Guy’s news: Improving farmers’ lives where it counts

18 years ago, after 12 years as an organic grower, I could take no more taunts of, “It’s all very well for the wealthy west, but organic farming will never feed the world”. I had a lurking suspicion they might be right, so I took a sabbatical in sub-Saharan Africa, where good farming is a matter of life and death rather than affluent preference.

18 years ago, after 12 years as an organic grower, I could take no more taunts of, “It’s all very well for the wealthy west, but organic farming will never feed the world”. I had a lurking suspicion they might be right, so I took a sabbatical in sub-Saharan Africa, where good farming is a matter of life and death rather than affluent preference.

I spent my final two weeks staying with Timothy Njakasi in southern Uganda. Timothy had worked at Riverford as part of his training in sustainable agriculture. My heart lifted as he showed me the most inspiring farming I had ever seen; all small scale and always diverse with mixtures of livestock, bananas, coffee, cocoa, trees, vegetables, keyhole gardens and more, all in an intimate mixture that seemed chaotic but was anything but. On the face of it these farms bore more resemblance to the surrounding forest than to any agriculture I had seen; what seemed disordered was actually shaped by levels of ecological knowledge unknown to farmers in the developed world, and yet these smallholdings were many times more productive than neighbouring monocultures. Best of all, the most skilled farmers appeared to be happy, relaxed and prosperous. It was obvious I had more to learn than to teach, so we funded Timothy to turn his farm into the Kasenge Riverford Organic Centre, which has trained thousands in these techniques over the last 15 years.

The difference between the average and the best farming I saw was huge, as was the difference between the most and least effective interventions by charities. Timothy introduced us to Send a Cow, who embraced the same techniques on a larger scale but who remain grounded, patiently persistent and community based in their approach, which is always a hand up rather than a hand out. Most impressively they’re unbelievably effective at addressing the social (largely gender) issues which too often block constructive change; 85% of Send a Cow farmers are women. To date, you’ve helped us raise over £208k for the charity. This winter every £1 donated until 31st December for their Mother and Child appeal will be matched by UK Government. Donate by adding a £1 donation to your order.

Guy Singh-Watson

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