Volunteer Farmers Blog

Strengthening Value Chains for Ugandan Women Farmers - January Blog

The 2012 Iowa /Uganda Farmer-to-Farmer exchange and development project is coordinated by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Value Added Agriculture Program in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at ISU, and VEDCO, a non-profit organization based in Uganda.  The project is funded by the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) through Weidemann Associates.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Farm Groups in the Kamuli District of Uganda
Over the past two years, we have been working with ten farmer groups comprised mainly of women farmers, on business development skills, group marketing, and soybean production and marketing. These groups had been previously been organized by VEDCO, our in-country, non-profit organization partner. VEDCO had worked with these groups on nutrition, cropping, and livestock production principles. Our project brought a business orientation to these groups, whose members had already achieved a higher level of food self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.  

These groups claim their own identity with wonderful and inspirational names. It is only now, at the end of our project, that we have fully understood the English translations of their Lusoga group names.

Ten women’s farmer groups in Namasagali and Butansi subdistricts, Kamuli District, Uganda

Lusoga Group Name English Translation
Tibikoma It never ends.
Kyebajjatobona (Bakusekamajja) Some are working, others are just looking. From a proverb, "If some work and some look on, then when it is time to eat, some will eat and others will still just look on."
Twekembe Let's get together for something good.
Kamu kamu One by one.
Babigumira (Kabaganda) (We) can persevere in any situation.
Butsani HIV/AIDS Butansi subdistrict HIV/AIDS.
Kasombeleza Collecting individuals into something big.
Baligema kumumwa Express awe by touching ones mouth.
Agiliawamu We are together.
Akuwa olukaba Potato vine. From a proverb, "If you give me a (sweet) potato vine, it is better than giving me a (sweet) potato."

We know that these groups will continue to meet and work together, even though our project is ending. We hope to further contribute to their growth, as funding may allow.

The Butansi HIV/AIDS women’s farmer group. Group leader, Christine Lubaale is kneeling in the foreground. Most members brought their Field Record Book for Crops (some blue, some yellow) each time we have met.

Some women do handwork at farm meetings, and almost all bring the Farm Record Book for Crops.

Connie Tjelmeland admiring one of many babies who have attended our farm meetings.

Soybeans - continued
A consistently positive reaction from the farmers collaborating on this project is the delight of serving soy foods to their families.  Their children like it so much that some women say they have to hide the roasted soy beans or there will be none left.  They joke that their husbands love them even more since they began making food from soy (and making extra income from the sale of soybeans!).  All the women described their children as looking and acting healthier.  They, themselves have more energy and healthier hair and skin. They reported that they now have enough energy after retuning from working in their fields to do other household work in the evening.

We have not measured soybeans yields among our project farms, because we have been in the very early experimental stages of evaluating this crop. The irregularity of field shapes and sizes makes the determination of acreage difficult and soybeans are intercropped in many fields with maize, cassava, or plantain bananas. In one field demonstration conducted during our project, soybean variety Maksoy 1N yielded 15 bu/A. This seems low, but the women have only been growing soybeans for four seasons and there is much yet to learn.  At this point, inoculation of the seed with Rhizobium bacteria has not been successful.  There are several pest problems to solve, including doves and weaver birds eating seedlings and monkeys eating nearly ripe soybeans. In 2012, too much rain during one season and the delay of the rain in another caused poor yields.  But, a glaring factor affecting yields is the overall poor quality of the soil.  The women said that soil productivity has been declining over their years of farming.

Weaver birds weave nests similar to our oriole nests in the U.S. These birds are beautiful, numerous, noisy, and sometime detrimental to crops in Uganda!

Soil Health - Understanding and Constraints to Improvement
We were interested in finding out what the women knew about soil fertility and the health of their soils.  To the question of what they look for in a healthy soil, they responded:

  • dark soil color (not red) because it has more nutrients;
  • soil that is heavy and holds water (not sandy) because it won’t dry out so fast;
  • soil that is ‘soft’ when dry and not sticky when wet (not too much clay) because it has more air in it and tills more easily;
  • soil that has not been cropped for a while or virgin soil; and finally,
  • a soil that grows certain weeds that indicate health.  (They also listed a number of weeds that indicate a poor soil.)

Connie explaining soil aggregate structure and quality factors.

The women carefully examined soil samples that we brought to the meetings and could easily identify the best ones.  One woman pointed out to us an “unhealthy” weed that was growing on a clump of very dark, but clayey, unhealthy soil.

Farmers examining soil samples. They did the sight, touch, and smell tests. Great discussion among the farmers - not everyone agreed upon rankings of all soils for quality characteristics.

The farmers know about a number of practices to improve the health of their soils. We were not able to fully assess, though, how many of these practices are commonly used. They farmers are limited by time in their busy day to do improvements on all their fields.  Many women lack the simple means of moving heavy loads of manure or compost very far.  Although most everyone has free ranging, indigenous chickens, only a few women have larger livestock to supply manure for their crop fields. Just as in Iowa, land tenure affects famers’ commitment and ability to improving soil quality. On rented land, the women are reluctant to implement long term soil health measures, because they may not be farming those fields the next year.

In spite of these limitations, for crops grown on land that is owned and/or close to their homesteads such as bananas, coffee, tomatoes, and maize, they concentrated their efforts to improve the soil. Contour planting and use of terraces on slopes slowed soil movement and allowed better infiltration of rain. We saw only one farm with terraces. These were two-foot wide, one-foot deep trenches with the soil piled on the uphill side of the trench. Planting trees, like Eucalyptus, near fields was also used to reduce erosion.

