Village Meetings

Today we visited with a school in Nsinze village.  We arrived early in order to walk through the village, greeting friends and neighbors.  We encouraged people to attend today’s meeting as we had a special guest: the District Forestry Officer.

These types of meetings provide the program with a sense of legitimacy in rural contexts as people are able to see our collaboration with their government.  The DFO provided some great conversation starters–everything from tree spacing to sanitation.

I snuck a shot of Abraham as he updated his field notes about program receptivity and tree health.


Growth, despite disease

In a visit yesterday to Wankonge village, Abraham and Bobby witnessed a new infection on the young mvule trees. Previous treatment programs have remained ineffective, so samples were cut from the trees and brought to Jinja’s office of the National Forestry Authority. Results should be back early next week.

Despite the infection, the trees have continued with steady growth. The majority of the trees have reached heights of 6-8 feet and are now beyond the reach of goats and cattle.

We spent most of the day talking with the Wankonge community about their new goat project.

Shade Grown Cocoa

Abraham Mulongo (Project Director) took a few British friends on a field visit to Buwologoma. The area provides an excellent climate and fertile soils for the small cocoa plantations. However, in the past decade many of the areas’ large hardwoods have been cut in order to cover children’s educational expenses and medical costs.
The loss of trees seemed like a small price to pay at the time, but now many farmers are experiencing lower cocoa yields and higher crop susceptibility to disease. According to NAADS (Uganda National Agriculture Advisory Services), such problems are due to the intense equatorial sun’s direct light on the cocoa shrubs. The hardwood tree cover had previously prevented such intense rays, allowing dappled light to reach the plant.

The Mvule Project is working directly with these farmers to create a more sustainable future for their cocoa and the business that is their livelihood. Many farmers are interspersing the mvule through their plantations and should experience positive results in the next decade.

4000 Seedlings

This year, Mvule Project has kicked off with a bang!  We’ve just received 4000 trees from the National Forestry Authority.

We have 15 villages waiting to plant these trees and only 30 days to pass them out.  In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of watering to do!

Protecting Trees

Mvule trees have three primary hurdles to overcome in their early life: humans, animals, and drought.  With the compensation program in place, the human obstacle is fairly easily overcome.  Regular watering helps the tree make it to the next rainy season (some ideas about this in a future post).  And as you can see below, trees can be protected from goats and cows fairly easily as well.03062009

At the far left, you’ll see the Iganga District Forestry Officer for the Ministry of Environment.  He went with us to Waliibo village to see Mvule Project at work.  Our field day left him rather impressed–and who wouldn’t be?  These Waliibo folks are serious about their trees!

The enclosure is made up of small sticks tied together with banana fiber (both are readily available at every home and cost nothing).  You’ll notice the nest surrounding the tree.  This material will act as a nice, natural mulch.  As the seedling reaches the top of the enclosure the caretaker will open up the top to allow the tree to shoot to the heavens.

If any of you were worried about your poor little $19.95 tree, then fear no more!

Where does my money go?

In the earliest development stages of the Mvule Project, one of the primary goals was to get a majority of the capital into the actual village.  This seems obvious enough, but most projects cost money in other places.

We needed

  • Ugandans on staff to manage the project
  • An office for coordinating
  • Internet access for relaying data (like this blog post)
  • Transportation to villages
  • Didactic tools for explaining the overall idea

A second goal was making tree prices affordable kept our price to just under 20 bucks.

With these two goals in mind, here’s how things shook out:

Cost Breakdown

Village (55%)

This amount can be a bit deceiving as the actual percentage for the village is 66%.  For illustration purposes we divided the 66% into two categories: money for the bank account (55%) and financial incentives encouraging people to stay with the project (11%).

The 55% is used to add capacity to the village.  Each village decides how this income is used in their villages.  Some are building schools, others are starting goat projects, still others are building clinics, the list goes on.  The idea is that people in impoverished circumstances can control what happens in their village.  By empowering local infrastructure and leadership, people are given the freedom to choose their next direction.

Village Care Plan (11%)

Sleazy get-rich-quick schemes are ubiquitous in Uganda.  Those who suffer the most from such plans are the rural poor.  Most such schemes ask for “deposits” from villagers, promising huge payoffs in three months.  Our program never asks for a shilling, but the payoff is a year away.

For many, this is a suspicious sign.  They try to anticipate how we are ripping them off, speculating with land-grabbing initiatives.  Our Village Care Plan was built to calm worried farmers.  Essentially, we offer each person planting a tree a few small incentives to plant.  This comes in the form of soap, sugar, other types of trees, and a visit from a mosquito-net selling medical doctor from the US.

Ugandan Administration (19%)

The Mvule Project began with local leadership in mind.  Viability depended on the project’s adaptation into localized organizational structures.  Our office is strategically placed at the center of Jinja town, above the grooviest cafe in town.  This great location came with cheap rent and a great social network (two thumbs up!)  Our onsite staff need transportation to the most rural of places, and while this isn’t the most exciting of expenses it is crucial to the work.  Administration expenses also include handouts (that we translate into Lusoga) and radio programs that promote the project.  Overall, it would be tough to find a group doing the same amount and quality of work on a smaller budget.

Shipping (15%)

This title is also a bit deceptive in that it catches a few more items.  For every tree we sell, we want the buyer to receive a Mvule Project packet.  Our hope is that you are able to share this DVD with friends, family and coworkers in order to promote healthy relationships between African and the West.  But this 15% also holds a small contingency fund as well.  The Ugandan economy is not the most stable of environments, leading to drastic levels of inflation and fluctuating exchange rates.  We didn’t want this variables to affect the village program, so that small contingency can keep our Village figures stable.

There you have it!  If you have any further questions or comments about the cost breakdown, we’re available.

MANA and Rwanda President Kagame

For the past few days, I have been touring with Kibo Group’s East Africa Study Abroad program.  Today we had the opportunity to sit with Rwanda President Paul Kagame for about 2 hours.  It was a wonderful exchange of questions and ideas.pepperdine-and-kagame.jpg

The Minister of Education Dr. Daphrosa Gahakwa wanted to hear more about Kibo’s work in East Africa, so I took a moment to tell them about our newest initiative: MANA.

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The entire event even got us a bit of airtime on the national news network!

Bob Can TV Rwanda Kagame