Empowering Ugandan Farmers

This fall, Seth Davis traveled to Uganda to bring much needed farm tools. While there, he facilitated multiple agricultural seminars and empowered 10 farmers. The following article by Davis is an informational overview of each of Davis’ teachings.

Drip Irrigation

While Uganda is an incredibly fertile, tropical environment, there is also a dry season that brings with it great hardship for aspiring subsistence farmers. In the most recent dry season, the surrounding neighbors were very surprised at the ability of our farmers to still produce a crop. Because of water scarcity, the farmers were having to carry eight 20-liter jugs of water for each of the 42 garden beds every day.

Davis works with local farmers to level a stand to hold the water bucket for the irrigation system.

Because of this, a major priority during my time in Uganda was to teach the farmers about gravity-fed drip irrigation. Most rural farmers are unfamiliar with drip irrigation. Their only knowledge of it is connected to what they've heard about on large-scale industrial farms that have access to wealth for such elaborate systems. Small-scale, low-tech versions of drip irrigation (such as the gravity-fed bucket drip irrigation) make this kind of technology more accessible to small farmers.

The men pose proudly near their newly constructed stand, ready to position the water tank for the drip irrigation system.

I was able to bring relatively inexpensive drip irrigation kits for irrigating crops during the dry season. Drip irrigation insures that every drop of water gets used, exactly where it is needed—at the base of the plant. In addition, the amount of water needed is drastically reduced, saving valuable time and energy for the farmer. About 18-20 hours of labor per week will be saved by implementing this simple technology!

Davis teaches about the way the broad fork uses both body weight and leverage to do the work, rather than just muscle power.

Ergonomic Garden Tools

I also conducted a workshop on ergonomic gardening tools. (Ergonomic means “intended to provide optimum comfort and to avoid stress or injury.”)  The most common tool for gardening in this part of East Africa is a traditional digging hoe. The handles on these tools are three-fourths the length of a standard hoe, requiring farmers to bend over when tilling, leading to many back issues and chronic pain that only intensify with age.

Over the last few years, I have been experimenting with low-tech gardening tools that are designed to increase speed and efficiency, while reducing stress on the body. I brought a sampling of my favorite tools for them, taught what each tool was used for, and described how it could speed up their work. The aged farmers were especially ecstatic to receive and be trained to use the tools.

Davis teaches about the principles of compost as the most effective (and free!) source of fertilizer. 

Compost

I taught the farmers how to better produce compost on our land, which can serve as the centerpiece of their entire operation. They feed this material to the soil so as not to deplete it over time, which is inevitable when growing so many crops on the same piece of ground. This skill is empowering because it’s completely free. Together, we devised a plan that would situate a row of compost piles on an uphill side of the entire garden plot, allowing nutrient-rich juices to drain through the garden during heavy rains.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation requires no money to employ, only thoughtful planning and execution. I taught the farmers about the way in which the different families of crops serve different functions in the “community” of plants growing in the garden. For example, some take nutrients from the soil, while others put nutrients back into it. Some crops help to suppress weeds, which in turn prepare the soil nicely for a following crop which may struggle greatly when competing with weeds. Prior to this, they weren’t aware that crop rotation was anything more than rotation crops for variety's sake.

Animal Husbandry

In addition to increasing production in their community garden, the farmers are beginning to implement small-scale animal operations in order to generate a larger income for their families. In facilitating teachings on animal husbandry techniques, we talked about observing what animals already naturally do, and how we could utilize them to meet their needs.

For example, chickens constantly scratch and forage through the organic material on the ground, searching for bugs and other edible particles. By adding large amounts of dried out plant material to their living space, the manure they create is neutralized and turned into compost as the chickens dig through it. This process can generate finished compost that can be sifted and added directly to the garden. The chickens do the work for us!

During the Seed Propagation seminar, Davis instructed farmers on how to create potting mix by utilizing a recipe of locally available materials.

Seed Propagation

Our final workshop was on seed propagation. Over the last five years, I have become proficient in growing healthy seedlings that can be transplanted into a garden. This is fundamental to a successful garden operation. I gave them a simple soil block tool in which to plant their seeds and taught them a recipe for creating their own potting mix. This was yet another low-tech innovation that could have huge lasting effects on the efficiency of their community garden enterprise, and ultimately the health of the community.


Reuben Ndwiga, a Kenyan farmer who has assisted over 200 families in increasing crop production over the last 3 years, had this to say about the seminars:

“Many people think it is impossible to produce a lot of food from a small garden. But I now know it is possible! We can increase production even more with these techniques. I am willing and have the zeal to work. I enjoy growing food, and helping others to increase their production as well. It’s gotten into my heart, and I feel ownership.”