The Kamuli district farmers have several means of replenishing nutrients in the soil.  To build the two-foot-high mounds in which sweet potatoes are planted, they hoe very deeply and bring nutrients to the surface.  Some women plant leguminous shrubs like Sesbania around their fields.  Using weeds to mulch around plants, or leaving crop residue in the fields provides organic material that can be worked in before the next crop is planted.  Crop rotation and intercropping with legumes is used to reduce pest problems and fix nitrogen.  Because of the number of crops grown and the complexity of their farming systems, crop rotations are not standard. Examples of intercropping patterns are maize intercropped (planted together in the same field) with soybeans, fields beans, or groundnuts (peanuts) and cassava planted with sweet potatoes, beans or groundnuts. Maize, tomatoes, and other vegetables are often intercropped around the perennials bananas, coffee, and cassava. We hope to do further work to document cropping patterns in these sub districts.

Some members in each of the groups made and used compost and applied manure to their crop fields.  They understood the value of these soil amendments but said the labor involved in digging compost pits with hoes, turning the compost by hand and hauling compost and manure in baskets was not possible to do for all their crop fields.

I believe that knowledge and acceptance of practices to build healthy soils is not a significant barrier for the farmer groups.  However, money to purchase livestock or labor-saving devices to extend the practices to more fields is, apparently, a big problem. Also, lack of land ownership discourages their general use.  

All the farmers groups reported that producing soybeans brought extra income to their household. The money helped pay school fees, allowed them to buy foods that they otherwise did without. They saved money to buy tarps for drying grain, records books for keeping farm records, and to fix or replace their groups’ bicycle operated maize (corn) sheller.

We hope that soybeans will play a role in earning the farmers additional income so they can continue working on improving their soils’ health.

A Kamuli tailor quickly made Jenny Thomas a modified version of the ‘gomesi’, the now ‘traditional’ dress adopted in the early 1900s by Ugandan women.

We hope that improved nutrition and increased family income as a result of the Iowa Farmer-to-Farmer project result in children staying in school for more years of formal education.

Connie Tjelmeland and Margaret Smith, with Jenny Thomas and Paul Mugge.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Today we continued workshop topics and interviews with four farmer groups in the Kamuli district of Uganda.  Two of the groups came together to one session during midday. One of these farmer groups joined the project since I visited in May, 2011 so I (Jenny) had not met any of these women on my previous trip. 
Wow, we talked to a lot of farmers who provided great discussion during the soil quality workshop that Connie has been delivering to each group. Like farmers everywhere, they definitely have strong opinions about what constitutes a good soil. The local language is Lusoga, so we work with VEDCO staff members who provide translation.

We also shared and demonstrated the seed cleaning bucket with each group with enthusiastic responses. It’s great that something so simple and relatively inexpensive may provide significant improvement for cleaning soybeans.  Step by step!

While we refer to these as women’s groups, we actually have about five percent male participants.  We had a large group of men and women this morning, apparently because they meet at a marketplace and we generated a lot of interest and non-member participation.   It was an energetic and enthusiastic group, partly because the children are on school vacation (“holiday”), this time of year.  As a result there were children everywhere! I went back to the van to retrieve an item and turned around to an audience of about twenty children outside the van entrance. I feel a bit like The Queen with all of this attention.

Farm Records for Crops
When I went with the Farmer-to-Farmer project to Uganda the first time in May, 2011, Field Record Books for Crops had been introduced to the women groups and training delivered to help participating farmers use this template. They have two growing seasons per year, so twice as much record keeping as we do at home!  Since that time, our VEDCO partners and subsequent Iowa teams had provided ongoing training, oversight and feedback to our collaborating farmers. Our May, 2011 team had reviewed each book entry and discussed how the Record Books were working for the groups. At that time, the farmers said the books helped them manage their farms better.  A few of the comments they shared were:

  • they now know what crops make money,
  • they can keep track of when they planted and use this to estimate harvest dates and plan other field activities, and
  • they can keep track of how much crop was produced to plan for marketing together as a group.

A later team photographed each page of these first books to help us understand how the books were being used, and to identify problems with using the template pages.  After the team returned, the books were evaluated for thoroughness and usefulness to the farmers.

For this work trip, I was asked to focus on the Farm Record Books for Crops for the team.  I had volunteered to work at home to determine the field acreages from the photographed book pages.  I was able to estimate the area for one soybean field for each woman, based on the maps the women drew, and on dimensions that they recorded.  I drew them to scale and brought the diagrams along on our work trip.
Fields were measured by the women in emigos.  An emigo is equivalent to 10 feet in length and fields are measured by taking a stick cut to 10 feet in length and turning it end over end for each side and recording all sides around the field perimeter. 

Measuring a maize field with a 10-ft. emigo stick.

There were difficulties with calculating the field area based on the measurements collected.  They were more often than not, irregularly shaped fields.  Also, the measurements weren’t always made all around the perimeter of the field, and sometimes only two ends or two sides were measured.  Things didn’t add up!  It appears that graphic math skills among many of the women are at a beginner level or perhaps had gotten “rusty” over the years.  But, our collaborating women farmers have education levels ranging from no schooling to seven years of primary school. So, in perspective, their graphic skills are probably right on par for this level of formal schooling.

Two really great farm field maps. Based on the irregular field configurations, you can see the challenge in getting accurate field measurements and calculating field areas. Farmers’ field mapping has improved over the two years of the project.

The women had spent so much time and effort collecting the measurements that we wanted to get as much from the data as possible.  We superimposed the hand drawn map dimensions onto graph paper and drew the maps to scale as best we could.

Once in Kamuli, with the help of Michael Nabugere, a VEDCO volunteer, we used these drawings to explain to the women the concept of using graph paper to draw their measurements to scale, and check to see if the side measurements make sense.  Maps were scaled one emigo (10 feet) per square.
The next step was to teach farmers to count the squares to determine acreage, for example, 440 squares equals about one acre.  Once they know how to determine area, they can start comparing yield information from farm to farm and year to year to improve their production practices.  We hope for additional funding in the future to continue this work.

Farmers’ graphic literacy has improved over the life of the project. Next steps will include using graph paper for field maps to help calculate field areas.

