Entry #58: Let’s Talk About Gardening in Uganda

Gardening my backyard, in October '19

Gardening is probably one of the most satisfying things about my job.

Over the course of these past few months, I’ve been slowly working on my garden in order to show and exemplify some of the gardening practice we want to implement within the community. But, because of my limited knowledge in gardening, aka I only learned how to garden since June, my scope of knowledge is slim.

In comparison to the years and years of farming that the people in the village know, I am nothing but a baby gardener in comparison. However, I have one thing on my side; the internet.

I have the power of the internet

Because I have been reading all of this gardening material supplied to us from Peace Corps, supplemented by the power of Google and hardcopy books I have picked up on the way, I have gotten to learn a bit faster than the average person in the village would be able to.

Our duty is to bring knowledge and skills to the farmers not so that they can eat well and feed the family. It is to pave the path towards buing a lifted Toyota Tacoma 4×4.

In part, most projects that go in to helping farmers in Africa are good. They do well, and works for a while. But after the newborn trend fades away, the farmer tends to retreat back to their usual practices.

We want them to not just grow their food. We want them to make money. We want them to achieve financial success from their ventures in agriculture. Achieving financial success doesn’t mean growing all your food, it’s growing your food to sell, so that you can buy your food and bring it back in your lifted Toyota Tacoma 4×4 car. And these people love their cars.

This goes not only for my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but as a part of my responsibility as an outside who can see the issues from a different perspective. Bringing and combining our resources, Ugandan and American, starts the process of changing the country of Uganda.

To illustrate what I’ve learned from observation, the average farmer in Uganda would simply buy their materials, pesticides, seeds, and other tools as they go along, without any record of how much they’ve spent.

This isn’t exclusive to Ugandans, but to all farmers who are not aware of how to conduct gardening as a business. Once they harvest and sell their crops, the farmer makes money. But how much money? How much of that was a profit and how much of it was a loss?

Some farmers keep this up and do end up making a profit. But from that profit, what is the next step? How do you take your small bit of extra money, and accelerate that to make more money?

The Purpose of AgriBusiness

To me, the purpose of being an AgriBusiness volunteer is to:

  • Understand the struggles and difficulties the local farmers face in the changing weather conditions
  • Finding solutions to these struggles
  • Moving from a mindset of sustainability to a mindset of profitability

Difficulties with Gardening in Uganda

The farmers of the village definitely have the knowledge to grow and are incredibly hard-working people. Their amount of time and patience they put in towards farming is much more than I would ever spend. They are amazing, hardy people with a personality of great consideration to match.

However, the difficulty is that they are working only with traditional techniques. Shallow tilling of the soil, for years and years, have slowly depleted the amount of nutrients within the soil and makes it difficult to expect the same plentiful harvest year after year without introducing ways to improve the soil.

Growing the same crop year after year would deplete the same nutrients over and over, especially if its only the same three popular crops like maize, cassava, and sweet potato. They need more than just water, but also good soil with the right mix of nutrients.

The lack of variety in crops also invites weeds, pests, and even disease because these infestations expect the crop to always be there. Therefore, their presence is sustained by the fact that the farmer continues to plant the same thing, over and over.

Two types of farmers in the world

In my position as a volunteer, I see that there are two types of farmers.

  • The farmer that grows for money, then for food
  • The farmer that grows for food, then for money

They are few farmers that grow for money, that are in it for the business, because most farmers don’t have the skillset to do so. Things like keeping records, awareness of their profit margin, goal setting, and so on, are some of the skills that we can introduce to these farmers. Our goal is to teach about the business mindset in the realm of agriculture to give the farmer an opportunity to generate a higher income, hence a better life.

For the farmers here, a higher income would mean that they can buy themselves time. Instead of growing all of their food to eat, they would be growing their food to sell. From that sale, they can buy the food they need from other farmers.

Then, there are the farmers that grow for the sake of food. These are the farmers that live deeper in the village, with limited access to transport and big markets to buy a variety of other foods. The lack of variety for foods to eat is what attributes to the issues of malnutrition.

If we can teach the farmers deeper in the village on growing food for a balanced diet like adding kale, nakati (native greens), and other fruits, then we can start the transition to reduce the amount of malnourished children and adults.

How does your gardening skill link with your teachings in the community?

You can only learn so much from reading, so I needed to get my hands dirty.

I get down in my garden because it gives me the opportunity to understand, first-hand, the struggles of trying to grow new plants in your garden. If I were a farmer that only grew maize and sweet potato, then some person tells that all I needed to do to cure my malnutrition issues was to grow peanuts and kale, well, that wouldn’t work.

The idea of selling a magic bullet to these farmers would never work.

To help the farmers, it’s not enough to teach them, but to understand them and how they think.

  • What are the concerns of the village farmer?
  • What do they know?
  • What do they not know?

Putting on my gardening boots and getting down in to their soil gives me credibility for them to trust me. To trust in my commitment, for that I am here to help and here to stay, well at least for the next two years!

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