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News from the farm   |   Environment & ethics

Helping farmers grow their own future

"Organic is all very well for the privileged, but it could never feed the world." Or so I have been told all my life. 20 years ago, I decided to see for myself, spending six weeks in Sub-Saharan East Africa visiting agronomists, aid agencies, and farms large and small.

I became progressively more depressed by what I saw; trees and ecological diversity were being lost at an alarming rate, soils were being degraded and carbon lost, all to produce low yields and little food security.

Then I visited Timothy Njakasi in Mukono, southern Uganda. Timothy had worked at Riverford as part of his training in sustainable farming, before going home to join a small group of farmers developing complex, multi-canopy cropping systems integrated with livestock (prized as much for their fertility-building waste as their meat, milk or eggs).

Giraffe
The new Send a Cow appeal aims to reduce the poaching of endangered wildlife. 

Using composting, contoured ditches for water conservation, and mostly perennial crops with small areas of intensive veg cultivation, the farms were ten times more productive than the soil-destroying monocultures or grazed savannah next door. Better still, they required less back-breaking work, and provided more resilience to climate change, improved food security and better prospects for farmers. The best had become brilliant ecologists; their skills were humbling, showing a subtlety lacking in ‘developed’ farming.

I was inspired; organic could feed the world and preserve it. Timothy introduced us to Send a Cow, who spread the same sustainable farming techniques across rural Africa – combining training and technical support with extraordinarily effective social programmes (largely addressing gender inequality).

It is often hard to feel confident that you can make a difference, but I promise their work delivers lasting improvement for families and the environment. With your help, to date we’ve so far raised over £393,000 for Send a Cow.

Until 14 April, every £1 donated to their new Living with Wildlife appeal will be matched by the UK government. A partnership between Send a Cow and the conservation charity Tusk, this project is supporting the people and wildlife of Murchison Falls, Uganda’s oldest and largest national park.

By training families to farm sustainably, they hope to alleviate hunting pressures on the park (home to endangered Rothschild’s giraffes). Visit sendacow.org to learn more, or, for Riverford customers, you can donate by adding a £1 Send a Cow donation to your order.

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Guy Singh-Watson

Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

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The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.