The 1978-79 war and subsequent political turmoil in Uganda led to a failure of agricultural extension services, leaving peasants to farm with archaic methods. This led to soil impoverishment, failing crop production and severe environmental degradation. A growing population and traditional inheritance practices led to land fragmentation and further soil impoverishment. During the 1980s and 1990s the country was ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, further reducing the capacity of families to farm. During this period coffee failed due to severe wilt and prices on the international markets collapsed. The effect of these events was to exacerbate poverty, food insecurity and environmental degradation. The most vulnerable groups, women, widows and orphans were the most affected by the situation.
St. Jude Family Project is a Community Based Organization (CBO) in Masaka, Uganda that began as a small organic farm on 3 acres owned by John and Josephine Kizza since the 1980s. Its purpose is to improve household income, crop yields, household food security and diet. St. Jude teaches the most vulnerable groups in the society ways of improving family subsistence farming and diet. The training techniques use locally available materials and the methods used are environmentally sustainable. St. Jude works mainly with rural families, many of who are supporting orphans, and youth groups. St. Jude targets groups in areas where farming techniques are poor and soils are depleted, especially in its immediate vicinity. St. Jude trains many groups of local farmers who then become part of the St. Jude Farmers Association. Support from overseas donors has enabled St. Jude to provide training and support to very poor local farmers who cannot afford training fees.
At the St. Jude farm, rural farmers experience modern scientific integrated organic agriculture and low-cost, environmentally sustainable innovations that increase productivity. A wide range of subsistence and income generating farming projects are located at the farm, and many useful sustainable organic farming techniques can be demonstrated and seen in action. The integrated farming ensures that all farm products are used including run-off water for irrigation and home use, manure for biogas and compost, animal urine for pest control and manure, and weeds and kitchen waste for compost making. Integrated organic farming is based on an integrated cycle, which requires few additional inputs.
The appropriate technology demonstrated at St. Jude includes soil and water conservation, water-harvesting techniques including water storage, fuel conserving stoves, portable solar driers for home use, and a biogas digester for cooking with methane. The introduction of large-scale solar drying facilities for organically grown fruits has enabled organic farmers to be certified and find a market for their produce.
Training courses that are appropriate for adult learning have been developed with a combination of theory and practical work. The practical training enables adult groups with low literacy to make improvements in their lives. The training involves improved management and labor saving techniques.
The introduction of improved animals breeds at St. Jude by crossing local with imported breeds has enabled many farmers to increase production of meat and milk. St. Jude has pioneered the improvement of local poultry by crossbreeding, increasing the egg and meat production of the birds. St. Jude has also introduced local farmers to new cash crops such as vanilla and improved coffee varieties.
In the early days of the St. Jude project the main form of training was farm tours. St. Jude has since evolved into a training center. In a typical year, the St. Jude Training Center trains over 20,000 farmers. The training seeks to reduce the burden on women, who do most of the work in the home and farms. Fuel conserving stoves made by St. Jude from bricks and clay reduce by more than 50% the firewood required. Water is another burden for women that St. Jude seeks to reduce. St Jude has developed a safe, low-cost water storage system that uses a pit, black polythene bags as the liner, and a small lockable trap door to ensure the safety of the supply.
St. Jude trains farmers in a variety of methods of fruit drying and food processing. As a result, 147 farmers have been certified as organic growers by KRAV, a certifying company in Sweden. The need for solar drying is an indicator of the effectiveness of training in organic farming. Local groups are now producing a surplus of food crops, but the local markets are insufficient and the over-supply has caused prices to fall. To improve family nutrition and income, St. Jude developed ways of preserving fruits for the home and for access to better markets. Because ripe fruit spoils easily and transportation on poor roads is difficult, St. Jude developed a simple portable solar drier for home use - a box on four legs with a plastic cover, and a tray for the fruit or vegetable inside. These simple portable driers can dry a wide range of produce to add value for sale. The materials used for the portable driers are affordable and locally available. The plastic covers are in many shops, and the wooden box is simple to assemble. The solar drier has proved popular with groups and individual rural farmers.
At present, there is little knowledge of modern ways of improving a farm among many rural populations in Uganda. The staple food, matoke (bananas), is often managed poorly resulting in very low yields. There is a tendency to think that change is only possible with donors or loans. St. Jude enables farmers to make an impact on their income, nutrition and health soon after they complete training. The center has trained 800 farmers to date.