This post is short on text and long on video and pictures. So, I’ll just give you a quick intro and update and let you peruse these photos to get an idea of what’s going on. If you have any questions or big ideas you’d like to share please feel free to connect with me by email any time KimElton@mac.com 🙂
The video below is about the status of our first plantation of Lira Trees. We are finally getting the full 50,000 trees in the ground now — having been hampered by drought — Arron brings the story up to date with a view toward the future.
Priceless Farms is growing and expanding. In addition to planting trees for Ventree the farm will soon be installing processing facilities on the farm to produce high-quality Moringa Powder for local and international markets. They have recently planted 40 more acres of Moringa trees which will be ready for first harvesting about the time the these facilities will ready to put into operation. Ventree will also be participating in this Moringa plantation as well and we will be announcing more about that soon.
Priceless is also partnering with a large Agro-Foresty company out of South Africa called AgriLiving to expand it’s properties in Uganda. Agri-living’s owners are experts in installing large irrigation facilities and with Priceless farms close proximity to Lake Kyoga, as part of the partnership Agri-living will install irrigation throughout Priceless Farms’ lands which will all but mitigate the deleterious effects of drought and increase harvesting seasons.OUR FAMILY FARMERS WEEDING AND CARING FOR THE PLANTATION
(Left) IT WAS JUST 6 MONTHS AGO THAT WE PLANTED THESE SEEDLINGS
(Right) ABOUT SIX MONTHS LATER
My granddaughter sampling Mango from the farm. More exciting news coming soon.
In this final report of the year (2018) it’s time to take stock and look forward, and, to thank those who have helped us launch this venture. So first, a huge,
…to our first group of tree buyers for helping us get our first plantation of 50,000 trees funded and planted; a project not without challenges due to unpredictable weather events that are now becoming the norm due to climate change.
As you know Ventree is in the business of funding tree plantations but there is a broader story behind our mandate that makes what we are doing possible. And it is this:
We are part of a growing network of professionals and companies that have the same business and operational ethics that are essential to our success, providing the resources, expertise, connections and assets we need to succeed and that is the focus of this report.
We have a number of partners and relationships in our orbit in East Africa that we work closely with, and we in turn are valued by them for the service we provide. These symbiotic relationships are critical to our vision of rapidly expanding operations throughout East Africa and ultimately impact the entire planet to mitigate the effects of climate change and help guide humanity through what is shaping up to be the greatest challenge to the survival of our species.
As I write this I realize how grandios and seemingliy pretentious these claims are, and begs the question; is this a practical business plan? Planting trees, educating local populations on how to better usetheir natural resources and build a better life for their families is luadible, but how does this translate into transforming the ecosystems of the entire planet? All I can say is; everything has a beginning, and the source is always from a very small idea that has the potential for enormous change. There is no better metaphor than the tiny seedling that grows into an enromous tree that lives for hundreds of years and propogates in that time over vast areas of land to support myriads of eco-systems and sustains a multitude of wildlife and millions of people.
Our beginning is a plantation of 50,000 Lyra seedlings.
And we are not alone in this journey.
When the subject of Africa comes up in business discussions we often get stuck on the challenges, the difficulties and the plight of many of the people. But the reality is, that there is tremendous growth and opportunity, and, the economy is growing steadily and rapidly.
A few quick facts:
WIKIPEDIA: The economy of Uganda has great potential, and it appeared poised for rapid economic growth and development. … The economy grew since the 1990s. Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average of 6.7% annually during the period 1990–2015.
Uganda has substantial natural resources, including fertile soils, regular rainfall, deposits of copper, gold, and other minerals, and recently discovered oil. AND…
Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing more than one-third of the work force and 71.9% of GDP.
If you were going to grow “the tree” that would save the planet, this would be the most propitious place on earth to plant it. And this is why Ventree is not alone in this agro-forestry revolution and why we have the enthusiastic support, shared assets and resources of some of the most talented people in the world working out of Uganda and East Africa; professionals that span a number of business, science, economic and political disciplines with their collective epicentre on global sustainablilty through the application of agricultural ethics and sciences. They are all here pushing forward in the same direction–a powerful fraternity of companies and professionals of which we are greatfully a small but integral part. So who are these folks so essential to our mission?
