SEVEN Colac district farmers have travelled to Africa to teach other farmers how to get more value from their timber.
Otway Agroforestry Network members visited Kabale, Uganda, where they took about 90 landholders through a Master TreeGrower course – the first time the course has reached the African continent.
Bambra’s Rowan Reid, of the Australian Agroforestry Foundation, led a delegation of eight Australian volunteers including farmers, nursery owners and forest scientists, mostly from the OAN.
OAN member Marianne Stewart said last month’s trip to Uganda was “fantastic” and “rewarding”.
Ms Stewart said the group taught a core group of about 55 farmers, with about 30 others attending some sessions.
“They were so ready to receive fresh ideas and information,” she said.
Uganda’s Dr Joy Tukahirwa co-ordinated the course after she visited Australia last year for a two-week training program.
The Crawford Fund, Beyond Subsistence, Australian Agroforestry Foundation, World Agroforestry Centre in Uganda and Ugandan Sawlog Production Grant Scheme sponsored the Ugandan course.
The course taught the farmers to value their timber, instead of rushing to use them all as firewood.
The harvesting, together with steep terrain and high rainfall, was eroding the village’s soil.
“They need to get more trees; a lot of them are subsistence farmers and they have a very short cycle of firewood and fodder,” Ms Stewart said.
“They do have some timber trees but they cut them down really early, whereas if they grow them more, use the thinner ones for firewood and if they keep the others going they could have some valuable timber,” she said.
Ms Stewart said the farmer-to-farmer aspect of the course was a highlight and the Kabale farmers had decided to form their own agroforestry group.
“The dynamics of mostly having farmers deliver the information to them, rather than a top-down approach by academics, seemed to be the key to successful delivery and uptake,” she said.
“They felt very comfortable asking a myriad of questions and were very grateful with the open and honest sharing of experiences and ideas by the Australians.”
Ms Stewart said the OAN members also spent time in Kenya, which they hope will be the course’s next site.