The numbers collected during our training sessions with the farmer groups support that well over 100 women in the project now have access to Farm Record Books for Crops and are keeping records that they were not doing this before the project. They also reported that they are helping provide their neighbors with book pages by having the books photocopied for them in the village.
VEDCO will take over the printing and distribution of the Farm Record Books for Crops in 2013. Farmers will have to pay for the books, which will be a good indicator of how valuable they view these for their farm businesses.
Almost all farms we have seen in the Kamuli district of Uganda have at least a few chickens.  Those we saw ranged from hybrid broilers crowded around a feeder to indigenous hot pink chicks disappearing under a bush.  Local chickens have variable feather coloring and run free around the homestead. The chicks are dyed pink to confuse predators. Farmers told us that hawks will not recognize a pink object as food immediately - giving time for chicks to escape to safety.  (This same dye is used to dye sectioned palm fronds used in weaving colorful mats.)  

Local ‘pink’ chicks. The local, free range hens are hardy and wiley. They have to survive predators each day as they range for food.

Local chickens have variable feather coloring and run free around the homestead.  Because local hens have to forage for their food – greens, seeds, bugs, and small animals – they lay few eggs.  However, their eggs have bright yellow yolks and are prized in the market.  These eggs sell for about 18 ½ cents apiece ($3.70 per dozen). 

Eggs are not washed and are sold in flats of 30 in the markets. The natural oil coating on the eggshells helps prevent moisture loss and extends the fresh life of an egg. This is particularly important when they are kept at air temperature.

Some farmers have dedicated chicken houses, but many put their chickens inside their house at night for safety. The local chickens are quite hardy but will occasionally fall sick to Newcastle disease, gombalo and some other, less deadly diseases.  They do not receive vaccinations, so when Newcastle strikes a community, 90-95% of the chickens die.

Annette, the leader of the Agiliawamu (meaning “we are together”) farmer group was excited to show her 57, two-week-old-broilers housed in a small brick shed with a tight door.   VEDCO trained women in the district on raising broiler and this is Annette’s first batch.  She bought day-old chicks from a hatchery and feeds them corn bran, silver fish (from Lake Victoria), and cottonseed.  They look healthy.  At six to eight weeks they will be sold, live, at the Kamuli market for 8,000 Uganda shillings (about $3) each.

Gladys Byenka, leader of the Kasombereza group (“collecting individuals into something big”) showed us her flock of Kuroilers.  This is a breed introduced from India that is an aggressive, free-ranger but is a more productive egg-layer than the local chickens. VEDCO, our non-profit in-country partner, is promoting these chickens and advising the farmers on crossing them with the local chickens.  Gladys was given eight vaccinated chicks - seven females and one male. They are running freely around a fenced-in yard but go into a brick building to lay eggs and roost at night. Snail shells gathered from the river bank are smashed and fed to provide calcium to help them build strong bones and maintain good egg shell quality. Their mixed feed is similar to the broilers’ but Gladys also spreads straw on the ground to attract ants for the chickens to eat.  Chickens are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Insects are a favorite food. She also gathers greens to supplement their diet. Consequently, their eggs have yellow yolks.  In contrast, commercially produced eggs have white yolks because the staple of their diet is white corn.  They sell for 14.8 cents.  It’s likely that Gladys’ eggs will command a better price in the market.

Kuroilers chickens at Gladys Byenka’s. Gladys has a hen house dedicated for her flock.

Jenny Thomas and Connie Tjelmeland, with Margaret Smith and Paul Mugge.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Soybean Seed Cleaning
The prototype seed cleaner has been a great disappointment.  The design flaws were immediately apparent and although I (Paul) was hopeful that a few simple changes would allow it to function, I was disappointed. It works poorly.  There is just no way to get air into the fan, so there is not much air coming out. 
It is not just an issue of saving the farmers a lot of time cleaning their soybeans, but the winnowing process affects health issues as well.  They inhale a lot of the dust in trying to blow it out, and all of the groups have talked about the sickness or allergic reactions when they winnow soybeans.
We discussed the possibility of spending a day at St Joseph Vocational Training Centre and completely redesigning and rebuilding the machine, but the instructor is now on holiday and I doubt if they would let me use their equipment.  I can’t do anything without metal cutting and welding equipment.
As an inexpensive substitute, we purchased a used, metal, 5 -gallon bucket and some screening.  The goal was to screen out soybean pods and stems pieces with a large (about 3/8 in.) screen that would allow the soybeans, small chaff and dust to pass through into the bucket. A finer screen that replaced the bottom of the bucket could then allow the smaller chaff and dust to pass on through, leaving clean soybeans in the bucket. Screen available in Uganda is for windows, mosquito exclusion, etc. and not sized for grain cleaning! So I had two sizes of screen, one too big, and one too small: it is not an ideal world. 

Paul Mugge building the top screen for the ‘winnowing’ bucket.

Farmer engineering - note indispensible duct tape and wire.

We went to the field and demonstrated with the farmer groups the use of the bucket for starting the soybean cleaning process. Configuring the bucket with available screening did clean the beans quite a bit, without exposing the women to the dust.  It does a less than perfect job, but it helps and it is inexpensive.  We asked the farmer group members which cleaner they preferred, and both voted for the inexpensive version.  They also said that their children could do it.  So perhaps all is not lost!  The bucket is appropriate only for small quantities, however, and some of the bean samples contain a wide variety in sizes of soybeans which don’t clean too well.  I think that with interchangeable screens of various sizes, the bucket approach might produce a satisfactory product.  

Soybean cleaning team.

Several farmers working soybeans through the top screen of the simple, screened seed cleaner.

Soybean fractions following screening with the bucket cleaner. Pan in the back holds uncleaned soybeans. The chaff on the table passed through the smaller screen at the bottom of the bucket.

