Fred once planted subsistence crops in Uganda’s Kikonda Forest Reserve while his own land in the Kazo area was infested with weeds. “I knew it was illegal to plant in the forest,” he says. “But I took the risk for the sake of good soil.” He even rented land for growing, and sometimes lost crops when the owner wanted the land for grazing after a season.
It all changed in 2012 when he started working with forestry company global-woods. “I learned that my own soil could be as fertile as the forest if I cleared the weeds, mulched and used manure.” He began planting his maize in rows with the correct spacing. Within a year, his plot was chosen as one of the best in two counties.
Global-woods also sponsored him to attend a study tour to a leading banana farmer in southern Uganda. And he constantly interacts with the company’s agriculture extension officers.
Fred now gets 2.8 tons per acre of maize per season and provides about 10 seasonal jobs. Profits from his current crop will settle the global-woods loan that paid for a crib for maize storage. He has bought land from his neighbours, growing his plot to 18 acres. And he is gradually adding more livestock to diversify his farming.
Across the Hoima-Kampala road, in the village of Kiteredde, cattle keeper Godfrey Kumaana has put up fences to keep his herd on his own land.
Godfrey bought his land, bang in the middle of Uganda’s cattle corridor of rich grasslands, in 2000. It was too overgrown to sustain his herd, he says, so he took them into the reserve to graze.
“Around 2012, global-woods started training us in managing our herds. From spending at least 12,000 Ugandan shillings a day on food, I have not bought food for three years.” Instead, he spends on school fees for seven children and the health of his cows.
Godfrey started cross-breeding his cows to increase milk yields. “I was getting a maximum of 10 litres a day from 80 cows; now I get 50 litres from 10 cows.”
“They dug a valley tank over there,” he says, pointing to a dam, “and supplied me with a pump.” Global-woods has so far provided 15 dams specifically for cattle keepers.
“I am encouraged by frequent visits from global-woods, and the training, advice and technical support. The whole package is aimed at my own good and the good of my family, and I embrace it. My family is living a settled life now, and I am at peace … I don’t have to feel guilty that I am doing something illegal.”
Godfrey now chairs the local cattle keepers’ association. “I am optimistic. Learning is gradual, and not all cattle keepers are moving at the same pace. But all of those around the reserve are seeing that it is time to change.”
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Four years ago, Karagi villagers got together with global-woods and set up a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), which entails involves saving, borrowing, repaying with interest, and sharing profits after a one-year cycle. “Until then, we were cultivating, digging, nothing else,” chair Regina Makyanzi recalls.
Global-woods offers the group regular training and help in financial management, but the dreams and successes belong to the 29 women and six men who make up the VSLA. Not one sees a need to cultivate in the forest. And each has a story to tell.
Regina, for example, tells how she was terrified to spend her first loan. But she bought two piglets, borrowed more to buy a young bull, and became a millionaire when she sold them. Today, she owns a shop.
Anthony Drabom was once “deep in the village”, but is now happily running his own shop.
Moreem Kisakye has started a mobile money business and bought two plots. “We are all shiny now,” she says.