A brief description and links (below) will have to be suffice for this writing but if you’d like to know more about any of these people and companies please connect with me and I’ll give you more detail. However, there is a new corporate entity that deserves more attention here named, Genterra Health Sciences, a company formed by an aggregation of the people and companies mentioned here that would meet the group’s combined need for R&D, international marketing & distribution, and wholesaling representation. Still in the business planning stage, Genterra’s current board of directors have existing supply chains to Europe and Asia and MOU’s to begin supplying customers in North America. GenTerra is the nexus of this network.
Now it may occur to you, as it did me, when reading through the background on these companies, and for me, having the pleasure of meeting these folks, that this is probably not a unique group of concerned, ehtically motivated people. And that’s a very heartening realisation, because I know now that there are many such companies and individuals throughout Africa and around the globe that have similar motivations, expertise and the drive to take on the challenges presented to humanity by global warming and climate change. And, this is not driven solely by humanism and certainly not by the misguided philanthropy that has been so distructive in the past (and sadly continues in some quarters) but by ethically sound business practices that are inclusive of all stakeholders. The above quoted economic indicators are evidence enough for those seeking opportunities of Brobdingnagian proportions. Entrepreneurs, nations and corporations with a vision for a sustainable future are realizing that in this era if you want to go big, go to Africa, but you had better mind your manners and check your greed at the door if you expect to succeed.
Here’s the list of our small but mighty cadre here in East Africa:
GenTerra Health Sciences: No website yet. GTHS is focussed on these key initiatives:
Agriculture: growing/sourcing superfoods for local and international markets
Manufacturing: creating formulas to produce medicines and foods
Distribution/Marketing: Selling products that are manufactured and sold into private and public sectors.
R&D: Ensuring new products are grown, manufactured and distributed with scientifically proven data with respect to their attributes for human and animal health.
Ventree’s first farming partner and the location of our first plantation. Two of the partners in Priceless Farms are also directors in Ventree.
Doctor’s Choice: https://doctorschoice.africa Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Brian Holmes, Doctor’s Choice is a private company established in Uganda to manufacture quality, affordable nutritional solutions. The company is licensed by the National Drug Authority (Uganda) to provide quality production of natural herbal medicines. Brian was instrumental in the initial formation of Genterra HS and is a director.
Roofings Group: http://www.roofingsgroup.com Roofings is the largest steel manufacturer in East Africa and sposored the Forever Forestry CSR initaive developed by Aaron Elton (Co-founder of Priceless Farms). FF has a training centre and PermaCulture demonstration forest and seedling nursery for the benefit of local agricultural groups
AgriLiving: http://agriliving.co.za Agriliving is a multinational farming company with its origins from Israel and South Africa. For the past decade Krishna Murty, Partner, B&D and R&D has been working in Uganda to bring the Agriliving business model to the country and has successfully secured 800 hectares of land adjacent to one of the largest lakes in the country. Krishna is a director in Genterra.
EOSTRE Healing Teas: http://www.eostrehealth.com Dr. Jawiga Nowak ND, Founder and Head of Herbal Medicine, Research and Development for Eostre Brand of Herbal Products is also a partner in Genterra. EOSTRE creates Herbal Healing Teas with powerful health benefits as well as highest quality ingredients.
Econatur: http://econatur.net/?lang=en is a Spanish-based company also operating in Uganda under the direction of Mr. Rafael de Leon de Maria, now part of the management team for Genterra. Econatur seeks to increase the performance of crops through personalized technical advice, and the use of natural solutions with an efficiency superior to that of the products of chemical synthesis.
Stella Njaggi, SilvaNile Farms: Stella is a prolific entrepreneur and inspirational educator. Her career in farming started 10 years ago when she moved to Uganda and began influencing small farmers to grow the now famous SourSop fruit from the tree Annona Muricata. She is now the leading exporter of this fruit and estimates over 4 million trees within her network of over 5,000 farmers.