For the larger, higher-volume, hand -operated cleaner, a complete redesign is in order.  I believe that it can be designed, built, tested and optimized in Iowa and the drawings sent to Tonnet Agro-Engineering in Kampala.  Tonnet would have to decide then if they could manufacture a small number of cleaners at a price farmers could afford and justify. 
Soybean Growth, Family Nutrition and Marketing
Soybeans are a huge hit with the Kamuli women farmers. There remain some challenges with production, harvest, cleaning/processing and marketing, but they definitely plan to continue producing soybeans for both household consumption and for sale.

Doves and weaver birds have been a problem because they eat germinating seedlings. Fortunately, the  vulnerable period is only about a week, so the farmer can, as they say, ‘be diligent’ during that short period keeping the birds away.  A larger problem is monkeys. They enjoy eating soybeans as the seeds begin to ripen. Farmers in the Namasagali subdistrict have experienced considerable yield loss to the hungry little primates. The farmers try to scare them away, but they sneak into fields at night. The farmers have sometimes resorted to hiring someone to hunt and kill the monkeys.

All of the women feel that their families are healthier and they report that their children love them. Soybeans are prepared in several ways, including:

  • Roasted, pounded into flour, then cooked as a sauce (to eat with eat with sweet potatoes or posho - a stiff, corn meal mush that is also a dietary staple)
  • roasted
  • as a hot beverage - soy ‘coffee’
  • made into soy milk
  • cooked with water to make porridge,
  • mixed with other flours and made into pancakes.

Kateme Samalie did a soymilk production demonstration during our meeting the with Kamu Kamu farmer group that she leads.

Boiling presoaked soybeans for soymilk production.

Pounding soaked and cooked soybeans for soy milk preparation.

Straining cooked and pounded soybeans through a cloth to extract soymilk.

During the course of our two-year project, farmers have sold whole soybeans - like we do in the U.S. - or have had them milled and sold as full-fat flour. Money from the sale of soybeans has made positive differences in the farmers’ households. They report using funds for school fees for their children, to buy other household staples, and to buy livestock.      

Group marketing of soybeans was implemented only by a few groups this year, because the first growing season (February through July) had low and irregular rainfall, so crop yields were poor. Soybeans that were produced on many farms were used mostly for family consumption and saved for seed for the second growing season. Farmers who did have some grain to sell often sold small amounts individually. Soybeans grown during the second growing season have recently been harvested, threshed and need to be cleaned before marketing can begin.
Big River
We saw the Nile River in the northern, Namasagali subdistrict of the Kamuli district today. It is breathtaking. It’s a bigger and free flowing river compared to the Nile that we crossed by bridge at Jinja.  At our second farm group visit to the Babigumira group, we met at the farm of Tinka Rose, the group leader. A path behind her house led to her fields and down to the river. What an incredible pace to farm! The river is wide - at least a mile here - deep and fast. It is humbling and awe inspiring to stand beside one of the greatest rivers in the world and think of the history and culture of some the great civilizations, including the Basoga and Baganda, that have flourished along its banks.

Rain across the Nile River.
Paul Mugge and Margaret Smith with Connie Tjelmeland and Jenny Thomas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Today we made our first farm group visits in the Kamuli district.  The Ugandan women farmers have been working with the Iowa/Uganda Farmer-to-Farmer project for two years.  One hundred and eighty farmers, working in groups of 12 to 27 members each, have worked to improve the farm business management skills and incomes. On these final farm group visits of the two-year project, evaluation is our major emphasis.  
We spent time some time during the meetings today addressing our second project objective:
Increase production of, and improve soil management, harvest, drying, and threshing and cleaning techniques for soybeans.

In year one of the project, 2011, we had provided seed to farmers of an improved soybean variety from a breeding program in Uganda. Only a very few of the farmer had ever grown soybeans, even though their diets provide minimal protein and fat. This new variety, Maksoy 1N,  grew well in the district and farmers immediately began integrating soybeans into their family meals and selling excess for cash. Farmers continued to plant soybeans each season (there are two rainy seasons, therefore, two crop growing seasons per year in the Kamuli district) and reported that their great challenge was cleaning their threshed beans.
For perspective: soybeans on small-holder farms are harvested by pulling the plants or by cutting them at the ground surface, then taking them back to the farmstead. The plants are further dried on the ground or on tarpaulins (in our case, these were provided by the project), then threshed by hitting the plants with a stick.

Though previous volunteer teams had reported this threshing process as a gentle ‘tapping’ on the plants, this farmer wasn’t doing any ‘tapping’!  This looks like a good way to take out your frustrations.

Jenny Thomas trying her hand at threshing soybeans.

This threshing technique results in a lot of trash and chaff mixed in with the soybeans that must be removed before cooking or selling the soybeans.
Today was also our initial field test with the simple seed cleaner made by St. Joseph’s Vocational Training Centre (British spelling!) in Kamuli. We tried it with the Agiliawama farmer group we met with in the morning and attempted to clean some soybeans.

Agiliawama is a large farm group, made bigger by the addition of many children in the neighborhood. The dynamic became clear when we learned that school was not yet back in session after the Christmas holiday. Unloading the seed cleaner was exciting!

First we did a pre-cleaning step, with a ½ in screen that removed many of the soybean pods and stem pieces. This left finer crumbled leaf residue, dirt, and small stem and pod pieces still to remove.

Precleaning soybeans as they are poured in the seed cleaner.

We knew from the time spent on adjustments yesterday that the volume and velocity of air was low and might only marginally blow enough air to accomplish cleaning. The machine blew some residue out, but it was not satisfactory, even when the farmers cranked it as fast as they could. Because of construction flaws, air just can’t get into the fan, and we don’t have the means and tools needed to fix it with us.
This was a major disappointment, since the previous prototype had worked fairly well in August, 2012. We decided to put this part of the Farmer-to-Farmer project on hold until we can decide how to proceed.

