The case of Teso. Change processes taking place in villages in Teso, include changes in the behaviour of Teso village dwellers from their traditional practices to those which mimic practices of Ugandan urban dwellers who have adopted practices normally characteristic of the global west.
One such change in behaviour is the habit of drinking in bars or pubs; basically drinking in a place away from homes. Yes, there has been a mushrooming of urban-slum-like centres in villages in Teso, which are characterised by small shops, small eateries, pork roasting joints and drinking places, as there are in the slums of Uganda’s cities and towns.
So, instead of taking their home-made Teso finger millet beer – ajon at home, as was the case in the past, these days Iteso village dwellers, mostly the men, go out to urban-slum-like centres in their villages to drink ajon. The ajon consumed in bars they buy from individual commercial brewers and sellers.
Ajon drinking in session. Photo credit @ Odongo Charles posted on Facebook with the following caption: “I normally feel pinched at times when members in this group criticize and talk badly about ajon drinking. Saying it’s the major cause of poverty in Teso. I always wonder if these people have ever tried to find the truth. Do they even know that this brew is an income generating activity? Am very sure that there are members here whose parents/guardians sold ajon to pay their fees and cater for other basic needs. Am very sure some of us here know of that single mother or even married woman who brews this drink and uses the money to help in agriculture and provide some basic needs to the family. In fact, in some places people form associations of drinking to support each other and you find the money just rotating within, because money from selling it can be used to pay for some labour. And what most of the members here don’t know is that these people who drink ajon have savings. There is a way they do some savings after paying the for the “sitting”. So let us not just criticize what we don’t know. If you want to find out, go and sit with them while you sip your soda, you will dig out the truth.”
Consumption of ajon is not only popular in urban-slum-like centres in villages in Teso, but it is also very popular in other areas of Uganda including in urban centres – especially in the slums. No wonder, the occurrence of a noticeable rural-urban migration of Iteso women to slums in Uganda cities and towns in order to take advantage of the business opportunity to commercially brew and sell ajon.
Another change that has occurred in Teso villages is the increased availability of bottled beer in the villages. Teso, in fact, now has its own bottled beer, Eagle Lager, which is made out of Epuripur sorghum.
Epuripur is a 1995 product of the Teso based Serere Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and it is now widely grown by Iteso and other Ugandans for the main purpose of supplying it to Nile Breweries for the commercial production of bottled beer.
This Epuripur development has been heralded as progress that has been brought about through public-private partnerships. In this case, the Government of Uganda’s SARI and Nile Breweries, working in collaboration with non-governmental organisations to promote innovations that increase farmers’ food security and incomes.
Indeed, drinking bottled beer in Teso villages is perceived as a significant status symbol, which indicates one’s economic power – ‘he has made it, he even drinks bottled beer’ kind of sentiment. Yes, by this measure, Teso is ‘modernising’, some will insist.
But what kind of modernisation? Millet and sorghum are now consumed more in the form of commercial beer as opposed to in the form of atap (millet or sorghum ugali) The main purpose for the production of finger millet and of sorghum has changed in Teso from producing food crops to producing cash crops.
That is to say, those in Teso who grow finger millet these days do so mostly to sell it to the biggest buyers – those trading in ajon for the drinking joints. Similarly, those who grow sorghum do so mostly to sell it to Nile Breweries.
This is extracted from a more detailed analysis “Urban-Slumitisation of villages, land dispossession and food insecurity in Teso.“