Raintree Farms Ltd http://raintreefarms.com …is an agricuetical company specializing in value-added processing of medicinal crops. The largest supplier of high-quality Moringa oleifera in Uganda. Their 30-acre farm is located in Masindi District, in North-Western Uganda.
Canadians Nick and Cheryl Koning have been working in Uganda for several years now. UWEPO is an agribusiness located close to the River Nile and Lake Victoria in Uganda, East Africa. UWEPO grows many types of high quality seedlings. Nick and Stella also have a farming operation near Priceless Farms and shares equipment and resources with Priceless Frams. ~
Well, this is the network thus far and it we will be expanding to include more like-minded people and organizations as we make connections throughout the region. If you’ve gotten this far, thank you so much for your interest and if you’d like to know more please don’t hesitate to connect with us.
The rains were late but they finally arrived mid-October and the Priceless Farms team and resident farming families jumped to the task of prepping the soil and getting the patiently waiting Lyra seedlings out of our farm nursery and into the ground.
Twenty-thousand seedlings were planted in the first 14 days on the recently designated 10 acres of land. The rains are consistent now and another 10 acres is being prepared and an additional 20,000 trees will be planted this month (November). In addition, another 13,000 seedlings are being distributed to our Shamba Farmers–there are 22 families living and working on Priceless Farms–who have their own plots and they will plant those trees over the coming weeks as well. In total we will have 53,000 trees in the ground this season. For those of you who have been paying attention we originally set our sites on planting 100,000 trees. However with the lateness of the rains and the level of funding and resources available we adjusted our plan to 50K which turned out to be a good move for our first planting. When you stack them up, 50,000 seedlings is quite an impressive under taking. So we are pleased with the result.
It should be understood that these plots are designated as tree plantations but they are intercropped with other cash crops as well such as onions and other vegetables that grow well under the shade and protection of the trees. The trees are planted 1.5 meters apart on a grid which allows for plenty of room for intercropping and culling a significant portion of the trees for pole wood over the next couple of years will create more room for the balance of the trees to grow much larger and increase in market value.
This is a soil building process. There is as much bioamass created underground by a tree as there is above the ground. So when a tree is harvested it leaves behind all that biomass that is utilized by other crops and future trees. In permaculture farming, soils are never depeated, they are always enhanced. By growing and harvesting our own trees we are in fact saving a creating new forests all around us as we expand a grow.
I’ll be talking more about this and our commitment to massive re-forestation in the next years in the next blog.
If you read my last blog you’ll know that we received about 18,000 Lyra seedlings on October 8th in anticipation of the seasonal rains that usually come mid-to-late September. But alas we had to wait almost another full week, finally getting a big rain event on the 14th.
The plantation acreage had been previously ploughed twice to break up and turn under the grasses but the hard dry soils needed a substantial rain to soften up the land before for planting would be possible. The tractor is back on the plot over the next couple of days now to do the final prep and planting will begin later this week.
We did a 5 minute video (pre-rain fall) for you to get the full explanation and the scope of the property and process. CLICK HERE >>
This is the first time that this land has been opened up for a sustainable Agro-forestry plantation. The region is remote and has never been subjected to any industrial pollution, and although subsistence, slash-and-burn farming has been the practice here for many years the soils in this valley area are dark and fertile. In the video Aaron, Manager of Priceless Farms, explains the details of the installation and explains the various stages of harvesting the trees as well.
So, we are looking forward to getting these trees in the ground and watching as our community farmers intercrop a variety of cash crops beneath the cover of this soon to be Lyra Tree forest. ~
Thirty hours by way of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, gets you from Vancouver B.C. to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ Then on to Kampala City, another forty-five minutes on a modern, newly constructed highway for most of the trip; evidence of the investment and influence of the Chinese government so prevalent in recent years, and we reach Kampala City, the capital of Uganda. Once off the motorway the roads within the suburbs and city are rugged, crowded, dusty and dark, but we are soon enjoying a late night reunion with our son Aaron, his wife Laila and the most recent addition to the clan, granddaughter Aylah Kimberly Elton. But our final destination is still two days away. We settle down in their apartment to make ready for our trip to Priceless Farms, another two-and-a-half hour drive that, once outside the city perimeters, is mostly reliable pavement and well-marked roadways. The last sixty to seventy miles to the farm is again, adventurous.
