Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda, so today was a very important experience for our group. We had a 6:45 bright and early wakeup call (sharp, not leisurely Uganda time) and piled onto the bus with about ten bags of clothes for the village children, not to mention an endless supply of candy for the kids. We also came bearing gifts for the host family women of cooking utensils and multipurpose knives for the men. We ate an energizing breakfast at MUBS and then were on the road for our hour and a half adventure to the rural visit.
We were promptly greeted by Professor Senteza’s father, James, whom we were to call Dad or Tata as a sign of respect. Rural areas have a more traditional way of life including the use of more formal greetings than in urban settings. We were very thankful because James planned most of the day for us. On the way to our destination farm, we spotted papaya trees, sweet potato plants, and a variety of other crops. We also found a chameleon running around and were quite fascinated by it.
Once we arrived we were introduced to the owner of the 10 acre farm, Robert; John, his brother who received us for lunch and discussion at his house; Abraham, their elder; and Henry, an expert in farming methods and a representative for NAAD, National Agricultural Advisory Services. NAAD is a farmer based program sponsored by the government and ranges from the central county to the smaller sub counties. There are farmer forums and each village has members in them. The organization looks for farmers’ input and helps provide seeds for crops such as maize and beans and funds for expensive pesticides and herbicides.
We split up into two big groups and were lead on a tour of the farm and informed about the farming practices. Fruit trees such as mangos are grown on the edges of the property in order to mark the borderlines. Ditches are dug amongst the street to catch water and pool it into connecting canals throughout the land. This is a form or irrigation canals that’s purpose is the keep the soil fertile and the land from not flooding from the vast amount of rain they get. It is a great way to conserve the water throughout the soil when it rains about once out of every three days.
Agro-forestry is the main technique we heard about throughout the tour. These are the systems that allow the soil to remain rich with nutrients and allow Ugandan farmers to have successful harvests. An example is that coffee is inter-planted within banana trees so that the nutrients are spread. Mulch is made out of dried grasses and leaves and used to prevent weeds as well as hold nutrients and water. Herbicides are also used to control weeds, such as Round Up and Weedmaster. Only about 25% of farmers use these products though because they are so expensive. The farmers use the technique of crop grafting especially for coffee and banana trees, where they cut a young branch of the tree off and replant it in a new area of land calling it a “clone coffee” tree. This technique is very sustainable for the farmers because it allows them to use the crops they already produce to further expand their farm and continue growing crops without needing new seeds for plants.
The main crops for Ugandan farmers are coffee and cocoa, which are cash crops, and bananas, which are a food crop for eating and selling locally. The process of selling coffee as a cash crop is harvesting the seeds from the tree in November-January, drying them for ten days, a county buyer purchases them and transports them to a mill where they are graded, they are taken to an exporter and graded again, and then they are exported. Uganda exports about 90% of all of the coffee beans that it produces. The main type of coffee grown is Robusta coffee, because the old types were killed by a fungus twig borer. From plant to flower, the growth takes about 18 months. The farmers manually prune the coffee trees to make sure that only four branches grow, which helps spread the nutrients and create better and bigger beans. Bananas are also a very special crop to Bugandans, and they mostly grown a “dessert banana.” Banana trees were similarly struck with a wilting disease causing premature ripening and oozing of bananas due to cutting them off trees with an unsanitary knife. There are now much better sanitization practices, and the crop takes about nine months to grow.
Some other crops grown were Tenjera Tomatoes, which are a bacteria resistant strain. Plenty of yams were growing in big mounds within the plot. We saw some ground nut (similar to a peanut and used to make the delicious groundnut sauce for matooke) plants deep within the ground. There were also many green beans planted about 1’ x 2’ apart. The maize is also planted quite far apart, about 3’ x 3’. This allows the crops to produce a better yield with bigger cobs and taller plants than we have in Iowa. The Ugandan farmers focus more on quality instead of quantity like the US when it comes to produce. Maize is grown in a swamp-like, wet environment and takes about three months to grow.
Ugandan farmers have many techniques in place that promote sustainable development. They are very big on crop rotation, for example planting cabbage next where tomatoes currently reside and maize after that. The different crops use different nutrients within the soil. Cabbage, for example, is grown in continuous production, so that planting and harvesting different sections happens at the same time. This prevents all produce from being sold at one time only. Robert is also renting out about five acres of his land per season, about six months. This allows new farmers to get off their feet and turn to him for guidance. They are very behind when it comes to machinery though, and they actually do all of the work by hand between only three men and four women on the entire plot.
