Moooving Forward

Hello friends!
I am currently in the thick of research (forgive me for not posting an update sooner, I haven’t had much time!).

Most of my time has been spent with Dr. Constantine Katongole, an animal nutritionist at Makerere University. Constantine has been so helpful…honestly, this research project would not be possible without him. He is the one who has driven me around Kampala (which I am very thankful for because you do not want to drive here if you don’t absolutely have to!), connected me with the farmers I am doing my research on, located the farms I am doing my research on (they are not always easy to find even when you know the general area they are in), and translated from English to Luganda (the main language in the Central region of Uganda) and vice versa.

The purpose of the first week of research was to go to urban and peri-urban (suburban) dairy farms around Kampala so that Constantine and I could introduce ourselves to the farmers. After the introductions, we asked if they would be willing for me to do my research survey on their farm. If they agreed (which they all did), we scheduled a time that was convenient for them when we could come back and complete the survey.

Last week and this week have been spent going back to the farms and actually doing the survey/interview and I cannot even explain how awesome it has been.


Conducting research on one of the farms! From left to right: Foster (the farmer), Constantine, and me

To give you a little background on myself, I never really wanted to do research originally. Research didn’t interest me as much and it honestly intimidated me. However, I needed to conduct a research project in order to complete the honors program at Ohio State. Most people complete their honors research at Ohio State, which is awesome! But I knew that I wanted to do my research in another country. Why did I want that? Because I have a passion for international agriculture, specifically in developing countries. I also love to travel and experience new cultures that are completely different from what I am used to in America. I want to spend my life working in agriculture in developing countries and helping the amazing and hardworking people who live there.

So, I became excited about this research project that Dr. Barker and Dr. Sabiiti helped me design because it was in Uganda. But I also became excited about it because of the nature of the project. I was not going to be doing research in a lab or in a field on my own. Instead, I was going to be interacting with real life Ugandan smallholder dairy farmers and learning about their successes and their challenges.  You cannot successfully help these people until you have talked to them and gotten their perspective. There are a lot of things that we do not know/understand when we are just on the outside looking in.
All of that to say, I am really excited about this research project and I am happy to be doing it!
So far, I have interviewed 7 different smallholder dairy farmers (meaning they have 1-5 cows approximately). My survey looks at all aspects of the farm, including feed type, cost and quantity, cow health issues, age, milking stage, and body condition, milk output, milk end-use (home consumption and selling), and major challenges of the smallholder dairy farmers. I have already learned so much! I am going to give you all a glimpse into the life of each farmer I have interviewed by highlighting several farmers in each blog post.

So here we go 🙂

This is Annette.

Annette is an amazing woman who is about to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband! She keeps chickens and pigs and also farms matoke/banana trees near Kampala.

Constantine and I traveled to meet with Annette and ask her if I could interview her about her dairy cows. Constantine has been to Annette’s house/farm several times in the past and the last time he came she was keeping dairy cows. However, Annette explained to us that she no longer has her cows. They all died. But they did not die a natural death. Someone came in the night and poisoned her cows. The calves died very quickly and the milking cows took a little longer to die. Believe it or not, poisoning of livestock is common here! It is awful, but it is true. And dairy cows are expensive for the people here, so they are not easy to replace (one dairy cow will cost between 1 million – 2 million Ugandan shillings, which equals approximately $275 – $550). Therefore, Annette does not have any new dairy cows. She also had some of her chickens stolen in the past! Urban/peri-urban farming is not easy here.
Another issue that Annette had to deal with last year was drought. The climate is becoming more and more unpredictable here in Uganda. The rains don’t come when they always used to and most people here do not have irrigation. If crops don’t get water, they will not grow. Therefore, these farmers in Uganda depend on rain. People here spend a lot of time praying for rain! At a Bible study I attended at my hostel, many of the students were thanking God for bringing rain so that their crop trials could grow.

In times of drought, the government has told people to try manually irrigating with bottles of water. However, it is impossible to irrigate even a small piece of land properly with water bottles. Annette tried using some water bottles, but her crops still suffered from the drought.

Even though I could not do my survey on Annette’s farm since she does not have dairy cows anymore, I am still very thankful for the chance I got to meet her and learn about some of the challenges she has faced.

This is Betty.

Betty has one calf and two cows. She is a lady with a great sense of humor! I interviewed her while she was doing the morning laundry.

