I wrote this back on 12 June, but haven’t got around to publishing it until now. More to follow soon.
Well, we’ve landed on our feet again, this time by lake Bunyonyi in south-west Uganda.
We’re helping out at a place called Amasiko headed up by a Dutch guy called Wilfried who has a vision of doing things in a more sustainable and ecological way. Amasiko runs a nursery, a primary school, an eco-lodge, and a two-hectare farm developed using permaculture principles. The lodge is supported by trainees and local tradesmen. It’s a community organisation set up to improve local sustainability through education based on Steiner principles and by providing training in sustainable agriculture and hospitality, as well as demonstrating sustainable farming in action.
It’s a beautiful haven, with abundant bird life, views over the lake and rolling hills covered with a patchwork of smallholdings, a cool but sunny climate and genuinely lovely people. Simple ecologically built shelters are dotted about a wooded hillside overlooking the lake – some are made from offcuts of wood, others with earthbags, and others using locally made bricks. Each has its own veranda and we’ve been treated to views of crowned cranes, sunbirds, weaverbirds, firefinches, and plenty more that we don’t know the names of.
The altitude (2000 metres, or around 6600 feet) is such that there are no hippos and no crocs around so it’s safe for swimming, creepy crawlies are kept in check by the birds and there are so few mozzies we don’t use a net.
We share meals with guests and the people who work here and have thoroughly enjoyed a Saturday night campfire with beers, barbecue and some music.
Amasiko is seeking to address the problems caused by various issues. Land is scarce here due to population growth, and individuals have very small plots to grow food for their families and sell a little on where they can. Soil erosion is caused by farming on hillsides (people till the land, and slowly, slowly it falls down the hillsides), this alongside a lack of fallow periods (there’s not enough land to allow this), growth of single crops, and use of harsh chemicals for pest control and fertiliser, places a real strain on the land.
These issues can be addressed in some simple cost-effective ways, through growing a combination of crops, planting deep-rooting grasses at the lower end of plots (to hold the soil in place and create natural terraces) and native trees, making compost with food scraps and manure and other simple techniques. In the early days at Amasiko, there was a problem with caterpillars and some crops were lost. A year later, the bushes and trees had grown enough to support more birds, the birds ate the caterpillars and the problem was solved.
Many chemicals to improve crops are being introduced to subsistence farmers in the countries we’ve visited, and it’s easy to see why people buy them – they promise bigger harvests. Native trees are cut down to make room for crops and for firewood as well. But in the long term, these practices damage a delicate ecosystem, deplete the land, and contribute to issues like climate change and loss of natural habitat for a huge wealth of creatures.
You have to work hard to make the case for sustainable practices and many people find change difficult, which is why Amasiko is focusing on the younger generation.
Of course, Ross and I are neither educators nor organic farmers, so we can’t help in those ways, but we are working on some marketing materials (leaflets mostly), and a five-year operational plan for the development of the organisation.
We have some news! Flats have been troublesome and money is running out, so we’re heading home on 2 August. It’s earlier than originally planned, but we are so enriched by the experiences we’ve had and looking forward to those still to come. We are also very much looking forward to catching up with all of you. And also cheese. We are looking forward to cheese. And Pouilly Fume, Gavi, Prosecco, good bread… (…and Brighton’s first game in the prem, dominos pizza, a cold beer, and proper pesto! Ross).
Love to you all!