“People want to understand their rights and options”

Gender inclusion key to pilot projects in oil palm regions of Uganda
Stakeholders participate in a World Cafe dialogue at the National Learning Exchange in Kampala. Photo by Awori Brendah

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Legal empowerment clinics and healthy masculinities trainings have been piloted in Uganda to encourage participation and greater benefit-sharing for women and men in the country’s National Oil Palm Project (NOPP).

The pilots are the fruits of what Emily Gallagher, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), describes as an intensive process of co-creation. Such a process involves people learning (and unlearning) to design and test new development approaches, together with stakeholders and their communities.

Working with NOPP staff from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries (MAAIF), and Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD), as well as staff, volunteers and residents of Kalanga and Buvuma Districts, Gallagher and research partners with the Association of Ugandan Professional Women and Agriculture and Environment (AUPWAE) have assessed progress under NOPP. The goal is to better understand the gender dynamics of the project, its benefits, where gaps exist, and where Gender Transformation Approaches (GTAs) can be applied.

Research team members with the general manager of Bidco Uganda Limited (BUL) (centre) and the point person for NOPP within local government (far right) in front of an oil palm nursery in Buvuma District, Uganda. Photo by Emily Gallagher/CIFOR-ICRAF

Uganda’s NOPP aims to improve rural development and reduce poverty through oil palm production around Lake Victoria. Its broad goal has been to increase rural incomes by generating opportunities through a modern, efficient oil palm industry that meets environmental and social standards. NOPP further aims to benefit poor and vulnerable households through various social-mitigation approaches, including household interventions and alternative livelihoods, to offset impacts of the project that has absorbed large areas of land and impacted tenant farmers and fishing communities.

Over the years, NOPP has adapted its approach to include the Gender Action and Learning System (GALS) curriculum to support households and communities in setting economic goals, stabilizing at-risk families, and in particular, engaging men as allies for women’s economic empowerment. However, not all households have participated in GALS and not all women have had full support from their spouses.

During a series of interviews, community meetings, and focus groups, some participants told Gallagher and her team that they have felt excluded from benefits and government interventions to ease adjustments under NOPP, and many said they had never really understood the oil palm project and what it could mean for them.

“People initially felt that this was a project that descended upon them; that they lacked agency in what’s happening to them and how the oil palm project would unfold,” said Gallagher. “There was a disconnect between the oil palm project and people who don’t yet see themselves as part of the oil palm economy. They see many NOPP interventions, but don’t see the bigger picture,” she said. “People want to understand their rights and options.”

This is where the Securing Women’s Resource Rights (WRR) through GTAs initiative comes in. Supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (2021-2024), the initiative aims to co-create a set of GTAs to advance the recognition and protection of women’s land and resource rights with IFAD project partners in six countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda. In addition, IFAD is guiding the selection of learning countries to participate in South-South learning exchanges.

“The gender analyses and the knowledge we obtained have helped to identify gaps that we can study in order to improve women’s resource rights in the oil palm growing areas,” said Concepta Mukasa of AUPWAE. “All of this has also been used to inform the way forward for the gender transformative approaches in masculinity trainings and legal clinics.”

Land ownership is a particular problem for women in Uganda because land mostly goes to men through inheritance, while women are excluded, said Alice Tibazalika of AUPWAE. “The few women who own land have bought it, but the majority of women don’t have money to buy their own land.”

That also means that men are most often NOPP beneficiaries because they own impacted land, added Tibazalika. Further, because other resources like forests, commercial crops, livestock, and fish are also connected with land ownership, men hold most decision-making power over use of those resources.

“This cultural outlook has to change. Men and women’s attitudes must change to implement equal rights in all aspects of the law,” said Tibazalika.

Gendered attitudes on land and resource rights were the subject of co-creation workshops in Kalangala and Buvuma Districts to validate results of the gender analysis and explore possible interventions through a participatory exercise based on the Gender-at-Work Framework.

Participants in the co-creation process ranked their priority interventions for transforming gender norms and promoting systemic solutions to enhance benefit-sharing. These solutions favoured a gender-balanced approach to securing land and resource rights to benefit both women and men, as well as civic education and empowerment.

The co-creation process led to two GTAs developed by experts in the field:

  •  LANDnet Uganda designed legal empowerment clinics embedded in civic education, with a curriculum containing a strong gender dimension grounded in results of the gender analysis; and
  • fellows of Equimundo, Augustin Kimonyo and Joseph Vess, built on the GALS methodology currently applied in NOPP to introduce healthy masculinities trainings based on the MenEngage approach.

LANDnet Uganda and Kimonyo continued the co-creation process through training-of-trainers (ToTs) with community development officers, land officers, and members of the district land boards and cooperatives in Buvuma and Kalangala Districts. 

The GTA curricula guides and the piloting outcomes were the subject of a series of national learning exchanges hosted with the NOPP staff and stakeholders, MLHUD, and members of the National Land Coalition in Kampala to scale an inclusive co-creation process. The GTA toolkits will be available to the public in 2024.


This research is part of a body of work on securing women’s resource rights through gender-transformative approaches. In 2020, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invited a consortium of the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to work with selected IFAD projects to promote and strengthen women’s land rights through the integration of gender transformative approaches (GTAs) in rural development interventions by improving policies, tools and practices. cifor.org/wlr

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Topic(s) :   Gender