Constantine translated my questions and Betty’s answers since Betty does not speak much English and I do not speak much Luganda! Betty is 69 years old and has been keeping dairy cows for 14 years now. She said that the major challenges that she faces as a smallholder urban dairy farmer are feed scarcity and an inefficient herdsman.

Feed scarcity is a big problem for urban and peri-urban dairy farmers, especially as Kampala keeps growing and open spaces with grass become fewer and fewer. Most of the urban and peri-urban dairy farmers around Kampala are follow a non-grazing system, meaning their cows are confined and their food is given to them in a trough. They don’t do any grazing. The food that the cows receive is grass cut down from roadsides or open spaces, food waste such as banana peels, or crop waste such as corn or bean stovers. So as open space in Kampala becomes less available, so does feed for urban livestock.When dairy cows don’t get enough feed, it can cause a lot of issues. They will not produce as much milk as they are capable of and they are less likely to concieve on the first service/insemination. Many farmers I have talked to have told me that their cows almost never get pregnant on the first try. That means they have to wait until the cow goes into heat the next time (which wastes time) and they do have to pay for every insemination, which can be expensive.
Almost all of the farmers I have talked to hire a herdsman to collect the feed, prepare and give the feed, and do the milking. Sometimes though, like in Betty’s case, the herdsman are not consistent or do not pay enough attention to the cows. Betty mentioned that her herdsman is also the herdsman for another farmer, meaning his attention and time is split between two sets of cows.


One of Betty’s cows

Okay, that is all I will write for now! I will post again soon with more farmer profiles and other things I have failed to update you all about.


An incredibly beautiful Ugandan sunset

On My Own

On Tuesday, my family settled me into my room at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK) near Gayaza. Watching them drive away and head to the airport was incredibly hard. Even though I am so glad to be in Uganda, at that moment I wanted to run after the car, jump in, and fly back to America with my family. It is hard being in a foreign country all on your own!

My first night here was hard. Not only was I alone in Uganda without my family, but the power and water were out until late in the evening too, haha! Since that first night, everything has gone uphill. I absolutely love where I am staying and the people I am staying with! I truly feel at home here.

At MUARIK, I am staying in a dorm (or hostel as they call it) with around 20 graduate students. Most of the grad students in my hostel are doing a masters in plant breeding and seed systems. Two of the students are pursuing a Phd in rural development.

My summer home…the hostel!

Sign pointing to where the masters student’s research fields are

These students could not have been more welcoming to me! They have constantly been helping and checking up on me. The students are from all over Africa, including Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, etc. MUARIK is a really big institute with many classrooms, hostels, labs, greenhouses, and fields. It is a great place to go on walks and explore!

The beautiful view from a field at MUARIK!

I cook my own breakfast here, which always consists of oatmeal and either coffee or tea. For other meals, our hostel has a cook named Esther. I can get lunch and dinner from Esther for 5,000 Ugandan shillings, which equals about $1.50! Esther is an amazing cook and she makes all the Ugandan staples, including rice, beans, matoke (mashed up plantains), etc. I have gotten to eat and try so many new foods here in Uganda and I can say that I really do like Ugandan food!

My daily breakfast

One of the students here who has been particularly kind and gracious is Nada. Nada is from Sudan and is completing her Phd currently. Since Ramadan (the month of fasting for Muslims) is going on right now, Nada fasts during the day and breaks the fast each night at 7pm with fellow Sudanese students. I have accompanied her almost every night that I have been here! So not only have I gotten to eat Ugandan food, but I have also gotten to eat Sudanese food as well. The meal always starts out with eating dates, then moves on to Sudanese bread, lentils, beans, and meat, and then ends with tea.

Breaking the fast

Every night I sleep under a mosquito net. In the morning, I awake to the sounds of roosters crowing and turkeys gobbling.

Home sweet home!

Our water system in the hostel has not been working since last Thursday! That means no running water. So we have had to gather water from the tank outside our building and pour the water into the toilets to flush them. I’ve also learned how to take a very efficient bucket shower!

A bucket shower about to commence!

If you are living in Uganda, having a bucket is a requirement. Thankfully the water just started working again earlier this afternoon. Here in Uganda, you make do with what you have. Sometimes there is no power, internet, or water. But all of those things are not necessities for life! Life here is simple…that is one of the things I like most about Uganda and Africa. Things are very inexpensive and people are always willing to help out those around them. Yes, there is a lot of corruption here and things move at a very different pace. But if you come here I think you will fall in love with the people, the beauty, and the culture.

