Riverford Wicked Leeks

heading for uganda

Almost since I grew my first organic leek in the ‘80s, I’ve been goaded that organic farming is a western middle class hobby, not a means of feeding the world. In 2000 I decided to find out for myself where it really counted; in sub-Saharan Africa. It was partly a concern that those backing monocultures, agri-chemicals and GM might be right, and initially I was disappointed; the project I’d been supporting in Kenya had achieved nothing. I even became cynical about the aid ‘industry’ when I saw its potential for fostering a dependency culture. I was particularly upset by the number of four wheel drive vehicles, shiny shoes, white shirts and offices relative to the examples of good agricultural practice.

Then I visited my friend Timothy Njakasi, the Kulika Trust and Send a Cow in Uganda and was truly inspired by the quiet revolution that was taking place. The integration of animal husbandry, the careful use of urine and manure, composting, water conservation and mixed, multilayer cropping of largely perennial crops was unbelievably productive. I questioned the farmer as we shared a jackfruit under a tree and compared the output of his two acre forest garden with the maize monoculture and cattle ranch that flanked it. Cows, goats, pigs, chickens, bananas, coffee, cacoa, vegetables and more were all produced in ecological harmony while conserving wildlife, building soil fertility and sequestering carbon. Call it organic, call it permaculture, call it what you want; it was up to ten times more productive, used no imported chemicals, no high tech seeds, caused no pollution, poisoned no workers. Best of all the farmer seemed relaxed, happy and secure and other farmers were copying it; it just worked.

I was so inspired that for the last 13 years I, many of my staff, and more recently many of you have supported their work. By the time you are reading this I will be back in Uganda to see how it has progressed and reflect upon what we western farmers can learn from so-called Third World farming. Follow our trip via Twitter and Facebook, or if you’ve been inspired to help we’ll be donating 10p to Send a Cow for each banana bunch sold during Fairtrade Fortnight (24 Feb-9 March), or easily donate £1 by going to the ‘gift’ section of the website.

Guy Watson