The farm is located on the shores of Lake Kyoga, one of the many large lakes in the country, Lake Victoria being the most notable. The Nile River, which originates in Jinja, at the eastern end of Lake Victoria flows through Kyoga then on to Lake Albert on route to Egypt. The Nile at this early stage of its journey is something to behold with amazing vistas, floating islands of hyacinth and frequent rapids where sport rafting is a ‘thing’ now for tourists and there are many world-class resorts and adventure tour destinations along its banks.
This is the setting at Priceless Farms, a pristine environment that has never been adulterated with industrial pollution. The forests and soils that have been abused and mistreated in recent years but fundamentally fecund and highly productive when properly managed. Everything grows quickly and the land is teaming with life. The nearby village of Kasokwe is a short drive away, many walk it, is typical of the many ‘trading areas’ as they are called all along the drive up, where the roadway is dotted with vegetable and fruit stands of wonderfully delicious organic produce. We make a stop at one for fresh provisions.
Eighty-six percent of Uganda’s population live in these rural areas and live primarily off the land, a large portion of the total economy that represents just 14 to 16% of the country’s GDP. We arrive at the farm and are greeted by several of the dogs that live here and protect the property and its inhabitants. There are now 22 families, approx. 90 people, living on the farm in the Shamba System, Cluster Farming model that is fundamental to the operation’s business design. Most of these hard working, brave people were subsistence farming on nearby lands as squatters. Under contract with Priceless they now have the safety of a community, water at their doorstep, comfortable shelter, basic health care, a solar panel that provides light, and a charger for a cell phone—the means by which they get paid, and about three acres of land to work and profit from. They are assisted in setting up their homestead in the permaculture model and half of the produce they produce on their plot is for their own use. The rest goes into a co-op with the other shamba families and sold into markets in the city from which they also profit. They are paid a monthly stipend and are regularly trained in the art and science of permaculture design at Base Camp One, which is the administrative centre of the farm. They are the watchful stewards of the farm’s trees, fruit and vegetable crops and animal systems. They are the invaluable work force that is at the heart of the Priceless Farms model.
In the permaculture farming model, trees represent seventy percent of the plant mass and fibre of the farm. Trees provide a multitude of products, supports, protection and benefits to the other plants, animals and people that inhabit the farm. Trees are the mother species of the land and they are the ultimate caregivers of us all. They in turn need to be respected and cared for. The returns for that stewardship, love and care are abundance far beyond the inputs provided. A well-designed, properly managed farm is truly magical.
We have come to Priceless Farms to work some of that magic on this wonderful land. Over the next month we will plant up to 100,000 Lira Trees that will be intercropped with symbiotic vegetables under the constant care of the people on the land whose lives and futures are so intimately entwined with the land, the soils and the trees that protect and provide for them.
This is the vision and mission of Ventree Plantations. This is our “First Planting.” A humble beginning in the pursuit of a noble and ambitious plan that we believe will propagate and grow throughout this region and well beyond. ~
“This is a story in which dogs are tasked with protecting their human charges and knowing that loyalty goes both ways when the dog himself encounters a deadly snake and is saved by quick action and the utility of a sharp knife”
On Priceless Farms, and other installations developed by Love On Land, dogs play a very important role. On Priceless there are no less than 12 dogs on the property and Aaron is always on the lookout for new recruits to his K-9 crew adding a new member recently with a dog rescued from the streets of Kampala. The dog had been badly abused and cowered from the hand of anyone that would approach her. She spent a week at the local SPCA to under-go treatment and get the necessary shots to save her life. We paid the bills and took her to the farm this last week. She was integrated into the pack and within a couple of days she was responding well and fitting right in.