Much consultation and brainstorming with Paul Mugge, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, to try improving the seed cleaner.
Soil Quality

One question we are asking as we met with cooperating farmer groups is “How are you improving soil fertility?”  At one farm we heard two methods of making compost.  Six or seven women described digging a 5 x 5 x 3 ft. deep pit, filling it with leafy material and covering it with soil.  They didn’t add manure because most of them don’t have livestock.  They mix it once a month for about 3 months, then the compost is ready to use.  It is black and soft and they spread it between corn rows and around banana plants.
Then another woman raised her hand and related a more involved method that produced a richer compost.  This was to put sticks on the bottom of the pit, then a layer of greens, next cow dung, ash, and more greens.  This she covered with soil and left it for 21 days.  After that she mixed the compost and because it heated up again, she allowed it to cool before applying it to her fields.  
It’s interesting for us to guess at why this one woman is using a more complex compost than her neighbors.  Evidently she has a source of livestock manure that some of the others don’t.  She may have heard about this method from an agricultural educator that her neighbors had missed.  Maybe her children had brought the ideas home from school or from the university.  What is just as interesting is that she adopted a technique that was unique in her community - more than likely because it worked for her.  This feels familiar.  Farmers all over are practical and innovative.

A proud young man by the family compost pile.

Kids everywhere love to climb! It’s amazing that these jackfruit even grow on trees. Jackfruit contain many seeds and a very sweet flesh. Our VEDCO colleague, Michael Nabugere, remembers eating jackfruit at both his home and the neighbors until he couldn’t eat lunch when called home at noontime. It’s a key experience of childhood here in Kamuli, his home district. Some folks welcome neighborhood children in their trees and some don’t. It sounds like stealing apples back in Iowa!
Connie Tjelmeland and Paul Mugge, with Margaret Smith and Jenny Thomas.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We were at the VEDCO office first thing this morning practicing our recently-learned Lusoga phrases with the staff. Lynda Mutiibwa, VEDCO staff member and our language tutor, approved of our efforts, if not our pronunciation! We reviewed our plans for visiting the farmers and received suggestions from the staff.
Our Iowa State University Farmer-to-Farmer Project has the overall goal of:
Strengthening Value Chains for Maize (corn) and Soybeans for Ugandan Women Farmers.
Value chains for crops include aspects of growing, harvesting and marketing the crops. Plant breeding, seed production, farm tools, harvest timing and technique, grain storage, available markets, grain and oilseed processing, and food and feed manufacturing are all parts of these value chains.  We identified several key intervention points or ‘bottlenecks’ in these chains and worked with180 women farmers in the Kamuli district to improve their families’ diets and increase incomes.
Our project objectives have been:

  1. Improve maize (corn) post-harvest grain quality, storage, and economic value in the marketplace;
  2. Increase production of, and improve soil management, harvest, drying, and threshing techniques for soybeans;
  3. Provide education about seed quality and encourage adoption of on-farm evaluation of open-pollinated maize  and soybean seed before planting;
  4. Improve on-farm production and marketing written farm record keeping;
  5. Develop female-directed marketing groups/associations for collaborative marketing of maize (corn) and soybeans.

Our collaborating Uganda women farmers had previously shared that their biggest problem with growing and harvesting soybeans was cleaning them. To winnow the soybeans (separate the chaff from beans) the women use a large platter-shaped basket and throw the beans into the air while blowing the chaff away with their breath.  Since the beans are heavier, they fall back into the receptacle and the chaff is blown away.
Unfortunately, while winnowing the beans, the women developed allergy-type symptoms from inhaling chaff and dust. They reported itching and watery eyes, swollen lips and itching on their faces, necks, and chests, too.
The Farmer-to Farmer volunteer team brainstormed ideas about a simple seed cleaner that would limit farmers’ exposure to soybean chaff. The project collaborated with a Mechanical Engineering class at ISU See: www.eng.iastate.edu/htmlemail/menews/InCYde%202012/InCYde%2009-14-12.html. Engineering student developed a prototype inexpensive seed cleaner that used a squirrel-cage fan and gravity flow to separate chaff and dust from soybeans. Iowa Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers field tested this unit in Uganda in August, this year.

Testing first-generation seed cleaner on farm in Kamuli district, Uganda August, 2012. Cindy Mccullough, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, is peering over the edge of the unit.

After our visit to the VEDCO office, we traveled a short distance in Kamuli to St. Joseph’s Vocational Training Centre to view the metal seed cleaner that staff and students had built, based on the wooden prototype left with them during the previous volunteer work trip in August.
As we inspected the third-generation prototype, we found some challenges to the cleaner. There appeared to be several design flaws with the cleaner, resulting in reduced air flow. Because the machine is completely welded together, our ability to modify the fan itself is limited. The vanes on the centripetal fan are angled in the wrong direction and the airflow was not appropriate. We were unable to alter the direction of the vanes, but we did make a curved shroud to surround the fan and narrowed the discharge area significantly. These modifications allow the cleaner to produce velocities sufficient to separate the beans from the chaff. We also made a metal pail with a screen bottom for a pre-cleaning step. We hope the holes in the screen area sufficiently large to allow dirt to fall through while retaining the beans. If the farmers can use this pail to scoop their beans into the cleaner, with a little shaking, much of the dirt will be removed. This should help the cleaning process because dirt is dense and hard to blow out. The fan vanes are still wrong and the inlets are too small, but we have improved air velocity somewhat. Tomorrow will be the first test on farms. We are cautiously optimistic!

Paul Mugge beginning work on the seed cleaner for soybeans with the team at St. Joseph’s Training Centre in Kamuli, Uganda.

