Friday, 11 December 2015

Inspiration from Under the Mango Tree

Two weeks ago I spent time in the Teso Region of Uganda, based in Soroti. Teso can be found in Eastern Uganda and it’s about a 5-6 hour drive from Kampala, depending on traffic (also lovingly referred to as “the jam”). But it’s not just any drive – it’s stunning!

It is amazing how you can find yourself in a completely different part of the world, and yet find similarities. As we drove, I was overwhelmed by just how beautiful it was. Seeing long, flat agricultural landscapes met by large mountainous backdrops, the greens of the land, the blues of the sky, it seemed endless – even at night it was a lot for the eyes to take in! The spans of crops along the roadside seemed all to familiar of drives along Nova Scotia’s Valley areas, having only the obvious presence of native Ugandan flora to mark the difference.

The first full day in Soroti was spent ‘in the field,’ where we met with farmers from two different areas. It was really interesting to hear about the struggles they had been experiencing, in contrast to how new methods introduced through FRA programming has improved their livelihoods and overall ability to produce. However, many discussed the difficult battle of drought versus flooding. This, of course, peeked my interest, given my concern for water-related issues. And, it is this topic that I will partially be working on during my time with FRA*. I was also able to meet with an inspiring young farmer, who was the epitome of what youth the world over should be aspiring to achieve! She proudly showed us her small farm, and spoke of her challenges and the importance of young people taking on agricultural positions.

The first 'Under the Mango Tree' session.
The second farmers group we met with - full of young, enthusiastic, hardworking people! 
This is Barbara, the young farmer I spent a little one-on-one time with, and part of her farm. 
The next two days were spent indoors in Katakwi and Soroti, respectively, where dialogue meetings with farmers, local government and various stakeholders (NGOs, basically) gathered to discuss the challenges faced in the field. The two days were really interesting, with similar topics being raised at both – drought, flooding (yes, it is possible to face both extremes, often one following the other), disease, lack of interest of the youth, lack of financial and educational support systems, etc. And while these were really important issues to be raised, what I felt was the most distinguishing part of these meetings was the session that followed.

After airing their grievances and finding solidarity from one sub-county to the next, the farmers were asked to highlight some of the positive things that the government had done for them. I’ll be honest, I thought this may was going to be a challenging exercise, but it turns out it was quite simple. Before long, each group was able to list of a series of good outcomes, ranging from being supportive – even though many of the government workers are stretched beyond their means – to just showing up to the dialogue and being willing to listen. The non-farmer participants were also given time to respond and also provide their own feedback. But, I’d say it was quite the success!

I have to tell you one awkwardly delightful, or delightfully awkward tale! While we were in Katakwi, the venue for the meeting was changed last minute. So, the room we were given was a bit too small for our group. Part of my responsibility for this trip was to document, using two of my three favourite methods – film and photograph. Since the room was small and there wasn’t much room to move around, I opted to sit near one of the two entrances.  Before long a small group of children appeared by my side, each wanting to say hello and stroke my arm**. Then, something happened that I just didn’t see coming – one of the kids stroked my arm, made eye contact with me, and then proceeded to lick my arm. And, I’m not talking about a curious, I’m just going in for a casual lick… No! I’m talking full on slobbery, my arm was dripping, sort of lick. It was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve felt in a long time - if not ever! Anyway, it provided me with a really good chuckle, so… worth… it?

-the Orange Canadian

*The other part will be researching how to improve cross-generational knowledge transfer in agriculture.

**This isn’t an unusual happenstance…and had taken place even during my time in Ghana.

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