Also recently, two small pups that were abandoned on the road-side and left to die. Their bodies were infested with red ants when Aaron found them. They were cleaned and fed and are now installed with the manager and his wife on the Lift The Children site (another LOL project) adjacent to the Priceless property. The cost of rescuing these faithful workers and companions is small compared to the value they bring to the operation.
They are or course first responders to any unknown intruders to the property and they are very protective of “the pack” which they know instinctively includes all of the residents and workers on the farm. They are not vicious and they are trained to cooperate with each other and strictly disciplined if acceptable behaviour is breached. The farm has ducks, chickens and goats and the dogs know that these are all valuable assets not to be molested under any circumstance. The dogs are well fed and cared for and have their own barracks; shelters that they’re are regularly confined to and rotated on shifts throughout the day and night. They all have a job to do and they understand it very well.
Whenever workers are in the field or traversing throughout the farm’s various camps there is a always a dog or two in attendance. When the truck leaves Base Camp 1 to travel to the other camps and shambas, at least two dogs run shotgun, scouting the way forward and tracking through the bush on either side of the road. It looks like they are just having a lot of fun. And they are obviously loving it but their presence is very important.
This is a tropical environment and jungle-like in many areas. It is the philosophy and design of the farm to respect the value that indigenous animals bring to the ecosystems of the farm and they are protected rather than eradicated, the latter being the practice of many farmers in the region. Among these residents are snakes; cobras and boa constrictors among others. The snakes are not a direct threat to humans. They prefer to be left alone and avoid human contact but can be lethally dangerous if caught off guard. The dogs are very vocal and announce the approach of people and it would be unusual to even see a snake when the dogs are around.
Recently however, there was an incident that demonstrated the value of the farm’s dogs in protecting their human charges, but this time it was the dog that required rescuing rather than the other way around!
At the north end of the property next to the lake is the farm’s fish pond operation. There is a small camp of workers that live at the site and maintain the solar panels that are used to pump water from the lake up to the rest of the farm. There are two holding ponds on higher ground that are constantly fed by the pump and used for irigation. There is also a dock and floats on the lake itself with several fingerling cages that grow fish for market. There is always a caretaker living on the float to protect these cages and it’s where the farm’s power boat is kept. In order to get to the doc there is a channel that is about 6 feet wide that is dug out of the hyacinth growth that covers the foreshore of the lake. To get to the float and the powerboat it is necessary to take a small oar-powered skiff through the channel to the open water.
Aaron had a visitor from CARE international that was eager to tour the fish growing operation and his guest and a couple of workers were in the boat rowing through the channel. The dogs were running along-side on the papyrus-thick banks. Aaron’s personal porch dog “Browse” that sleeps every night on the steps of his hut at camp was along for the tour.
It all happened very quickly. A sharp yelp from the dog got Aaron’s attention and as he swung around to look back he saw that Browse had stumbled into the jaws of a large Boa-constrictor who was probably as surprised as the dog. But with the dog’s head firmly in its grasp the snake had coiled around the dog and rolled him into the channel and under the water. Adrenaline took over and Aaron jumped into the water, just waist deep, and pulled both snake and dog to the surface to see what could be done. First he tried to see if he could gain the release of the dog from the snake’s jaws but instantly saw the difficulty and the danger to himself if he was to succeed. This was a formidable 14 foot snake! The snake was preoccupied with the dog, locked on, and not to be dissuaded from his intent.
Now there is a lesson to be learned here. Aaron always carries a sharp readily available knife on his person–at all times. Each and every one of the workers on the farm is also given such a knife and ordered to carry it always, as a tool and self defence if required. If a worker is found not carrying his knife he is in danger of forfeiting it.
Not being in the business of killing snakes he was loath to take the next step in this rescue — to kill the snake — he just couldn’t let his dog be taken this way. He had the snake in hand just below the head and plunged his knife deep into its neck and pulled up at an angle to sever the spine. The snake slumped and died immediately. The adrenaline still pumping and his heart racing it took hours to come down from the physical high that induced him to take immediate action without a moment’s thought.