Most of my time at MUARIK so far has been spent hanging out and adjusting to life here. Tomorrow, I start my research! I am doing my research under Dr. Elly Sabiiti. Dr. Sabiiti was a previous dean of the agriculture college at Makerere University. For those of you who don’t know how I came to be in Uganda this summer, it is all thanks to Dr. Sabiiti and people at OSU including Dr. Barker, Dr. Peffer, Beau Ingle, etc. My professor, Dr. Barker, introduced me to Dr. Sabiiti when he was at OSU as a Fulbright visiting scholar in January 2016. Dr. Sabiiti invited me to come to Uganda and the rest is history 🙂 The focus of my research for this week is traveling to various smallholder dairy farmers and asking them if they would be willing to have me complete a survey about their farm/dairy cows. If they are willing, I will then schedule a second meeting with them to take place in the coming weeks where I will actually complete the survey. I will keep you updated on how that all goes!

Dr. Sabiiti and I

In the past week, I have had the opportunity to take part in several fun and new experiences! On Saturday, I went to the wedding reception of one of the grad students here. In some ways, it was similar to a American wedding reception. However, the music was very different (upbeat African music). I also couldn’t understand most of what the speakers were saying as they were speaking in Luganda instead of English! One of my favorite parts of the wedding was the gift reception line at the end. Everyone gathered in a big line and danced their way up to the front to congratulate the bride and groom and hand them their gift! I must say, the dancing here is amazing.

The wedding!!

Getting food at the wedding with two of the Ethiopian grad students

I have gotten the chance to travel into Kampala several times with Nada via matatu (taxi) and boda-boda (motorbike). Riding on boda-bodas can be somewhat dangerous, but they are a ton of fun! And they get you where you want to go in a timely manner as they can easily weave through traffic.

On Sunday, I spent most of the day with the Gibsons. Dr. and Mrs. Gibson are the other Americans living in MUARIK. They have been here for 9 years so far! Dr. Gibson is the professor in charge of the graduate plant breeding and seed systems program here. The Gibsons took me to church with them and then we spent the afternoon chatting. It was amazing to hear their story about how the Lord has guided them in their international work for their whole lives. Mrs. Gibson leads a Bible study for a few of the senior girls who attend the nearby elite, all girls high school. I was able to attend the study and get to know the girls. When they grow up, the girls truly want to have an impact on their country from helping with orphans to assisting refugees. That is what Uganda and Africa need: educated young people rising up to tackle the challenges of their country.

On Sunday evening, the grad students in my hostel had a party to celebrate the end of their coursework (they are now moving onto research and internships). I only caught the  end of the party, since I had been at the Gibsons. However, it was still extremely fun as we danced the night away…I even learned how to do some of the African dances! In just this first week that I have been on my own in Uganda, I have been so amazed at God’s faithfulness. I could not have asked for a better place to stay or better friends to live with!

Family Adventures

I am currently writing this blog post during a power outage in Jinja, overlooking the Nile River. Power outages are frequent here and you never know when they are going to happen! They are just a part of normal Ugandan life 🙂


The Nile River (or the River Nile as the Ugandans say)

I have now been in Uganda for 11 days, although it feels like I have been here much longer. My family and I have seen many different parts of the country, each part having its own unique beauty. We spent several days in Kampala, the capital city. Whew, I have never in my entire life been in a crazier city than Kampala. People are everywhere and they cross the road wherever they want! The traffic is horrible, especially in the morning and afternoon/evening. Cars, matatus (taxis), and boda-bodas (motorbikes) fill the streets and barely squeeze by each other without getting into accidents! The city includes the very rich (government officials, military personal, etc.) and the very poor (those living in the slums of Kampala).

The craziness of Kampala!

We were able to walk through some of the markets, which have any kind of food or product that you could ever want! Colorful beans are laid out, bunches of mangoes are beautifully stacked up, and many tiny anchovies are in buckets. Huge chunks of meat hang from small kiosks.

