>h4>Impressions of the African Landcare Master Class 2012
By Rob Youl, Chairman ALI
From 16-28 March 2012 I had a wonderful trip to Kenya and Uganda via Dubai to attend the African Landcare Master Class. The trip was, as expected, extraordinary—huge developments along a straight sandy coastline over many kilometres, laid out with the soaring Burj Khalifa the focus in the central north-east and industry concentrated at the other end of the conurbation. Beyond that an hour or so of unbroken beige Arabian sand dunes with just a few roads and outposts, villages in the ranges along the Gulf of Aden, a brief period over the sea then vast tracts of dry woodland in Somalia and Ethiopia—apart from occasional tracks I could see no evidence of settlement.
I had two nights in Nairobi (1700 m) at a hotel in the UN/diplomatic zone, formerly a focus for the British community—superb houses set in gardens, red soil, lots of trees including tall eucalypts. Much of the rest of Nairobi is far less salubrious, but people get by and look healthy and well dressed. Dusty roadside markets, heavy traffic, little provision for pedestrians, substantial but not always connecting stretches of freeway, lots of schools, especially religious ones—as families are large—5-8 kids. (Muslims form 10-12 per cent of the population in both Kenya and Uganda.) Also noticeable is the corporate presence—numerous international companies. And, as ever in the developing world, disturbing piles of plastic rubbish abound along roads and around settlements.
The Australian contingent was Julian Prior, UNE; Theo Nabben (and charming wife, Linda) and the invaluable Mieke Bourne, WA; and Victorians Bruce Lloyd, Rowan Reid, Mary Johnson and me. We flew to Entebbe, Kampala’s airport, half the time over mighty Lake Victoria, then drove east for 4-5 hours. The first hour through crowded Kampala and its outskirts traversed more red soil country with patches of jungle, as well as a huge sugar plantation—we wondered if this were a case of foreign investors (even countries, such as Japan, Korea and China, are doing this) making a political deal, and displacing local farmers to establish highly profitable but unsustainable farming ventures under the imperative of food security. Next came the Nile, with two substantial hydro stations and three crossings each 100-200 m wide, pouring out of Lake Victoria and starting its long run northwards. From then on eastwards it was much drier and all farmland and villages: maize, bananas/plantains, sugar cane, tomatoes, cassava, manioc, taro, avocados, mangoes, occasionally rice paddies hacked from papyrus swamps. A village every five kilometres—as darkness fell people gathered to chat and cook together—you could smell the charcoal. Although electricity lines ran parallel with the road and one occasionally saw a TV glimmering, there seemed little electric light. Eventually at Mbale in eastern Uganda—a town of 100 000 people—we booked into Mount Elgon Hotel for six nights to run our five-day Landcare master class. Nearby is the huge Mt Elgon forest and park. Elgon is an extinct volcano some 4200 m high.
Training covered Landcare principles, policy, organisational and financial management, partnerships and fund-raising, incentives, communications, community education campaigns, technology, monitoring, evaluation and networking. It emphasised the role of women in Landcare, and lessons learned in Australia were shared and analysed. Building effective community groups and facilitation skills were of paramount importance. On the last day, participants drafted outline plans for their home countries. The mood was enthusiastic and collaborative, not surprising given the inter-government co-operation and economic integration in East Africa, and participants reported positively on the relevance and broad coverage of their training.
So it looks like Landcare is doing well in East Africa. We had thirty students from Uganda, Rwanda (now part of the Commonwealth—a development not widely known—Angola apparently wants to join too), Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Ethiopia.
The field trip was fantastic. Our one-day tour to the Kapchorwa district (its mayor Sam Cheptoris was part of the class), with smoke over the plains and everyone awaiting the rains, revealed that, under an umbrella of food security and sustainable farming, Landcare in Uganda combines unselfish communal working bees to improve water and soil conservation with community and individual enterprise development.
Firstly we saw a group with beehives in the buffer zone between the farms and jungle. This was sanctioned, with light firewood gathering, by the park manager, which meant the local people had a cash crop and an incentive to maintain the official boundary, rather than continually moving into the forest, burning it and stealing logs. Ultimately they might extend this to producing medicinal herbs and offering ecotourism walks, maybe even a native tree nursery to produce tree seedlings to enhance the buffer strip. The next stop showed us communal programs to provide households with dairy cows—fodder: banana leaves, Napier grass. The cattle yield 8 litres/day (and manure for biogas generation) and eventually every farm will have one—don’t know how they are inseminated. But the hurdle is water—there’s plenty in the wet season, expected any day, although no evidence of tanks or ponds. However, in the dry season, when we were there, all water is carted a distance. The group works together digging trenches to reduce runoff and hold water sufficiently long to promote Napier grass growth. The third group was Islamic and was interested in better agroforestry and a community enterprise, a sunflower oil plant.
Religion (as indicated earlier there are Christian and Muslim Landcare groups—we started each day with a prayer) and story-telling through dance, song and plays proved important. Moreover, Landcare was trying to grapple with the ruinous practice of cultivating to the edge of the (at the time, but soon to change with the wet season) fitful streams.
We returned via Kampala and Entebbe to Nairobi, and Mary, Rowan and I talked to ACIAR’s John Dixon, ICRAF’s Constance Neely and Arthur Getz Escudero over lunch. Next day Mary and I sat in on an ICRAF staff development course in a former settlers club outside Nairobi, before I returned home. For me, these two trips demanded lengthy readjustment. Dunno how people get on who are always travelling. It must be difficult to continually regroup and focus.
Finally, it’s now apparent, that our 2006 Melbourne master class brought, or contributed strongly to, several useful, even impressive, outcomes:
• Landcare further expanded and flourished in RSA and its southern African neighbours, and started developing in East Africa through the ALN, which had formed at the third RSA national Landcare conference earlier in 2006
• Landcare emerged in Sri Lanka
• Growth continued strongly in the Philippines
• The Fijians kept the concept in mind, so that in 2011, with WWF, they were able to launch two Landcare groups in the outer islands to promote better land and reef management
• Landcare’s toehold in the US expanded, namely in Virginia and North Carolina.