Still, having to extricate the dog from the snake’s fangs was not easy. The rest of the crew was in a daze but they managed to get the snake in the boat and return to camp. Always with the presence of mind to record events with video and photographs, with cell phone in hand, Aaron recounted the adventure and the lessons learned about the value of a good dog and a sharp knife.
A short epilogue is appropriate.
Recently a boa constrictor killed a small dog at the Lift The Children site, a warning that these animals are opportunists and now with 19 shamba families living on the farm with numerous small children having the run of the property, dogs are an important early warning and perimeter defence. Aaron has installed dogs as a vital component in all of Love On Lands projects with well over 14 dogs in various locations. The first thing he inspects when visiting these installations is the health of the dogs. He knows that if the dogs are well cared for that the project will also be well managed.
When building new farms in the rural landscapes of Africa you inherit lands full of people. Over 80% of Uganda’s population lives in rural areas and most do not hold contract or lease on the land they inhabit.
Many property owners view these mostly impoverished people as squatters, a roadblock to development and a problem to be dealt with; by removing them. This causes a great many problems and is counter productive. Apart from avoiding theft and property destruction from creating a small war by battling the people living in the area, the benefit of integrating their families and homes into the design of the new farm is nothing short of miraculous when done right.
Our Shamba Contract System
This program offers a contract to inhabitants that is either accepted like any job description, or rejected. To date none have turned down this opportunity and PF now has over 19 families employed and living on the farm: An overwhelming success.
Upon accepting the program these families are provided with a social worker that helps them to set up a permanent homestead on 2 acres of land. This includes a simple house to start, solar lights and a cell charger, water access, basic tools and seeds to get their own crops up and running. Constant training in gardening and animal husbandry practices to ensure crops and gardens are safe, enable the contracted person and their family to have a sense of permanence, and, their health improves from a more reliable and stable diet. They are also provided with a small stipend to safeguard against drought seasons and for medical needs. All this is provided them in exchange for a 50% share on their crops over the 2 acres.
Probably the greatest benefit to Shamba families is the psychological lift they are given by having a support system in place, being part of a larger organization & community and a more diversified work life. Coming from a subsistence farming state of mind they are given an opportunity to grow. They are super energized and amazingly dedicated workers!
One of the first families to join the system in 2015
The PF Shamba Contract System is a form of employment that addresses the most pressing issues of the rural, impoverished people of Africa. It puts their efforts in line with ecologically friendly agriculture methods and helps their children reach higher levels of education, who will in turn, become the next generation of rural landscapers. Their collective efforts will further our mission of creating harmony with people through a thoughtful, humanitarian approach that supports the very systems that will ensure our commercial success. This approach is in complete harmony with the Permaculture Principles of: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.
Love On Land (LOL) began working on the Priceless Farms project in Central Uganda just 2.5 years ago. With start up investment from local entrepreneur Joe Goodwin LOL secured a long term lease with Ugandan land owner Arthur Kasokwe and broke ground on the site located on the southern shores of Lake Kyago, a large body of water that receives its water from the River Nile on its journey to Lake Albert and onto Egypt.
The site offers a pristine environment in a remote area unadulterated by industrial pollution and is ideal for the production of medicinal plant crops coveted internationally by producers of “superfood” products. Even so the land has been badly managed and degraded to subsistence farming practices.
Within just 2 years manager and co-founder Aaron Elton and his team of Permaculture Design and Farming graduates have turned the property into a verdant and productive “Jungle Farming” operation that is ready to reap the rewards and commercial level harvests of their efforts in the latter months of 2017.
I am now in Uganda with my wife to spend a full month with the crew and management group of the farm to chronicle their journey from startup to actualization of this project and will provide you, dear reader, a multitude of pictures and videos, which will be posted on the Strut Studios Youtube Channel, as well as a running commentary and invite you to share your comments and share these posts far and wide as this singular project continues to grow and evolve.
The attached image was a promotional picture for a local magazine. This is the core team on the ground at Priceless Farms.