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Following Footsteps

By Lacey Roberts, Noble-Watoto Fellow

Posted Oct. 29, 2016

When I first began my time here in Uganda, I expected to be following and working alongside the managers at the various Watoto Sustainability Projects to expand my knowledge. I have been learning every day, but instead of following, I have been leading. Though, it hasn't been without help. Before I can lead successfully, I must follow a farmer's footsteps to learn all that I can to be the most effective leader.

In the weeks after managing the goat farm, I had the opportunity to attend a monthly meeting held to review all the finances of the Watoto agricultural projects. During this meeting, I witnessed important discussions about how money will be spent to improve the projects, what current challenges they are facing, and brainstorming on how to solve these issues.

I sat quietly spectating and learning until the end. After discussing the times of leave for other Watoto staff, I was nominated to stand in as acting manager … again. That's how I shifted from being a goat farm manager to a crop farm manager.

lubbe farm sunriseSun rises on Lubbe farm during a misty morning.

That lead to a training period to get to know the farm acreage, community workers, and tasks that I would need to supervise. A week may not seem like a long time to some, but it's much better than the quick two days I had to learn the goat farm process.

Lubbe is a beautiful 200-acre farm in a rural village area about an hour northwest of Kampala. It began in 2010 and has become more of a specialty farm that focuses most of its efforts on growing maize and sweet potatoes. Much like the goat's milk, a large majority of the food grown at the farm is harvested and sent to the Watoto village homes to feed the mothers and children.

early morning view at farmEarly mornings at the farm allowed for the best views.

Current crops being grow at the farm are 89 acres of maize (corn), 27 acres of sweet potatoes, 2.1 acres of pumpkins, 120 mango seedlings, and beans under the mangos as a cover crop.

Okello is the current manager of Lubbe farm. He has been at Lubbe for about two years working alongside the community workers that are employed by the Watoto project. The farm operates at about 60 percent manual labor and 40 percent mechanization. That ratio alone makes Lubbe farm stand out among other farms in the area, which rely solely on manual labor.

okello expalins different implementsOkello tells me about the different implements used at the farm.

Okello's steps guided me through the farm during the week. Currently, not much is happening because it is not peak harvesting time. The only harvesting taking place is sweet potatoes, which are in constant supply to the villages. At the end of this week, we harvested enough sweet potatoes to supply one single village.

okello holding large sweet potatoOkello grins as he holds one of the largest sweet potatoes I have ever seen.

Early Thursday morning we approached the field in the far corner of the farm ready to harvest. We came upon an unfortunate sight. The night before some local villagers decided to harvest some of the potatoes for their own use. They were quick getting in and out of the field at night because no guards on duty saw any disturbances. While this isn't a major concern for farmers back home, theft from neighbors and hungry villagers really impact the production of farm goods. Because of this setback, we needed to harvest almost an entire acre more than expected in order to supply enough potatoes for the village homes.

sweet potatoes left behindThe thieves harvested too many potatoes to carry, so they had to leave some behind. The dug-open heap can be seen in the background.

Working despite the setback, we harvested almost 2.5 acres of sweet potatoes. I couldn't just stand and watch, so I decided to pick up a hoe and join in. The workers made it look much easier than what it turned out to be.

harvesting sweet potato fieldWorkers dug quickly to harvest during the cool morning air.

lacey harvesting sweet potato fieldI got in on the action as other workers looked on.

Besides the sweet potatoes, Okello took me to one of the largest sections of maize on the farm. We checked for flowering, pests and any other disturbances in the field. One section of the field was impressive; it produced maize stalks that were 10.5 feet tall.

measuring maizeOkello leading me from a maize field to measure the height using a stick.

lacey standing next to maizeThe 10.5-foot-tall maize made me look even shorter.

Recently planted maize is being irrigated because the farm is suffering from a lack of rain even as Uganda is coming into its shorter rainy season. All week I have seen this maize be a disappointment because of the problems it is facing. Erosion through the plots and pest epidemics are causing severe damage. Okello and his team are doing all they can to save the plot, but only harvest will tell if they are successful.

irrigation repairsIrrigation pipes are constantly needing repairs while they are being used and moved from field to field.

maize pestOne of the pests commonly found in the maize fields.

insecticide sprayed with backpack sprayersMaize is sprayed with insecticide to fight pests using backpack sprayers.

One of the quickest tasks was the work done in the pumpkin field. Pumpkins were tended to during the week by hand hoeing weeds and applying manure fertilizer that was provided from the Buloba chicken farm, another Watoto sustainable agriculture project.

weeding pumpkin fieldDifferences can be seen in pumpkin field before and after weeding.

fertilize pumpkinsFertilizer is placed around the pumpkins after weeding.

Overall, my week of following Okello's footsteps was enlightening and encouraging. He has a great team of workers that are knowledgeable and consistent. Even with the many working sections of the farm, I am confident that between my skills and the knowledge of the community workers, Lubbe farm will continue to run smoothly. Okello has shown me the steps to take, but as always, nothing ever goes perfectly here like you plan. Uganda has trained me well, and I am now ready for anything.

understand lubbeOkello continues to lead me through fields to better understand Lubbe and all its beauty.

About the Author

Lacey Roberts is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Roberts is from Gail, Texas, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on international development and extension education.

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