Finding Community Acceptance Through Pumpkins
By James Okallu, a 54-year-old key farmer in the Pumpkins in Africa project.
KOLE DISTRICT, UGANDA – I live in Abongojok village with my wife and children. Abongojok village is not my traditional home, though—I just bought land and moved here 10 years ago, after I retired from the company I was working for in eastern Uganda. When I came back to northern Uganda after retirement, I found that all the land that I was supposed to inherit from my parents had been sold off by my clan mates because I was working a long distance from home.
My return was not easy. I had to start from scratch and buy land with the benefits the company had given me for serving them for a long time as a foreman. So I acquired this piece of land where I am living currently with my family.
However, at the time I bought this land, land selling was not common in the area, and most community members believed that most land buyers were actually land grabbers, as land was usually passed down within the family. This meant that I faced a lot of rejection and resistance from the community. No one would visit my home. This didn’t give me peace, because I wanted to live peacefully with my neighbours.
Fortunately, at the beginning of this year, I came across a demonstration farm sign board on a pumpkin field by the roadside. I liked the field, as I had seen some farmers in eastern Uganda growing pumpkins and I knew that they made a lot of money from buyers at the border. Back in eastern Uganda, I didn’t have any land access, but the night after seeing the sign board, I thought to myself that I could start growing pumpkins as a way of keeping myself busy, since I had the land now and some contacts of friends in eastern Uganda.
“I didn’t know how to start growing pumpkins or which seeds to grow, so I went back to where I had seen the demo sign board and asked for the owner of the garden.”
However, I didn’t know how to start growing pumpkins or which seeds to grow, so I went back to where I had seen the demo sign board and asked for the owner of the garden, since the sign board didn’t have any contact information on it. I met with the key farmer, who was Moses Okello, and he shared a lot and ended up giving me the contact number for one of the staff of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT). (Read Moses Okello’s story here.)
When I called the EWS-KT staff member, she didn’t hesitate to meet me. She visited my home and asked me to patiently wait to be enrolled as a key farmer the next season, which is now this season.
I enrolled, but one of the conditions she gave me was to mobilise other participants to come and be trained at my home. Knowing that my relationship with my neighbours was not good, I wondered how I could do that. I started making attempts to reach them for seedling production, which was our first training, but the turnout was very low. Nevertheless, we went ahead and sowed the seeds.
My demo field is by the roadside, and after I transplanted the seedlings, that was when people started coming to see the site. Because of the fast growth, many were asking for the variety, and all I could tell them is to please come for the training whenever the teacher comes.
An EWS-KT Technical Field Officer trains a group of farmers at James Okallu’s home
As I talk now, my relationships have greatly improved, as people come to my home for training sessions. The misconception about me being a land grabber has faded quickly because of my willingness to share knowledge with other community members, and some even now come to harvest the pumpkin leaves.
This story is especially important to me because I believe it is through hosting training events at my home that people have become close to me.
We have even formed a group and are also raising tree seedlings for sale from my land. All this acceptance from my neighbours makes me live at ease.
Group members potting soil for tree nurseries
Pumpkins in Africa: Catalysing Opportunity for Farmers and Consumers aims to accelerate the growth of the pumpkin sector in Africa by developing a hub of expertise and knowledge in Uganda, which can then drive growth in neighbouring markets. While the pumpkin is of high nutritional value, has a long shelf life, and is relatively easy to grow, there is little pumpkin production for markets in East Africa. The Pumpkins in Africa project is implemented by EWS-KT and is funded by East-West Seed founder Simon N. Groot from his 2019 World Food Prize award money.