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Manual Labor Builds Character

By LaNese Mahan, 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow

Posted Sep. 28, 2017

Growing up I heard my father say, "manual labor builds character," countless times, and this week I found myself repeating that phrase to my newfound friends. I am no stranger to farm work, however, it can be quite tiresome when you add in the African sun.

This week we visited the Barlonyo school garden and Calo Me Lare to work on the compost system.

My background is not in gardening, so Walter, the man who manages the Barlonyo garden, made me a cheat sheet to help with Monday’s task. We were able to dig two compost pits and start the compost process.

compost pitsIrene and LaNese stand in the newly dug compost pits at the Barlonyo school garden.

Building a Compost System in Uganda

First we dug two compost pits.

Once we finished digging the pits, we proceeded to gather the materials needed to start the compost. We gathered dried grasses (soybean products and maize straw), fresh grasses, kitchen leftovers, animal manure, ash, and water.

Layer 1: The first layer of the compost was the dried grasses; once the layer was spread evenly, we applied a little water to help with the decomposing process.

Layer 2: The second layer contained the fresh grasses. Walter used an ax and log to chop the grass into smaller pieces, to help them decompose (see picture below).

Layer 3: The third layer is meant to be kitchen material. Unfortunately, we did not have anything available. So, we used the leftovers from the onion harvest.

Layer 4: Once we finished the third layer, we added the animal manure.

Layer 5: Compost pits can become acidic, so adding ash, as the fifth layer, will help combat this issues.

Then we mounded dirt along the top of the pit to keep the compost from the sunlight. Compost usually takes three or four weeks before it is ready to be turned to the next pit for further processing.

chopping-grassWalter from the Barlonyo school garden uses an ax to chop the freshly cut grass for the compost pit.

And Repeat

On Thursday, we visited Calo Me Lare to repeat the training. The training was the same, however, it was done in Luo (native language). The groundskeepers were there to help construct the pits as well as learn how to make compost. We ran into a couple obstacles: not having a prime spot and then the rocky soil. However, we overcame these obstacles and finished two compost pits. Next week, we are planning to return to finish the pits at both schools. Also, in three weeks, we will be there to help them turn the compost to the next pit and restart the process.

As I stated earlier, gardening is not my area of expertise. However, I have learned so much during my short time here in Uganda that I might consider gardening when I return home. I have also learned the importance of sunscreen! Thank you, African sun, for the nice farmer’s tan.

About the Author

LaNese Mahan is a 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Mahan is from Sheridan, Arkansas, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on education and sustainability. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.