After two and a half weeks travelling around Uganda with my family, I arrived at Sabina on Wednesday afternoon 22nd October, to be met by Dan and Mike, plus the kids and staff. I spent the next two days getting acclimatised and helping a little with the permaculture project.
The mandala garden was most impressive and very productive. The extensive water management system of swales, diversion drains and ponds had recently been dug and I was able to help Dan and Mike with planting of the swale mounds and the banks of the pond.
On the Saturday I ran a workshop for about 20 people, including Sabina staff and teachers, two local farmers, agricultural college teachers, three community gardeners from near Kampala, some American Peace Corps volunteers, and a couple of the Sabina students. The topics covered in the workshop included soil improvement, seed saving, worm farming and, by special request, pests and diseases.
With most people in Uganda being able to grow their own food, the workshop became more an exchange of ideas and practices between me and the participants. They were all knowledgeable about crop rotation and companion planting, but seemed to have little awareness of composting and the use of mulch. The rationale for saving seeds and the disadvantages of hybrid and GM seeds were appreciated by most but one participant spoke in favour of GM, mentioning an improved (?GM) variety of banana in support of his argument.
They were very interested in the 'white oil' (soap and vegetable oil) spray concentrate that I made and then used on some aphids on cabbage in the mandala garden. They were particularly enthused when we started a small worm farm in a container Mike had fashioned out of an old trunk, with compost worms that I had brought with me from Australia. A tour of the permaculture project led by Dan and me was also included in the workshop and one of the agriculture teachers said he was most impressed by the productivity and health of the mandala garden.
The workshop was held in the library which had been recently painted and cleaned, and the Sabina kitchen made a sumptuous lunch for the workshop participants, including some greens from the mandala garden. Three photographers from the US and Ireland were visiting Sabina and took photos of the workshop.
Evaluation of the workshop by the participants was quite favourable, though I had overestimated the ability of some of the participants to fully understand my Aussie English. I could have used an interpreter more than I did. Ten year old Kayinga Andrew's comment, when asked to say one good thing and one not so good thing about the workshop, was that "The good thing is that I learned that worms are good for the soil. The bad thing is that I am sad because I used to think they were dangerous and when I was digging I would cut them"!
The success of this workshop, and of the others that have been held, certainly indicates that one key activity of the project should be an ongoing series of educational activities.
Dan and Mike and I spent some time discussing the permaculture design that Rowe, Dan, Amanda and Mike had done for the Sabina site. I was impressed by the design, and proof of its effectiveness was already evident in the productive mandala garden and the performance of the swales in the heavy rain. My only comment was that it may be preferable to stop vehicles using the turnaround area between the library and the home, so that it could be planted with trees and grass or other ground cover plants to prevent the dust in the dry and mud in the wet from such a large expanse of bare earth.
I did make some suggestions for other trees that could be included in the plantings, including Inga (Ice cream bean), Acerola Cherry, Tamarind, Carob, Ibeka and Black Sapote. I said I would see if I could post some seed of these trees to the project. However, I have found that seeds and plants are restricted imports into Uganda and I would have to get phyto-sanitary certification and a whole lot of other paper work, unless I lied on the declaration, and then I could be liable to prosecution. Inga is a legume that has shown weedy potential in some areas of Australia with a similar climate to Sabina's, so perhaps it should not be considered. Most of the others may well already be in Uganda and may be able to be tracked down at other permaculture projects or tree projects. I wil do some more internet research and let you know if I find anything.
After the workshop, Uncle Ddembe Joseph showed me his family's garden next door to Sabina, and then took me further on to show me a plot of land on which Bkenya Peter, with Uncle Ddembe Joseph's support, is growing passionfruit on wire trellises with an understorey of coffee. This great example of productive permaculture stacking has been established as a cash crop to generate funds to support Bkenya Peter's further education, and I was impressed by the effort that Bkenya Peter and Ddembe Joseph had put into it. It also demonstrates that the local people can be quite enterprising and that the permaculture project can work with those people and support them in their own projects.
While the first priority for the permaculture project at Sabina must be to grow vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk and meat to broaden the diet of the children, it may be worth exploring, as the project develops, the future possibility of growing cash crops as well, along the lines of Bkenya Peter's project.
So thankyou to you all for giving me the opportunity to visit and contribute, in a small way, to this exciting project. I learnt a lot and enjoyed it very much, even the cold sponge bathing, the posho and the beans! And the kids, of course, were amazing. I will never forget them.
Cheers and Best Wishes
Northey Street City Farm
Note: See photos from Dick's workshop here