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Tanner Roark

By Tanner Roark, 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow

Posted Mar. 29, 2016

To say we are busy would be an understatement. We have just enough time to take a deep breath before starting on the next project. This week we have gotten a lot done. Let me catch you up. The rain has started to trickle in, and we have planted all of our beans. The tank stands were finished and the 10,000-liter tanks have been safely put on the stand with rope and elbow grease.

Thankfully this water tank made it to the top safe and sound.Thankfully this water tank made it to the top safe and sound.

Farmers have to stick together. In many rural locations that's all the people there are anyway. I had the opportunity to visit a couple of farms and see what projects they had going. These visits are important for many reasons. Not only do they keep a friendly vibe flowing through the different farms, but they allow for the exchange of ideas.

Oftentimes there is a gap in the exchange of information between farmers and those in the lab doing research. In many places around Uganda, innovation is coming from farmer-led initiatives. Even though these farmers may not have labs and expensive analyzing equipment, they do have great indigenous knowledge and time-tested methods passed down through generations. It is important to note that both scientists and farmers can learn from and benefit each other. The key for this exchange of ideas and information to work is respect. Farmers and researchers must work together to feed the world.

My favorite part of the week was my visit to a coffee plantation.My favorite part of the week was my visit to a coffee plantation.

Agriculture is about relationships. Seed and soil, technique and environment, farmer and community are all relationships important to agriculture. Perhaps the hardest relationship to maintain is between farm and community. One of the challenges we face at Lubbe is when to use a machine or human labor. It is very tempting to use one person to run a machine and do the work of 30-plus people, but unemployment in Uganda is high and jobs are often scarce.

If Lubbe uses a machine to do work, it cuts down on human labor costs, but also runs the risk of facing a very American problem: reliance on fossil fuels. It is a worrisome thought to me that our sustainability project is becoming more and more dependent on nonrenewable resources.

We had the opportunity to visit our neighbor at the farm next to us. We took a tour and asked many questions. This farm was not as mechanized as Lubbe but was employing more than 130 people. Not only was this farm able to gainfully employ and improve people's lives, they were also very profitable. This was one of the examples that proved to me the economic feasibility of employing a lot of people instead of machines.

I got in a few hours on the tractor this week.I got in a few hours on the tractor this week.

One principle of sustainability is the idea of using resources wisely. In the case of Uganda, one of the resources is people, lots of people, who are looking for jobs. While the tractors are a convenient tool to have, often the operators are not trained properly and others are left jobless. On our visit to the neighboring farm, the manager mentioned that "Your output will only be as good as your input, and it is important to realize that your employees are making the business money, not the machines." If Lubbe wishes to make a difference in people's lives, it will be important to be continually looking after the needs of their workers. Lubbe has an opportunity to be profitable, employ scores of people and farm in an environmentally friendly manner, but there is still much work to be done.

About the Author

Tanner Roark is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Roark is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where he focuses on international agriculture development.