Helping farmers and farm suppliers in Uganda improve their livelihoods and feed more people were the ultimate goals of Emily Nickerson’s “summer project” this year. The U of G water resources engineering student spent four months in the East African country through Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
She was one of 30 Canadian students chosen this year for EWB’s Junior Fellowship in International Development program. The program offers hands-on work overseas and leadership development activities there and in Canada.
“It’s an amazing leadership development opportunity,” says Nickerson, a member of EWB’s Guelph chapter. “I wanted to grow personally and professionally and push myself with a different kind of program and work placement.”
She spent the summer in Iganga, about two hours outside of the capital Kampala in southeastern Uganda.
There, she worked with a farm supply company called Sukura. As part of EWB’s agricultural value chain team in Uganda, she helped Sukura’s owner investigate a more efficient business model for bringing seeds, fertilizers and other products to farmers.
Sukura deals with about 500 smallholder farmers in the district who grow mostly maize but also millet, beans and sorghum. Nickerson spent her summer visiting village “agents,” or farmers chosen by communities to handle the company’s products.
She also worked with partner colleagues in a Ugandan project called Livelihoods and Enterprises for Agricultural Development, run by the United States Agency for International Development. She says the project helped Sukura connect more directly with customers and helped company owner Godfrey Butoto take a more long-term view of his business.
Back in Guelph, Nickerson says she now appreciates the role of the private sector in international development. She also learned about balancing work and family life.
The Guelph student lived in Uganda with Butoto’s family. There, she spent time with Dinah, her “host sister,” often watching Uganda’s TV version of American Idol. “My host family called me their daughter.”
Read more about Nickerson’s experience in Uganda on her blog.
The EWB junior fellows program places students with ongoing projects in several African countries. The 2011 program included two Guelph students. Kevin Lees, environmental engineering, worked in water and sanitation in Malawi. Spencer Bain, a water resources engineering student, worked with EWB’s government and rural infrastructure team in Ghana.