The Farmer-to Farmer volunteer team, with our Ugandan partners has struggled figuring out the best way to transport this from farm to farm. Wheels?  Cart? Cart behind a bicycle? Struggle no more! The cleaner can be transported on the back of a bicycle. Adding brackets below the unit to help users center the weight when loading it will help stabilize the unit.
While working at St. Joseph’s, we heard ‘band sounds’ and had to investigate. New music students, both from the training center and younger students, were practicing outdoors at a music clinic today. It was entirely  brass - except for one saxophone. We wondered about the missing percussion section. School is not yet in session, so the students’ dedication is admirable. Students practiced several hours and must have been exhausted at the end of the day.


Trumpets rule!
In the afternoon I (Connie) met with Patrick Sangi, the VEDCO agronomist in Kamuli. Patrick has been working the last three years with Kamuli farmers teaching them soil improving farming practices. One practice is planting Tephrosia, a leguminous shrub whose leaves can be used for mulch and composting. The leaves also are reported to have insecticidal properties and can be dried, crushed and mixed with stored grain to help repel insects.
Patrick took me to a beautiful farm just outside of Kamuli to collect various soil samples for my conversations with farmers. We went up a long driveway wooded on one side and pastured on the other into a tidy compound of brick and mud houses and curious children. When we explained we wanted very rich soil, the farmer, Francis, took us down to the bottom of the pasture where there was a soggy pot hole fed by a tiny stream. Next to it the soil was as black as any Iowa soil. It was a good example of an organic matter rich, healthy soil.
Finished with sampling and on our way back to the van, we learned that Francis was quite a conscientious, community-minded person. He was involved in teaching neighboring farmers how to raise vegetable gardens. He also helps local youth earn money by making and selling non-woody, vegetable matter charcoal. He perfected this method because he believes in saving trees. It was truly a pleasure to make Francis’ acquaintance.

Landscapes in the Kamuli district, though relatively flat, are striking. Native trees, shrubs, grasses, forbs, and bird life are diverse. Soils in the region also appear to vary widely, in part, with proximity to the Nile River.

Paul Mugge and Connie Tjelmeland, with Margaret Smith and Jenny Thomas

Sunday, January 6, 2013

This morning we attended St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Kamuli.  The church building is under construction but recently a storm damaged the temporary roof.   Gray sky was showing through – lucky that we didn’t get a shower – and an offering was taken during the service to continue the building process. 

Jenny greeting folks after church.
The service took nearly two hours, but didn’t seem long at all, because there was a lot of standing and singing.  The first service, the one we attended, was in English and included many old, familiar hymns.  ‘Blessed Assurance’, ‘Jesus Shall Reign’, ‘Alleluia, What a Savior’, and ‘Amazing Grace’ made us feel right at home. The guest speaker, Joseph Musoke, presented a great sermon and, serendipitously, turned out to be administrator of the 180 public schools in the Kamuli district.  He introduced himself after the service and we had an opportunity to discuss efforts to integrate school gardens with the school curriculum. 
Part of his sermon talked about that Africans are lucky, because Africa was used as a sanctuary many times when God’s people needed protection from enemies. I sensed in his message a very strong pride of being African.  We felt very welcomed; Ugandans are very friendly and gracious. 

Connie, Joseph Musoke, our guest speaker in church, Paul and Jenny following the Sunday morning service. Though it looks as if the church sustained a lot of damage, it is really in a mid stage of construction. An open air-service was very nice!

Twin girls approached and greeted us as we were leaving the church.  The sisters were caring for their twin baby brothers.  We see a lot of older children taking care of younger siblings – a sight to warm a parent’s heart!
Farm Demonstration Tour
Many people here work on Sunday afternoons. Today, our VEDCO hosts took us to visit a crop demonstration plot organized and coordinated by VEDCO staff on the grounds of the Bukyonza primary school. They highlighted improvements with a number of crops they have been working with.  There were many new crops to learn about. We saw improved production techniques and new crop varieties, including:

  • cassava with virus resistance,
  • orange-fleshed sweet potatoes,
  • dry beans, high in iron
  • sesbania, grown for livestock feed
  • higher plant populations for eggplant
  • higher plant populations for finger millet
  • grain amaranth
  • papayas, called paw paws, here
  • matooke, plantain bananas
  • and, soybeans from our Farmer-to-Farmer project!

They also demonstrated low-cost, small-scale livestock housing built from local materials.
This area is not currently served by the ISU Farmer-to-Farmer project, but there is interest in farmers learning more about our program and organizing management groups of their own around this school area.  A field day was held last November at the demonstration site.  Four hundred farmers attended the field day, many walking from a great distance.  We were excited to learn that three of our Farmer-to Farmer project group leaders traveled to the event to present information about the our project. They spoke to the participants about growing and marketing soybeans, methods to improve post-harvest grain quality, and the value of written record keeping. I hope the project can continue!

Lynda Mutiibwa and Michael Nabugere, VEDCO staff member and volunteer in charge of our Farmer-to-Farmer project. Though the stems of the soybeans in the demonstration plot are still green, the plants are ready to harvest. Final drying will take place in the farmer’s yard. This is Maksoy 3N, an improved cultivar developed in Uganda.

Connie Tjelmeland and Paul Mugge with Lynda, Michael from VEDCO and Ben, a Community Based Trainer, discussing the raised chicken house to be used for night quarters for several laying hens. When finished, it will have a roof and chicken wire sides.

Finger millet, a warm –season, small-seeded grain, high in protein, is native to Africa. It’s named for its curved seed heads that look a bit like fingers.
The women farmers that we will be visiting this week are Busoga, a linguistically and culturally linked people living east of the Victoria Nile.  The Kamuli district (a civil division of the country), where we have our Farmer-to-Farmer project, is Busoga country. According to the Bradt Travel Guide, prior to colonialism, the region was made up of 70 small autonomous principalities.  For administrative purposes, the British began combining principalities, transforming them finally into a centralized monarchy.
Just outside of Kamuli, we visited the tombs of Busoga’s last three kyabazinga (kings).  Our host, Woira Henry, a clan priest, explained that the Busoga kingdom today has eleven clans, each with a royal clan leader.  The kingdom is currently without a king.   The selection of a new king is by vote rather than heredity, although the previous kings were father, son, and grandson.  The clan leaders will choose a king from among their ranks.  The kingdoms in Uganda are largely ceremonial and not part of the national government.

