Technology that is Appropriate: Introducing Scythes in Uganda

Genesis 1:27-28 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  

Taking Dominion: A Human Expectation

Cameron Kagay (back) began researching scythes and their benefits several years ago, while heavily involved with the agricultural efforts at the G.O.D. Int’l headquarters in Tennessee. Always eager to find ways to make the work of his African friends easier and safer, Kagay spearheaded the scythe project this summer. Kagay trained Gerard on the use, care, and effectiveness of the scythe in Tennessee before Gerard transferred them to Uganda.

Not only does the Genesis account tell us about the beginning of the world, it also reveals what it is like for the beginning of each human being--when human development begins. We are all made in the image of God. We are all blessed by God, and given specific instructions: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, subduing it and having dominion over the earth and the animals within it.

Often, we don’t think about these words. In America it seems that taking dominion of the environment is, well, pretty much taken care of? The roads are paved. The grass is manicured. Houses are built by the experts. Animals are domesticated. We have a system, and it works. Reality TV shows entertain audiences by challenging participants to survive off of that grid. They will be placed on a desert island or an extremely rural environment. These scenarios quickly reveal that survival is very difficult in an environment that hasn’t been ordered.

The same challenges exist for many in the third world. For them, survival is not entertaining. It isn’t an experiment. It’s life. There is no grid. Nature itself is a dominating force that destroy your crops, ruin your home, and cause your children to fall ill. But because we believe that God’s command in Genesis 1 was an expectation given to all human beings, we also believe that it is possible for everyone to have dominion over the environment where they are placed.

Our organization believes in empowerment – that we must invest into others the power to do things for themselves. We want to empower people to take dominion over what would otherwise threaten their lives. “Taking dominion” has to confront every corner of a family’s home and surrounding compound.


Taking Dominion: Controlling the Bush

Currently, we operate off of a 7-acre land plot in Uganda. Our East African cooperatives live there when we are not on the field. It is quite a bit of space for the two families that currently inhabit it, and it is extremely lush. They spend multiple days a week trying to keep the compound from growing back into “the bush.” With heavy seasonal rains and healthy soil, the grasses grow quickly and easily. If the grasses and underbrush are not kept short, mosquito and other pests easily form breeding grounds. How do people take dominion of a piece of land that seems to grow so quickly?

Equipped with videos, handouts, manuals, and hands-on training, AJ Gerard trained six East African men on the use of the scythe. Topics included bodily mechanics, care for the blade and safety.

Traditionally in Africa, a few things might happen. One, it could continue to grow, because it is just simply too difficult to control the bush. The second possibility is that the tenants would use  slashers (machetes) to cut down the grasses. Bending from the waist, one may slash all day, only to watch the grass grow back as quickly as it did before.

Lawn mowers haven’t hit the village market in Africa yet. There are weed-eaters, but they are difficult to obtain, and a constant supply of oil is an even bigger obstacle. In our world, it’s difficult to do much of anything without gasoline but the average Ugandan, who makes less than 2 dollars a day, would only rely on gasoline for public transportation. Most rural Ugandans do not own cars or have electricity in their homes, and even the small amount of gas required to fill a cooking range or a weed-eater is too costly a luxury.

Many weed-eaters sold in Africa lack the proper shields and controls that guarantee safety of use.  In the small village where we are based, we have learned of a number of severe bodily injuries from what many would consider a simple tool.


Taking Dominion: Appropriate Technology

AJ Gerard trains Andrew, of Uganda, on how to properly care for the blade on the end of the scythe. Andrew has spent the last several months employed to slash grass on a large compound. He was extremely interested in the scythe, and encouraged by how much time it saved him in his work. With his extra hours, he can now contribute more time to food production in the community garden.

Because our world is developed, it can be tempting to simply introduce the technology that we have here to our friends in Uganda (or any other third world country). But we want to evaluate whether or not our solutions would actually work for them. How easy is it for them to purchase and maintain these tools? Is it a necessary cost for the task at hand? Do tools help or pollute the environment? Do they cause health or harm to individuals, or to the surrounding area?

In empowering individuals to take dominion of their homes and compounds, it is important to ensure that their methods are appropriate. One could easily note that bending from the waist to slash is not appropriate to the physical health of the individuals who do it in repetition.  It is also not appropriate to rely on a shrinking supply of oil that cannot be found in their local vicinity.

What, then, is an appropriate response to such a “basic” human problem of long grasses? We believe that the scythe is the appropriate answer to this serious issue. A scythe is an agricultural tool for mowing grasses and reaping crops that was largely replaced by mechanized machines like the lawn mower or weed-eater.  It is still utilized in parts of Europe and Asia, with some countries like Austria holding annual competitions demonstrate scythes’ effectiveness.  It requires no gas. It is time-efficient. It is ergonomically designed to benefit rather than damage the human body.

In East Africa, keeping the grasses low on your compound is of utmost importance for keeping away pests, eliminating mosquito habitats, and maintaining order around the home. Traditional methods of slashing grasses are time consuming and harmful to the body. Even on the first day of training, the men were extremely encouraged that the time they would usually spend slashing grass could be decreased by two-thirds with the use of a scythe.

We have found scythes to be an appropriate solution to a human need for dominion, and are implementing the use of them in East Africa this summer. Scythes were sent to Uganda with a team this month, along with a training manual and immersion participant AJ Gerard, who will train African cooperatives in use of the tool. Cameron Kagay, leader of the East Africa team and one of the original initiators of our Antioch community garden, trained Gerard on the use of the scythe.

When Gerard first showed East African cooperatives Francis Lubega and Simon Njeru the tool, they were impressed by how much easier the tool was on their bodies. Their backs didn’t hurt, nor did their hands. They estimated that cutting the grass with the scythe will take them one third of the time slashers would have taken them. Before, it took about six men slashing an entire day to mow the grasses with slashers, but now it will take two men a half a day. Scythes also naturally rake the cut grass, saving them even more time. Simon Njeru has a knee injury which doesn’t allow him to bend his leg, greatly limiting his productivity in manual labor. After being introduced to the scythe, he was glowing with pride. He was so happy to be able to work without hurting his body!

Though the two tools were purchased stateside this year, we hope that after seeing the prototype, our African cooperatives will be able to create their own scythes with local materials. In years past, they have proven their ability to create their own models for well-repair devices, eco-toilets, concrete counter tops, smokeless stoves, and cement mixers, after being exposed to an basic design idea.

Grasses are only one area of a person’s home that necessitates dominion. Our team is constantly evaluating appropriate, healthy, useful ways for our African friends to be able to enjoy the life that God has given without pain, injury, sickness, or poverty. Scythes are but one of the solutions we have come up with. Join us on the journey as we partner with our African brothers and sisters to find many more.