Kaleb Kamure, 2017 Farmer of the Year. Photo by Robert Hazen
Kaleb Titia Kamure can’t stand to see people suffer — a sentiment that prompted him to donate 200 acres of Uganda farmland that he inherited from his father for settlement by refugees.
These refugees came from South Sudan as a result of the ongoing war, said Kamure, who raises pigs, bananas (plantain), sweet potato and avocados on acreage in the West Nile region. “Some of our people also took refuge in Sudan in the early ’80s when Uganda’s Idi Amin was overthrown from power. Since Amin came from this area, people felt insecure and ran to Sudan (currently South Sudan).”
In recognition of his efforts on behalf of refugees, as well as his ongoing agricultural advocacy, the Alliance for Science has named Kamure its 2017 Farmer of the Year.
“We never allowed refugees to settle on this land five years ago,” Kamure recalled. “Refugees normally leave the land bare and devastated as they cut down trees to have land for growing crops. This time I succumbed because they were many in number and I had to help. My decision to donate land encouraged others to do the same. I haven’t received any penny for this land. I hear we may be compensated, but it’s still a rumor. Most of the food they eat is supplied by the UNHCR (United Nations commission on refugees) but it needs to be supplemented because it is not sufficient. Because of the land we provided, refugees are able to supplement their diet with what they grow. The refugees are now growing cassava, sorghum and okra. I intend to teach them how to grow rice.
“The problem locals have here is not about the refugees, but the NGOs working for refugees,” Kamure continued. “The locals would wish some of their own people to be employed by these NGOs other than them employing people from elsewhere. Most of the refugees speak our language. We are brothers and sisters with them.”
In addition to having a compassionate nature, Kamure reached out to the refugees because he knows what it’s like to abandon one’s home for political reasons.
“On the 17th of May 1990, I left Uganda and went to the UK (United Kingdom) as a refugee,” he said. “I stayed there for 12 years. We were restricted from working for the first six months as they investigated the reason for our escape. After the six months, I lived a normal life, but I returned because I believe east or west home is best.”
Kamure also believes in the value of educating farmers and advocating on their behalf.
“I use my farm to train farmers,” he said. “Currently, I am organizing a visit by the local council in my district (Arua) to come and see how best we can change the lives of smallholder farmers through improved farming methods. I am personally motivated by several problems that fellow farmers here in the West Nile region have faced, including how soils have been depleted because of overreliance on tobacco growing. Tobacco curing brought about deforestation as farmers always opened up new land for tobacco. Tobacco thrives best on fertile soils. Farmers work so much and get so little. Poor quality seed and a collapsed agricultural system meant we had to push government to serve us better.”
Kamure uses any available platform — even funeral gatherings — to encourage farmers to pursue improved agricultural methods. “I advocate for more government investment in agriculture and encouraging agricultural finance for smallholder farmers. I have also been very active in advocating for the passage of the Biosafety Bill. I one time addressed Parliament and asked them to think about farmers as they take a long time to make decision on the bill.”
Farmers in Uganda encounter numerous obstacles, he said, including limited access to markets, poor government agricultural policies, lack of bank financing and land fragmentation. “We still don’t feel the impact of technology. I am an advocate for biotechnology for I believe it will answer some of the emerging challenges associated with climate change like drought, pests and diseases.”
As the son of a farmer, Kamure has his own roots solidly in the soil.
“My father had 35 wives,” he said. “He used us as family labor. After school, we returned to the gardens, so I grew up on the farm. I studied up to high school, then went to work in Kenya at Mombasa port as a clearance and forwarding agent. When I returned to Uganda, given my opposite views and subscribing to an opposition political party, farming became the only safe work place.”
Though Kamure is well aware of the difficulties associated with agriculture as a profession, he urges his fellow farmers to stand tall and carry on.
“Without food, there is no life,” he said. “Farmers should be proud that they are contributing to life. Farmers should pursue science. We use science in health and it should be the same in agriculture.”
New York state organic farmer Amy Hepworth was the previous winner of this award.