Community, Diaspora and Immigration

Translating kitchen gardening experience in Ireland to help a rural community in Uganda

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An Irish charity which works with communities in Uganda, the Children’s Educational Development Fund (CEDF), asked me to lead an organic farming project team to turn a half acre field beside a piggery in to a productive and instructive organic kitchen garden. A half dozen volunteers from Ireland joined with a half dozen Ugandan women to build and plant this organic garden which is also close to the local dispensary, community centre and a newly built secondary school which other CEDF volunteers from Ireland helped to paint at the same time.
The success of this new garden will depend on the twice yearly addition of organic matter. Therefore a three bay composting system was constructed to transform the mixture of pig manure and waste vegetation in to soil conditioner and fertilizer. The rising cost and non-availability of chemical fertilizers means that organic growing principles are the most practical way of farming in rural southern Uganda. Indeed the horticultural  experimentations of Fr. Henri de Laulanié S.J. in Madagascar in the 1960’s and Sumant Kumar, a smallholder farmer in northern India, presently, are proving that small scale organic growing or ‘System of Crop Intensification’ (SCI) as they call it, is more productive per hectare than large scale chemically based farming.
In the higher temperatures of equatorial Africa, decomposition and growth rates are many times faster than in northern Europe. This means two crops from the soil where in Ireland we usually get one per annum. However, the fertility of the land falls faster too due to accelorated decomposition of organic matter in the soil. This necessitates adding organic matter more often than in Ireland to maintain this high level of productivity.
The Department of Agriculture in Uganda was on hand to advise and appreciate this community development organic project. On the last day, the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr. Tress Bucyanayandi M.P.,  travelled to Lwanunda near Masaka to officially open this new Organic Kitchen Garden as a training ground for the community and a source of healthy food and additional income. He got to see the early signs of growth in the fruit and vegetables just planted, which included mango and orange trees, tomatoes, aubergines, spinach, onions, parsley, cabbage, coriander, lavender, rosemary, comfrey and tithonia. We procured seeds of beans, basil, courgettes and other crops for sowing later at the times appropriate to their growing needs.
The prospect of transforming a field in to a diverse organic garden, complete with a shaded seating area and ornamental aromatic garden, in one week seemed an impossibility at the start. However, the goal of creating a ‘piece of paradise’ in the ‘Pearl of Africa’, drove on the Ugandan and Irish volunteers alike. Indeed, the Governor of the Masaka region asked when he saw the work, if we had been here a month or a week? What a week!
by Trevor Sargent

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