, as her children are mainly using the playground and she doesn’t need to fetch water for them when they are thirsty, her elder children support by taking care of the younger siblings as she works at the stall.

Another vendor, Faiza Sanga, is a 15-year-old who supports her father who is a local fisherman. Her stall is known to have a variety of dried fish that are caught from nearby lakes and rivers, like the Kochi River. This includes Tilapia and the local culinary specialty of mudfish, called Ensonzi. Once caught, they are individually rolled up and are put on a stick and then smoke dried. They are sometimes put in ground nut soup to add a flavor.

Faiza Sanga sells a dozen dried fish to a customer in Lobe Market. Credit: UNCDF / Nasser AlQatami.

Drying the fish makes for a longer shelf-life, a practice common in African landlocked countries like Uganda and South Sudan, which Lobe market sits at the border of. She says that without the newly constructed roof, the dried fish would last 3 days before they expire or rot, but now she can store them and sell them under the shade, which allows her to conserve them for an entire week. She explained, “The new high selling surface of the stall minimizes spoilage of the fish. During the rainy season or any wind, a storage area below can protect the goods, which I can sell from. Although I have been working in the markets for one year only, I have noticed a difference in my sales in Lobe Market, particularly.”

Faiza Sanga assists her mother in her family stall, providing dried mudfish caught by her father, who is a fisherman. Credit: UNCDF / Nasser AlQatami.

Sanga is a market vendor during her off-school hours, and recently she has taken advantage of this time to support her family and learn about the trade. She says, “I plan to take the money I make at Lobe Market to invest it towards my studies as I would like to be a Primary School Science Teacher.”

Onda and Sanga are examples of women of different ages and backgrounds that have benefitted from the construction of Lobe Market, a market that lies at the crossroads of many trade routes and provides goods to underserved communities. This upgraded construction is part of the implementation of the designated components of the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) Programme funded by the European Union (EU) under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).