Berkshire farm's lesson for African growers

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The Independent Online
A FARM in Berkshire which specialises in organic farming has become a vital training ground for farmers from Uganda, who are learning how to grow food which will help them fight poverty at home, writes Diana Blamires.

Although Uganda was once called the "breadbasket" of Africa, civil war and the pressure for cash crops have left the majority of the country's population at subsistence levels. At Warren Farm student farmers are reaping knowledge which will improve methods when they return to Uganda.

The seven-acre farm is owned and funded by a Ugandan organisation, the Kulika Charitable Trust. Chairwoman Patricia Brenninkmeyer said: "The best way to help the country is to increase its manpower, with medical and academic assistance."

In Uganda modern farming methods have depleted the land, damaging its ecological balance and creating economic dependence, leading to debt.

After eight months, the trainees go home as teachers, explaining methods of sustainable farming to farmers at home. One of the students, Joy Okech Nsubuga, 39, said: "You need to persuade the soil to be with you and care for you. If you mistreat it, it runs away."

Back in Uganda she mainly grows coffee for export and already has a demonstration garden benefiting local growers.

Students gain a diploma from the University of Reading on completion of the course.

Most of Uganda is without electricity. Although some power tools are used in lessons, students are encouraged to use and maintain hand tools.

However, many Ugandan farmers are addicted to the short-term fix of biochemicals, so persuading them to take up a more labour-intensive, time- consuming organic method could be difficult.

But as one student, Perezei Steven Wanambwa Wamboga, 33, explained: "Green ground will tell much more than words. The land is the blackboard for my farmers."