sustainable farming + feeding the world

At the beginning of last week, a Ugandan farmer appeared on our doorstep. Charles Mulwana was trained by Send a Cow 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. They say that if you leave your walking stick in the ground in Southern Uganda, when you come back in the morning it will have sprouted roots. Being on the equator with good rainfall and fertile soils, nature can be extraordinarily productive; yet a surprising number of
Charles’ farming techniques can be applied here in the UK.

In recent years, with commodity prices spiralling and an energy crisis looming, a debate has been raging over how we are to feed the world. On one side are the large scale monocultures backed by well-funded western multinationals anxious to earn returns on their agri-technology patents. On the other side are small scale, labour intensive systems of mixed cropping using mainly locally sourced materials.

Back in 2001 I took a two month sabbatical to visit farming friends in Kenya and Uganda; I wanted to see for myself whether organic agriculture could feed mouths where it really counted. After seeing some disappointing examples in Kenya, I was truly inspired by what I saw in Uganda. Here an organisation we had worked with for several years called the Kulika Trust was training and supporting farmers at a very local level. Central to their teaching was a highly intricate and knowledge-intensive system 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 twenty 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), by importing their vanilla and, over the last few years 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 between our countries through activities like Charles’ visit, we can show that the farming toolkit is not limited to GM and sprays.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon