Water for Fruit Trees Transformed a Town in Uganda

Ongutoi is a village in central east Uganda that had a languishing local economy and poor access to healthcare until Rotary-sponsored projects created a medical centre and transformed barren ground into a grove of Valencia orange trees.  Richard Mewhinney from the Rotary Club of Newmarket, who has led this project for several years, explained how this near-miracle unfolded.

That look of determination on Richard Mewhinney's face underscored the impact of the tranformation that has taken place in Ongutoi.  In a project spanning more than 10 years, that determination has led to the creation of a sustainable health centre for a community of 50,000 people, supporting a region with a population of three million. 
From its origin as a single, small building intended to meet emergency healthcare needs, the support of Rotary and High Adventure Canada has enabled the medical centre to grow.  It now comprises 25 buildings, including a surgical suite and lab facililities, which enable it to provide emergency services, in-patient and out-patient care, surgeries, prenatal care and community education programs for diabetes and HIV/AIDS.  At least one baby is born there every day and the centre now plays an important role in diagnosing, monitoring and treating HIV/AIDS in the community.  All of this at no cost to its patients.
Richard's idea was to build a local economy around an agricultural crop with sufficient export value to fund the operations of the medical centre.  Ongutoi suffered a tremendous crisis about 20 years ago because of drought, so the selection of the crop was critical, as was finding a means to water it sustainably in an environment where the rainy season does not always come as expected.
Drip irrigation seemed to be the technology they needed, but would it work? If it did, what would the crop be? 
Valencia oranges seemed to fit the bill.  They have a productive life span of 25 years, and at $10 per tree, a grove can be established affordably.  They have been grown successfully in other parts of Africa and the export market to Korea was well established.  The construction of a fruit processing plant in nearby Soroti meant the fruit could easily be transported for processing.  The land for the orchard had been donated by village elders and the local people had the expertise needed to care for the orange trees.  Because the input costs were low, it was expected that the grove would generate up to $65,000 in yearly revenue to be used to fund the medical centre.
Phase 1 of the water project began in the fall of 2018 with installation of a water collection platform, cistern and 381 Valencia orange trees.  Drip irrigation was used to water the trees during the dry season.  The trees tolerated this well.
Phase 2 commenced in the spring of 2019 with the expansion of water storage in tanks and a further planting of 404 trees.  An orchard of 3,000 trees is expected to provide full sustainability.  The Soroti fruit processing plant can put through 6.5 metric tonnes of fruit per hour.  A demo garden showing how drip irrigation can be set up for smaller applications is helping to educate local farmers about options for watering crops.  Concerns about monoculture have also been offset through the establishment of an apiary and the sale of honey.  You can view the most recent update here:  

RI Ongutoi Water 2019 Update


Phase 3 is expected to start in the spring of 2020.  The hope is to increase water storage to 225 million litres with additional crestanks and to plant a further 1600 trees.  Funding will consist of $250 million US from a RI global grant, plus donations from local Rotary Clubs and the project partner, Uganda Rotary Water Plus.  This will be the last major infrastructure project in the area because by it's completion, the medical centre will be self-sustaining.