A market by the roadside

While in Kampala, I got to visit Makerere University and meet with Dr. Sabiiti, the professor that I am doing my research under here. We drove together to Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute, which is where I will be staying for the remainder of my time in Uganda starting on Tuesday! The research institute is in Gayaza, which is about 15 kilometers from Kampala. More info on the institute to come in future posts!
My family and I did two safaris in Uganda. The first one was in Murchison Falls National Park (northwest Uganda). It was so amazing!! We got to see giraffes, elephants, jackson antelope, Ugandan kobs, a python, hippos, a leopard, many beautiful birds, warthogs, water buffalo, hyenas, baboons, oribis, mongoose, and lions. The highlights for me were seeing the hippos and the lions! Our guide, Sam, found two females and one male lion in the bush…we even got to hear the male lion growl.
Not only were the animals prolific and incredible, but the scenery was magnificent too. I got to sit on top of the car and feel the wind blow past me as we drove through the savanna.

The beautiful savanna of Murchison Falls National Park

On our final day at Murchison, we took a boat ride and then hiked up to Murchison Falls, which resulted in me being the most sweaty that I have been in a long time (it gets pretty hot here!). The falls are extremely powerful…if you choose to go down them, you won’t survive.

Me with the falls in the background

Our second safari was at Lake Mburo, in the western region of Uganda. On our way, we passed the equator!

Passing from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere for the first time in my life!

The new animals that we got to see at Lake Mburo were zebras and impala. The zebras were so beautiful!
Seeing the African animals in the wild was incredible. It was so neat to see them running, communicating, eating, and interacting. The hippos were huge! We saw them in the water during the day, but they come up on land at night to eat. They eat one third of their bodyweight in grass every night! I also learned that elephants have a 22 month gestation period, which is insanely long! We did get to see a baby elephant 🙂
We are now finishing up the family traveling part of the trip in Jinja, Uganda. Jinja is known as the source of the Nile, since it is where Lake Victoria empties into the Nile River. On Sunday morning, we got to attend a local church called Arise Africa. Black and white, Ugandan and foreigners were all worshipping together and it was beautiful! Jinja is the ministry capital. There are so many ministries based here such as Amazima, Sole Hope, etc. My mom and I are in heaven, haha 🙂 Today, we got to go white water rafting on the Nile, which was so awesome!
Okay, I will wrap up this long post! Be on the lookout for more posts as I transition from traveling to researching.

The Beginning

It’s only the end of my first day in Uganda and I am already in love with this country. My family is currently here with me and we are traveling around Uganda for two weeks before I settle down and start my research! It took us a long time to get here. We went from Columbus to Detroit, Detroit to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Entebbe, Uganda. It just so happened that we ran into Benji Majors in the Detroit airport. Benji Majors is Katie Davis Majors (the founder of the Ugandan ministry Amazima and the author of Kisses from Katie) husband. I was freaking out! My mom and I love Katie and have been following along with her ministry for many years now. Benji happened to be on our same flight to Amsterdam and to Uganda! It was so neat to talk with him for a bit.

To be honest, I was extremely nervous about coming to Uganda for the past few weeks leading up to the trip. There were so many details to be finalized and tons of packing to be done. I was nervous about coming to a new culture where I would stick out like a sore thumb (there is no way to blend in here!). I was nervous about being alone for most of the summer in a place I didn’t know much about. I am still nervous about being alone when my family leaves me and flies back to Ohio. And yet, much of my excitement for this trip has returned even after only being here for one day. It is still hard to comprehend that I’m actually in Africa, a place I have always dreamed about visiting! I know this summer will be challenging and wonderful at the same time, which is a good thing I think. I am definitely out of my comfort zone, but that will help me grow!

Today, my family went to the botanical gardens in Entebbe. In order to get there, we walked on a red dirt road and passed by many Ugandan homes. The kids would yell out “Hi!” or “Hello Muzungu (white person)!” Their smiles were contagious! We were seriously like celebrities. There were tons of goats tied up to graze at the edges of the road and there were many chickens, cows, and pigs too. I loved seeing crops like maize and cassava growing right by the road!


The road to the botanical gardens

At the botanical gardens, we had our first monkey sighting. The monkeys bounded from tree branch to tree branch. We even got to see a few mom monkeys with their babies hanging onto their bellies!



We ended our day by watching a football (soccer) game taking place next to our guest house and playing with the many Ugandan children there, which was my favorite part of the day 🙂 I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks have in store!


The children I got to play with this evening!


Could they be any cuter?