Who would be a farmer … ?

photp – Silvana

With a local in the lead and Geoffrey bringing up the rear the mzungus trooped into the village. Some of the Research Station staff live here so we are not a total novelty. These young ladies are certainly very relaxed with Silvana …

photo – Silvana

The village is mainly wattle and daub huts spread out through the gardens. The odd solar panel adorns a roof here and there.

There are kids playing and women at work. Geoffrey expressed some sensitivity about publishing photos of the children so in deference I will not. Let me say that they were having a ball.

My destination is the plot of a 77 year old farmer at the forest edge. I have a clipboard, a questionnaire and an interpreter. I read a sentence, the interpreter talks for a paragraph, the farmer answers very succinctly, the interpreter takes a paragraph to tell me what he said. This is home turf in many ways having practised in Melbourne public hospitals where quite a few patients have no English.

I encourage the interpreter to stick strictly to the script and check the answers with follow up questions. We make much better progress.

I learn that this farmer grows sunflowers, sweet potatoes and beans on 1 acre right at the forest edge. The sunflowers are a cash crop, the family will eat the beans and sweet potatoes. He has no cassava but others around and about do, if he had more land that would be his next choice.

Crop raiding is an ever present threat. Baboons are the main problem, monkeys and bush pigs are also regular pirates. Chimpanzees don’t get a mention until I specifically ask, yes they come to a Mango tree in the village but otherwise not much.

The raiders eat the sweet potatoes and beans. Nothing eats the sunflowers although baboons do a little damage in passing through. Unless the crops are guarded day and night every day there will be nothing to eat. Guarding falls to all including the kids who miss some school as a consequence. Small shelters provide some protection from the elements for the guardians.

I thank him and shake hands. He is tall, slender, dignified. He has considerable ulnar deviation of his fingers which suggests rheumatoid arthritis. I think of the physical effort to prepare an acre by hand.

Sweet potato

The forest is on the right and also behind me as I took the photograph, sunflowers are a good buffer crop, to the left the gardens likely to be raided and at top left a shelter for the watchers.

Through the Research Centre a lot of effort has gone into promoting buffer crops like sunflower and cabbage that are unattractive to the raiders. To deter poaching in the forest domestic animals have been promoted as protein sources and there are pigs, chickens and goats around. Goats have been given to the villagers and some free vet care is available to keep them worm free and thriving.

The field assistants in Budongo are mainly from this or other nearby villages. I often heard them talk about “our chimpanzees”. At our very first briefing it was obvious that the scientific staff, whilst attracted to working with chimpanzees, had realised and embraced the fact that success for the chimpanzees meant working with the people.


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