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Area women travel to Uganda on farm mission

By Staff | Oct 20, 2011

Sheila Hebenstreit, from Jefferson, looks at recently harvested soybeans being cleaned by Ugandan women farmers.

AMES – (ISU) April Hemmes, of Hampton, gained a heightened appreciation for the resourcefulness of the Ugandan people.

Sheila Hebenstreit, of Jefferson, noticed some marked differences in the perception of health and the way the African women harvested their crops during her second trip to the rural Kamuli District in Uganda.

Both women participated in a farmer-to-farmer project to share information on improving corn quality, helping to organize collaborative or group marketing of grain, introducing soybeans as both a food and cash crop, and helping train Ugandan farmers to keep written farm business records.

“Having been there in February and then coming back this August, the difference is phenomenal,” Hebenstreit said. “In six months, their perception of their health and the health of their families has changed. They like the soy in their diet and see the benefits and are eating it daily.”

“My favorite part of the trip was meeting the women,” Hemmes said. “They were wonderful. No farm we went on had electricity, running water or mechanized farm equipment, so they do their farming on a whole different level than we do.”

April Hemmes checks moisture levels of recently harvested maize at the Kamuli Mill in Kamuli, Uganda.

Hebenstreit and her husband own a farm in Greene County. She has worked at the West Central Cooperative in Jefferson for 28 years as an agronomist and is the District 4 director for the Iowa Soybean Association.

She visited Uganda the first time in February as an ISA representative. This time, in August, she went as a farmer volunteer in the rural development program, Bridging the Gap: Increasing Competitiveness of Ugandan Women Farmers in the Marketplace.

Hemmes has farmed her family’s 1,000-acre century farm for 26 years. The farm consists of a corn and soybean rotation with 20 acres of hay. She also runs a 35 head cow/calf herd. Her farming experience proved valuable during her trip.

“I took my hand-held grain moisture meter with me to test the corn and soybean,” she said. “The women and other people we worked with really liked it because all they’ve seen are the large tabletop moisture meters. This would really help them in the future.”

ISU Extension Value Added Ag Specialist Linda Naeve, co-director of the Bridging the Gap program said, “Our Iowa farmers’ experiences allow them to identify the gaps in the Ugandan production and marketing system and help identify steps for improving local farmers’ maize grain quality and marketing.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve profitability for these Ugandan women and bring more money to their households.”

Bridging the Gap is a yearlong project that is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, Naeve said.

Iowa State University’s Global Extension program has partnered with a Ugandan nonprofit organization, Volunteer Efforts for Developing Concerns and ISU’s Center for Sustainable Livelihoods, to provide farmer production and marketing expertise to Ugandan farmers.

“The biggest difference I saw from my first trip was the increase in grain quality because of the project, “?Hebenstreit said, “through the use of tarps for spreading out the grain and allowing it to dry and (using) bicycle-powered shellers.

“Previously, maize grain had been spread on the bare ground to dry and was threshed off the cob by beating it with a stick.

“Looking at the grain, I saw three major improvements. The maize grain stored better, seed quality and germination was improved and, because of these factors and the introduction of soybeans, families were beginning to eat better.”

While the trip to Africa was a busy one, the group did get some downtime on the weekend. African farmers take Sundays off, so the American volunteers visited the headwaters of the Nile River and hiked in the Mabira Forest Reserve during their days off.

During the trip, Hemmes gained an appreciation for the people of Uganda.

“What I found from working with these women is that farmers are pretty much the same all over the world,” Hemmes said. “We may farm on a different scale and have different technologies available to us, but we are all raising a crop and caring for it as it grows.

“They have so little and yet they are able to raise the crops and livestock and care for their families.”

Hebenstreit agreed.

“I think there are very little differences in the goals of the Ugandan and American women.

“We have the same basic desires to feed our families, to do better and to improve our lives.”

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