At the beginning of last week, a Ugandan farmer appeared on our doorstep. Charles Mulwana was trained by Send a Cow (the charity whose excellent work Riverford supports) in 2004, and is now so involved with the charity’s work that he has come to Riverford to teach schoolchildren (and us) about sustainable agriculture.
Back in 2001 I took a two month sabbatical to visit farming friends in Africa; I wanted to see for myself whether organic agriculture could feed mouths where it really counted. I was truly inspired by what I saw in Uganda; here the Kulika Trust (who we have worked with for several years) was training farmers at a very local level. Central to their teaching was a highly intricate method of mixed cropping, involving livestock and crops grown in multiple canopies, in a system as sympathetic to nature as we can get without reverting to being hunter-gatherers. I estimated the best examples to be 20 times more productive than the environmentally destructive monocultures next door.
Since then we have tried to support these projects through staff exchanges, sponsoring a training centre (the Kasengi Riverford Farm), importing their vanilla and through our involvement with Send a Cow. Unfortunately our ‘no airfreight’ policy makes it hard to trade with a landlocked country, but the hope is that by opening up the channels of communication through activities like Charles’ visit, we can show that the farming toolkit is not limited to GM and sprays.