Enriching poor farmers
BMS World Mission and its partners in Uganda are giving a new vision to farmers – and a way of tackling the root causes of poverty.
BMS agriculturalist Alex Vickers examines the tough way of life for the vast majority of people in northern Uganda and shows how a way of farming based on Christian principles can make the world of difference.
We all have dreams of what we will be and what we will do when we are older, but the reality for 90 per cent of children in Uganda is that they will be farmers… because 90 per cent of all people in Uganda are farmers!
In the villages and camps around Gulu in northern Uganda, of the 90 per cent who are farmers, only five to seven per cent of those have any other source of income. This means that around 93 per cent of the 90 per cent total population in this region rely solely on farming for all of their requirements.
They must grow crops and raise animals for all their food, for the materials to build their houses, for the money to pay for medicines, school fees for their kids, clothes, shoes, everything – it must be grown or they go without.
Roots of poverty
This is hard work, so the children will dig and feed the animals before they set off for school at 7.00am. They will dig some more when they get home.
The parents will dig, build and do all the other things needed to keep the house going every day, all day.
If the rains fail or if the crops are eaten by your neighbours’ goats, then you go without. If you have no husband, no parents, you are sick, have HIV or are disabled… then what?
You have probably just seen Comic Relief, but have you wondered where this poverty comes from? Subsistence farming like this is one of the foundations of high infant mortality, of poor education, of low life expectancy, of child labour and of child trafficking.
Doing it differently
There is another way. Farming the rich Ugandan soil can be a way out of this cycle of hand-to-mouth living and it does not need big tractors, bags of fertiliser or expensive agro-chemicals.
Farmers in many parts of Africa, and now also in Uganda, are discovering that God has provided all that is needed right where they are. It just takes the courage to hope and the vision to see what their farms might be if they do it just a little differently.
We read in Genesis 2: 8 that God planted the first garden (indeed, he clothed the whole earth in an amazing diversity of plants and trees) but for a farmer to realise that God was also a farmer – indeed the very first farmer – can be quite astonishing. It is even more exciting to realise that the Bible is crammed with good guidance for farmers.
It is a mantra of many development organisations that the most successful projects are those which have a root in local beliefs and culture.
Farming in a way that is pleasing to God is just such a system as it works closely with people’s faith, offering them new methods of farming, working and living that honour God and his creation. Farming like this offers big increases in crop yields as well, which is a bonus!
Combining discipleship with farmer training allows people to link two vital but often disconnected parts of their life. They see that farming in ways which conserve the soil, which work with the natural systems of bio-diversity and not against them can actually make them richer, stronger and healthier.
To believe that farming is not the last resort but can be a respected calling and a source of wealth and health for their families is a revelation indeed.
How does this happen? Well, the principles of conservation farming have been around for years. Such things like minimum or zero ploughing, smother mulching (look it up, it’s great in your own gardens – give it a go!), contour cultivation, water conservation and crop rotation are tried and tested.
Other methods include:
- Disciplined farming where jobs are done on time, every time, in an act of worship and obedience to God and things start to change.
- Making compost and liquid feeds (shown in the photo above) from the things normally burnt.
- Growing trees such as avocado and mango to vary income stream.
- Growing hedges from tree species that also add nitrogen to soil and can be used as feed for animals and family.
- Having a tree nursery so the types of trees you and your neighbours need can be produced without having to spend money.
Plan of action
And all this can happen within a clear plan that maps out what your farm will look like in five years’ time. (God is the master of planning, have you read his instructions for the Ark that he passed on to Noah? God really knows about how to plan!)
Can a subsistence farmer increase their income from £350 to £3,000 year by year by doing these things? Yes, they can. They are and they will do so in increasing numbers thanks to your support, prayer and giving.
BMS World Mission, with its partners in Uganda, and many other supporters like you, are involved in making these things come true. And for that we thank you.
The couple have two daughters, Harriet and Bethany, and the family has been living and working in Uganda since August 2010. Read their prayer letters for more information.
Three children & cutting leaves: Alex Vickers
All others: © Richard Hanson/BMS World Mission