Think gardening is hard? Try farming.

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Heather Thorne Matthews is the Director of Information and Communications Technology Innovation at the Grameen Foundation’s Technology Center.

When I was in Uganda about a month ago, I spent 2 days living in a village with one of our CKWs, Simon, and saw first-hand how the farmers we are serving through the CKW program live.  Simon is featured in the video below where he explains the Community Knowledge Worker program to one of his fellow farmers.

I understood that life was hard for our CKWs and their neighboring farmers, but it really hit me after doing manual labor in my own small urban yard all weekend.  I had an electric edger, hoe, shovel, rake, broom, hose and wheelbarrow (albeit with a flat tire).  In comparison, the smallholder farmers we work with in Uganda work their land by hand, have few tools, rely solely on the rains to irrigate their crops, and often carry their harvest in bags on their heads, working through the day without lunch.   They come back to their huts in the evening where there is no shower, or refrigerator with iced tea to cool them off.  Yet they are thankful for what they have, and they get up each day and do it again.

By 3pm Sunday afternoon, several hours into my own gardening project, I could hardly walk.  I limped upstairs and lay flat on my cool floor for an hour, back aching and every muscle twitching.  Could I do this every day, if I had to grow my family’s food to survive?  If a Western development organization came offering to help, what could they possibly do to make my life better?

The easy answer would be “give me money”, but the more nuanced answer is give me confidence, capability, knowledge and financing so that I could buy better seeds and fertilizers, earn more from the same amount of work, and eventually increase my earnings, perhaps buying tools and hiring help so that the backbreaking work could be shared.  Once I saw my earnings increase, I could access additional financing so that I could grow my farm, diversify into new crops or livelihoods, and send my kids to school.  Once that flywheel is in motion, real change can occur, but as with all bold endeavors, the hardest part is to start.


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