29/06/18

How Sister Ann became an organic farmer

Sister Ann used to manage the reception desk at the guest house run by the Benedictine Community in the Mbale District of Eastern Uganda - that was until she met a group of Push-Pull farmers. Then, her working life changed fundamentally....

Anna Steindl, communication and Stefan Diener, programme officer

It all started in 2013. The Benedictine Community of which Sister Ann is a member welcomed a group of visitors from Kenya. It soon discovered that the guests were extremely well versed in agriculture and despite their physical disabilities were achieving excellent yields.

Secret to their success: Push-Pull

"I was seriously impressed by how the Push-Pull method had changed the lives of those farmers and so I decided to move my place of work from the office to the field,” explained Sister Ann to Biovision Project Officer Stefan Diener. With the agreement of her Mother Superior, she started a new career as a Push-Pull farmer on the Community’s farm in neighbouring Tororo.

Sister Ann shows Push-Pull expert Girma Hailu (icipe) the progress made on their land

Hard but worthwhile work

When Sister Ann started to cultivate the field, it looked pretty awful; it was covered with the stubborn weed striga as far as the eye could see. With the help of the other sisters, a great deal of hard work and perseverance – and Push-Pull - she prepared two areas for maize production. Even in her first season, she reaped the fruits of her labour: 3 ½ bags of maize!  “I would never have expected such a high yield on what was previously unproductive land,” says Sister Ann with amazement. Things were to get even better as the following year she harvested 7 bags of maize. Equally impressive was the fact that the desmodium planted between the rows of maize had completely suppressed the striga weed and driven away the stemborer pest.

Creating additional value

“I learned that the napier grass planted around the edge of the maize field attracted the pests away from the crop and also that the desmodium was valuable as a nutritious animal fodder. Milk production has increased from 8 – 12 litres since we started feeding the cows with napier grass and desmodium,” says Sister Ann with pleasure. She has also become a composting expert and now produces a valuable fertiliser of her own (see video sidebar).

“I can honestly say that Push Pull opened my eyes and can also testify that success begets success”

Sister Ann is now planning to integrate Push-Pull into other activities on the farm: In future, the pigs, hens and rabbits as well as the vegetable plot will all benefit from the Push-Pull by‑products. 

Setting a good example

The nuns’ success recently came to the attention of the Ugandan initiative Operation Wealth Creation, who provided them with coffee seedlings for a new plantation.

The Community’s impressive results were also noticed by the insect research institute icipe and in 2017 alone, a total of 240 farmer groups visited the farm for Push-Pull training. Inspired by the success of Sister Ann, numerous smallholders in the region are now using the Push-Pull method and the number continues to rise.