Tomb of the Busoga kings.

William Wilberforce Nadiope was the Busoga King in 1962 at the time of Ugandan independence from Britain. He served as the first vice-president of Uganda from 1963 to 1966.
Paul Mugge, Margaret Smith, Connie Tjelmeland and Jenny Thomas

Saturday, January 5, 2013

We ran errands this morning preparing to travel to Kamuli in the afternoon.  Our first stop in Kampala was at a bookstore to purchase books we hope will be useful for our project. 
Next we visited Hands for Hope’s retail outlet.  They sell crafts and stationery, and all of their profits are used to sponsor primary education for children living in the Namuwongo slum in Kampala.  We have learned that primary school in Uganda has seven grade levels, and is only partially subsidized by the government,  School is expensive for the family and this organization provides support for 200 children to attend school. 
There apparently is no government welfare system in Uganda.  People that don’t have personal resources are either cared for by family members or live on the streets. This may be one of the factors that contribute to the tenacious entrepreneurial spirit we observe here. So many individuals are running small businesses – everywhere! They have a lot of hustle!

Local lumber yards should do good business due to rapid growth and continuous building.

Meat grilled fresh and sold along the roadside also appears a brisk business on major roads.

Negotiating the streets of the city, we passed a huge roofing company billboard.  What were they advertising?  A statement declaring the company is helping sponsor secondary education in Uganda occupied ninety percent of the billboard’s area. Yesterday at Tonnet Agro-Engineering Company, we learned that skilled workers are in short supply and high demand in Kampala, the capital city.
Our next stop was an arts and crafts market that was developed and is managed as an economic development project. It is an open-air series of booths, all operated by women.  Sale proceeds go first to provide materials to participating women that make the craft items, and the remainder is divided among the sales staff and the participating craftswomen.  
During our lunch at a pleasant food court in a modern mall, we heard what sounded like an explosion right beside our table.  Wow, did we jump! Behind our table an object had fallen through the balcony roof ripping open about an eight inch hole followed by a scattering of debris.  There was also a hole in the tile roof directly below.  I was most surprised by how little attention was given to the noise by the other people eating in the restaurant. No one figured out what had happened, so quietly went back to their activities.
At last we headed for the countryside!  As we traveled east toward the city of Jinja, we saw storefronts, dwellings, small roadside garden plots, motor vehicles and masses of people congregating and moving by foot, bicycle and “boda bodas” (motorcycles). Before long, farmland for small-scale farmers was replaced by vast plantations of sugarcane and tea (which grows on shrubs), the native Mabira National  Forest, and a pine plantation. 

Plantation-raised sugarcane, in the background, is flanked by intercropped cassava and sweet potatoes in the ditches and shoulders of the roadside. I wonder whose these belong to? This is a great example of using both available horizontal and vertical space for food and cash crop production.

The roads are somewhat hazardous, so we are glad that an experienced Uganda driver, Hassan, has control of the vehicle!  Traveling on to Kamuli, potholes developed into long ruts and patches of pavement although some of the road has been repaved since I traveled to Uganda in May of 2011.

More bicycle transport – plantain bananas, one of the most popular staple crops here.

Pineapples are in season!

The constant roadside activity includes lots of livestock: many cattle, goats, and chickens graze along the roadsides. We also see a few hair sheep and pigs, too. Some of the cattle and goats are tethered, but many are not. How do they keep from getting hit on the road?
When we reached VEDCO guest house in Kamuli, we were warmly received by VEDCO staff members, Jane, Lynda, and Michael.  We were fed a feast by anyone’s standards, as prepared by chef Joshua who had just completed a two-year culinary course. He prepared delicious, soup, vegetable dishes, and small portions of meat with traditional Ugandan starch dishes – white fleshed sweet potato, and rice. I am struck by such a healthy diet, low in fat and sweets.
We are looking forward to attending a Ugandan church service tomorrow morning with one of our VEDCO hosts, Lynda Mutiibwa.  We chose the church with the shorter service – two hours long, but are promised plenty of singing and celebration.

Jenny Thomas with Margaret Smith, Connie Tjelmeland, and Paul Mugge


Friday, January 4, 2013

A lovely plate of ndizi (small, sweet bananas), watermelon, and pineapple, a glass of passion fruit juice, Uganda tea, and coffee greeted us at our breakfast table. Eating in an open air dining room in the dappled shade of tropical plants is a perfect way to wake up.

Local, seasonal fruit is the first course each morning for breakfast.

A tale of two omlets. ‘Local’ eggs, from adapted, free-running hens, on the left and commercial eggs, from hens fed white corn, on the right.
We met in the early morning with Agnes Kirabo and Stephen Kato of VEDCO to discuss the information needed for the final evaluation of the Farmer-to-Farmer project in Kamuli.  Some of our goals are to quantitatively measure acceptance of, and improvements made to farming by use of the tarpaulins, corn shellers, record books, and group marketing of maize.  Agnes asked us to take note of gender issues as they affect farming.  Other demands for women’s money impacts their farming decisions.  For example, school fees have traditionally been paid by the husband.  That responsibility has been shifting more and more to the wife, resulting in less money available for her to invest in her crops.
The Farmer-to-Farmer project is coming to completion this month in Kamuli, but Iowa State University will continue to work with the non-profit VEDCO in that area. VEDCO staff will take what the project has learned and continue to apply it in Kamuli and elsewhere in Uganda.  Agnes said that VEDCO has a responsibility to “package the project’s experiences” and share them with development groups worldwide.
In late morning, we visited Tonnet Agro-Engineering Company, a metal manufacturing plant which makes small-scale agricultural bins, threshers, seed cleaners and plant chippers. Sula, one of the 13 employees, showed us a pedal-powered rice thresher, a brick press, and a 2-ton feed bin that they were in the process of fabricating.  Joseph Kavuma, the manager, is interested in manufacturing the grain cleaner that the Farmer-to-Farmer project has been developing for small-scale farmers.  We will meet with him again and bring the second-generation prototype cleaner back to Kampala after we have demonstrated it to the Kamuli farmers this coming week.

