Tag Archives: charity

Guy’s Newsletter: farming, not buying

In 1999, after 12 years as an organic grower in the UK, I was starting to get the knack of it; my soils and crops were improving, sales were up and I had founded a local growers’ co-op. None of that prevented me being repeatedly told, “organic is all very well for the rich, but will never feed the world”. It has always struck me that industrialised, chemical agriculture wasn’t doing that well either, but I wanted to see for myself. Sub-Saharan Africa, where food couldn’t be described as a lifestyle choice, seemed a good place to start.

After a month in Kenya, visiting both subsistence farmers and large scale veg growers, I crossed the border into Uganda with a heavy heart; I had yet to see anything likely to inspire imitation, organic or not. My guide Timothy Njakasi and I spent a week visiting growers, many trained by him through the charity Send a Cow. There was plenty of bush burning and bad farming, but my spirits rose as I saw more integrated agriculture involving water conservation, composting and the use of trees and perennial crops in multi-canopy systems.

Established by a group of Devon farmers, Send a Cow teaches sustainable farming techniques across Africa using local skills and materials. I have been hugely impressed by their patient, ground-up approach, relying on demonstration and peer farmers to change lives permanently. According to the UN, small scale farms produce up to 80% of food in non-industrialised countries, and the agro-ecological techniques they generally employ have been shown to double yields in 3-5 years. This is far from the picture of futureless ‘peasant farming’ painted by the agri-chemical industry’s clever marketing. Yet as there is little opportunity to profit from such self-sufficient agriculture by selling chemicals or machinery, no-one with marketing money talks about it. Simply put, it’s hard to get support for farming that doesn’t involve buying stuff.

I have supported Send a Cow ever since that visit, and our staff and customers raise £25,000 every year to support their work. Until the end of December every £1 donated to Send a Cow will be matched by our government. For something that could change a family’s life forever, that has to be good value. Visit www.riverford.co.uk/sendacow for details.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: hand-ups, hunters & arses

I’m typing this in the shade of an acacia tree in Guru-Guru, northern Uganda. It’s midday and nothing will tempt the chickens and goats from the shade; all activity has stopped bar the crickets, yet five years ago this was a war zone. With the village destroyed and the ravages of HIV, former farmers were left dependent on handouts until the arrival of farming charity Send a Cow who have been rebuilding communities through sustainable agriculture here for three years. I’m visiting with one of our harvesters Jon, and Dale who works in quality control at Riverford, to learn how money raised by our staff and customers has been spent.

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The backdrop is a depressing one, with widespread and senseless bush burning. Seeing hundreds of mature trees killed and organic matter lost to help hunters catch giant rats for supper has, at times, reduced me to tears. There is also the added threat of Indian and Chinese land grabs lurking in the background. Yet there is also hope, energy and immense determination to rebuild lives through social change and improved agricultural practice. Send a Cow is at the heart of it.

Most farmers, whether in Devon or Uganda, don’t pay much heed to experts. The best way to influence them is to show a farmer like them, on land like theirs, doing better than them, and this is Send a Cow’s approach. There are no hand-outs, only hand-ups; farmers have to demonstrate commitment over at least six months before they receive seeds, livestock and training. I have seen lives transformed by the patient application of composting, water conservation, mulching, integration of livestock management with soil improvement alongside mixed, multi-canopy cropping.

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Send a Cow techniques of mulching and careful preservation of organic matter can make a farm from little more than bare soil. Here the beds are prepared, mulched and waiting for the rains. Last year these beds earned £1200; enough to buy a pig, goats and for the farmer Lallam send her children to school.

The results are permanent and being copied by neighbouring farmers. Far from being the net food importer it currently is, with these techniques I have no doubt Uganda could export large quantities of food without a grain of fertiliser, drop of pesticide or single GM seed. The spirit of the people is certainly helping the recovery process too. My favourite story is of a bunch of Indian ‘investors’ who were promised land by central government. They were seen off by the elder women of the village who blocked the road by stripping and baring their arses, and have not been heard of since.

 Guy Watson

If you’d like to help us support the work Send a Cow are doing in Africa, you can add £1 to your next order (or set it up as a regular donation) here.

goats, cows and giant carrots

Guy Watson, Margaret Kifuko and Martin Geake

Martin Geake (Director of Send a Cow) receiving a carrot-shaped cheque from Riverford for £10,000

We’ve been working with Send a Cow since March last year, organising joint events promoting sustainable farming practices globally and offering vegbox incentives for donors to the charity.

As part of Send a Cow’s Grow it Global project we gave our visitors the chance to see the workings of an African farm here at Riverford in

Margaret Kifuko Ugandan Farmer

Margaret Kifuko – our guest farmer from Uganda

Devon on Monday 3rd March with our guest Ugandan farmer Margaret Kifuko. Margaret taught everyone about keyhole gardens and bag gardens and we had farm walks and goats for everyone to meet.

On Tuesday 4th May we held an evening hosted by Guy Watson (Riverford Founder) and guest speaker Margaret at the Field Kitchen on Wash Farm, Devon. Martin Geake (Director of Send a Cow) received a carrot-shaped cheque from Riverford for £10,000 which was raised from various initiatives over the last year.

Huge thanks to all of our customers who have helped raise this, by buying garden fleece,  boxes to share and referring friends to Riverford.

a goat at Riverford

Along with farm walks, keyhole gardens and bag gardens, we had some goats on the farm for everyone to meet

Margaret will be with us until 14th May and in this time we are hosting 11 school visits at when Margaret will teach children about sustainable farming in Africa. Margaret joined a Send a Cow group in 1998 and received training in agriculture. The group gave her a cow, which has calved 4 times. Margaret practices sustainable organic agriculture, which has improved her soil’s fertility. She is now a peer farmer trainer and has turned her farm into a training centre.