I have had the privilege of working with Ian and Neva Handy from Queensland, Australia, this week. They have a very large and successful nursery business and found Watoto five years ago before much of the agriculture had been developed. The vegetable farm was just newly purchased land filled with trees and bushes when they first committed themselves to helping develop Watoto's agriculture. I would love to have seen the farm before all the development; it must be quite the feeling of accomplishment that Ian feels each time he comes and more development has occurred.
But there are always struggles from Ian's perspective. The farming practices aren't as efficient as a modern farmer like Ian would hope for. A tractor is always plowing the land at the farm, though working the land so intensively isn't necessary. The farm has all the implements it needs to farm the land well, but the workers only use a select few implements in sometimes inappropriate situations. Further, the implements are too worn to work well but are used anyway. The cropping planning and rotations are not the most well thought out. For example, corn is planted on the same plot many seasons in a row, not giving the land the chance to replenish itself nutritionally. Each row of vegetable crops has large gaps from failed plants because of disease or poor planting, decreasing the yield per acre and missing the potential.
Low yield per acre for the popular beetroot crop.
Ian troubleshooting the fertilizer drop on the planting implement.
Many times that Ian comes, a certain project is organized to complete under his guidance and counsel. This time, we are expanding the irrigation system to be able to irrigate half the farm, more than 50 acres. Cynthia, the project manager for Watoto's vegetable farm, applied for and was selected to receive a grant for $50,000 from a humanitarian organization in Holland. The farm already has a 30-acre irrigation dam that was built a couple of years ago. The water is there, the lines just need to be placed to reach its potential.
Ian, Cynthia and Neva overseeing the workers.
The first three days of Ian's stay here were filled with planning and shopping. Shopping takes much longer here in Uganda than back home due to traffic and no irrigation company having everything you need. But at least there are irrigation companies available. So we shopped and shopped. We purchased 900 meters of pipe, fittings, sprinkler sets, a water pump, filters and more. It was exhausting!
But finally, on day four, some of the supplies we needed arrived. We also had a backhoe delivered to begin digging the line for the underground mainline pipe. The next couple of days were filled with a lot of waiting for the trench to be dug, a lot of gluing of pipes, and a lot of problem solving when the joints didn't set correctly and angles had to be made.
Workers unload some of the sprinkler pipe, 200 10-meter pipes to be placed between each sprinkler.
Ian overlooking the trench for the 6-inch underground pipe.
Did I mention that some of the trench digging was done by prison workers? Watoto employs the local prison to do some of their larger scale harvesting, weeding and digging. I've gotten quite used to men in yellow suits staring at me, a strange "mzungu" girl.
Prison workers digging trench where the backhoe couldn't access.
It's the end of the week, and the work is not yet done. But Ian and Neva have to go back home to Australia, so we'll have to carry on by ourselves to finish the project.
Emily Jost is a 2015 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Jost is from Edmond, Oklahoma, and is in her final semester in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on sustainable development.