Employees at Tonnet AgroEngineering bending steel for the body of a 2-ton bulk feed bin.

Paul Mugge discussing a foot-powered rice thresher at Tonnet AgroEngineering.

Our last stop of the day was to Maganjo Grain Millers.  They buy grain, process and package it for animal and human consumption.  Alex, the purchaser, said they are always looking for more soya.  They prefer clear hilum, “white eyed” soybeans, but will buy “black eyed” seed - which is what the Kamuli farmers are growing - if it is large seeded.  Our interest is in finding a market for the Kamuli farmers’ soybeans and will revisit Maganjo after our farm visits.  I bought a bag of millet flour at the outlet section of the mill and will ask the farm women I meet next week for cooking instructions.

Ground grain meal and porridge mixes at the Maganjo Grain Mill.

Maganjo baby and toddler soy porridge mix.
Riding through the busy streets of Kampala, where I have only seen one stop light, is an adventure.  There are supposed to be two lines of traffic, but this, apparently, is somewhat optional.

Kampala traffic.

We flew past a truck carrying a load of Ankole cattle (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/5096034384/) that originated in southwestern Uganda.  At first, I wondered what the heavy structure was over their heads, but then realized it was an interconnected network of their horns!  

When our van was stopped in traffic we got a good look at sidewalk vendors selling women’s shoes, making brooms, and hawking pyramids of passion fruit – an interesting and busy sight for Iowa eyes.

Woman making grass brooms along the road.

Two major methods of hauling water. A man carrying water in two jerry cans followed by women with five gallon buckets. All Ugandan women we have seen have beautiful posture, likely due to their experience carrying numerous items on their heads.

Almost everything can be transported by bicycle in Uganda. Here, chair and loveseat frames are moving from shop to shop to receive upholstery. How many pieces of furniture are on the move?

Selling women’s shoes on a Kampala sidewalk. This entrepreneur’s infrastructure overhead is very low!

Connie Tjelmeland with Jenny Thomas, Paul Mugge, and Margaret Smith


January 3, 2013

I have embarked on a volunteer work trip of a two-year project in the Kamuli District of Uganda. Fourteen Iowa volunteer farmers and staff from Iowa State University have been working with small-scale women farmers since early 2011, helping them to become better business managers and to increase income for their families. Iowa work groups have travelled four times each or the tow years to Uganda. I am part of the final work trip to help finish and evaluate the project.

Returning volunteer Jenny Thomas from Humboldt; ISU staff member, Margaret Smith from Hampton; and new volunteers Connie Tjelmeland, from McCallsburg; and Paul Mugge, from Paullina. Eight-thirty a.m., New Year’s Day is a great time to zip through check in and security at the Des Moines International Airport.

Our flight to Uganda was considerably less stressful than I anticipated, although the total elapsed time from Des Moines to our motel in Kampala was roughly 27 hours. Those that say “it’s small world” have never been half-way around it! It’s a big rock!

We arrived in the Ugandan airport at Entebbe earlier than expected, so no one was at the airport to meet us. Fortunately, at 10:00 p.m., Ugandan time, we found a taxi (van) large enough to carry us and our luggage and made the hour-long trip to Kampala. Unfortunately, the taxi driver could not find our hotel, so we spent some quality time exploring Kampala in the dark.

The Capitol Palace Hotel is beautiful, very comfortable and our ‘rest stop’ for two days as we prepare to travel northeast to Kamuli on Monday, January 7. All of us slept very well and, woke to the sounds of many unknown, tropical birds and one well known bird, a rooster, - in a city of several million! We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the motel. Strangely, eggs here have white yolks because the maize, (corn) grown and fed to chickens here is white dent corn, rather than our familiar yellow dent corn grown for feed in most of the U.S.  


Amazing tropical vegetation at the Capitol Palace Hotel in Kampala

Orchids hanging overhead the path to my room.

Jenny Thomas inside bed netting for malaria prevention. We also take medication while in country to help prevent malaria.

Gecko lizards are our friends! They roam the walls and mosquito netting, eating insects.

It is noon in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and a picture perfect setting. The temperature is about 85 degrees, with many plants flowering along roads and median strips with large, colorful, exotic-looking flowers. Vendors walk along the streets selling to folks driving by - fruits, vegetable, steering wheel covers(!), maps, books, rolls of toilet paper - just about everything.

We spent most of our first day getting ready for work: arranging internet access, getting a mobile phone with international capability and meeting with our partner organization to finalize work plans. We Iowans partner with a non-profit organization in Uganda, VEDCO or Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, (http://www.vedcouganda.org/).  VEDCO works to educate farmers and rural families about family nutrition, improved farming practices, and rural development. There are very few government Extension agents in Uganda and VEDCO staff work in several regions of the country filling the roles of agricultural and nutrition Extension outreach. Agnes Kirabo, Communication and Advocacy Manager for VEDCO, has guided our activities today. It’s great to have partners to help us negotiate this different culture.

Mobile phones are everywhere and readily available in Uganda. We purchased a phone for contact with our families in the U.S.

Our team with Agnes Kirabo. Agnes knows all the ropes in Uganda. She is a wonderful guide, very sharp and is passionate about her work with rural Ugandans.

Paul Mugge with Jenny Thomas, Connie Tjelmeland, and Margaret Smith

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