After the tour of the farm, we were provided fresh Jackfruit for the first time and it was a huge hit! It was sweet and tasted very similarly to Juicy Fruit gum. It definitely lived up to our high expectations that the MUBS students had built up. We also feasted on some fresh mangos and bananas all home grown. We then travelled to the town of Kasawo to John’s house for refreshments, including more mango and juicy pineapple.
Next, we began our service project which was painting the inside and outside of the town hall building in the village. The building hosts special occasions such as birthing classes for expecting women, NAAD meetings, seminars, workshops, and political rallies. We were greeted with a huge applause because everyone was so glad that we were there and able to help them. There was even a representative sent from the Bugandan King to thank us for our hard work. We had a lot of fun getting messy and working together to really make an impact on an entire village. One of the students said that this was the first time they felt like they finally made a difference on people’s lives.
We travelled back to John’s house for our homemade lunch. Our entertainment was provided by some of his children and their friends making up an eight child choir that sang a welcoming song and two other cute songs with choreography and all. They introduced their names within the song and also said repeatedly that they “would never forget us.” We returned by singing two traditional American songs: a song about freedom by our very own musically inclined Patrick as well as a group sing-along of “This Land is Your Land.” Our lunch was absolutely delectable and had some of the best matooke we had ever eaten! We were so grateful for our host’s incredible hospitality and for feeding as large of a group as ours.
Our post lunch group discussion featured a wide variety of comments and questions about the farming techniques we had just seen and heard about. Everyone was very impressed by the large diversity of crops as well as the ingenious irrigation system. Some of the farmers’ future plans are to expand their land. While farmers in America have been continuously increasing the size of their plots throughout time, due to the large number of children or decedents, the Ugandan farmers’ plots have been decreasing each generation. Robert would also like to expand his animal raising capabilities and have more goats, cows, and pigs. Most of the farming techniques used in the past still remain the same today, but the aspect that has changed is the type of crop due to disease outbreaks.
A difficulty for Ugandan farmers is the climate because of the lengthy dry seasons that are the worst in January and February and also are during June, July, August, and December. The wet seasons are when it is easiest to sell their crops but also when the prices for them are the lowest since there is such a high supply of them. Although the food prices have been increasing recently, the farmers have not seen any benefit from the raise. They do not really have a say in the prices of their products because they are forced to use a private country buyers who also desire to make a profit. The price of gas also equals out to about $9 a gallon, so the cost of transporting their goods to Kampala is quite pricey.
It would be a much more sustainable market if the farmers had a way to dry and store grains and instead be able to sell them during dry season and charge higher prices. Right now the methods are too expensive and most of the time the country buyers will store it instead. Another problem with the huge agriculture industry is that there are not enough youth that want to get into the agriculture business. Too many young people migrate to cities and leave the rural areas as soon as they can, even though the agriculture industry is the biggest in Uganda and the most important.
After the discussion was concluded, we were given free time to wander about the village in small groups and explore what rural living is really like. We were very quickly swarmed by children shouting “Muzungu” with extended arms awaiting our candy we brought for them. The kids quickly caught on that we all had candy and began to follow us in large packs around the village streets. They were absolutely adorable wanting to hold our hands and giving us endless high fives when we asked for them.
Professor Bishop, my fellow pharmacy majors, and I explored a local health clinic during this time to witness some of the differences in health care we have all been hearing about and studying. It was very small quarters and actually had a few chickens running around inside. The clinic was only run by nurses and a midwife, which is quite common in rural areas instead of the traditional doctor and pharmacist employment. There was an examination room, a birthing room, and a few other small rooms for the sick. Most children do not get the sick main vaccines (Polio, Measles, Tetanus, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, and Pertussis), which are all available for free at government hospitals and are an incredibly easy way to prevent diseases. If rural people had been access to drugs and vaccines then it would be more sustainable because the youth would be healthier and able to live longer.
After hour bus ride back to the lovely city of Kampala on the way to Red Chilli, we voted that for dinner tonight we would have Italian food. We went to a lovely restaurant very close to Red Chilli that had so many trees within the restaurant it felt like a jungle. We were in a bit of a scare when all of the power went off in the restaurant for a few minutes, but everything was resolved and the show went on. Everyone ate some sort of a pasta dish or pizza and followed it up with scrumptious gelato for dessert. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.