Jaspher Okello crouches low with his hands in the soil. He is surrounded by two hectares of orange-fleshed sweet potato vines which sprout from the earth. His three younger brothers watch and learn as he inspects the crop.
The 20-year-old is a fine example of a Ugandan farmer. Mr. Okello says, “I have hope in agriculture. I have been farming since I was 11 years old.”
Nine years ago, his family was captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. The militia was waging a war in northern Uganda, and was well-known for abducting children into its ranks. Mr. Okello was the youngest child. Luckily, the LRA left him behind in the village with his grandfather.
Mr. Okello says: “I’m from Pader town. But my grandfather and I ended up at a displacement camp in Lira. We stayed there for some time, and a nice mama fed us beans and cassava. She asked me to come and live with her and work on the farm.”
The LRA fled Uganda in 2005. Since then, Mr. Okello has lived with his adopted family in Atego village, three kilometres outside of Lira and 300 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. This is where he teaches his younger adoptive brothers about farming.
Perpetua Okao is that “nice mama.” The 63-year-old widowed mother of nine took Mr. Okello in and adopted him.
Mrs. Okao is an orange-fleshed sweet potato farmer who sells not only the potatoes, but also the vines. Like carrots, pumpkins and other orange-fleshed foods, orange sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for human growth and development, and also helps the body resist disease and maintain good vision.
Mrs. Okao says of Mr. Okello: “He’s a good boy and very hard-working. I taught him about agriculture and now he’s the best farmer in Atego village. He can explain everything about orange-fleshed sweet potato. I hope he takes over the business once I’m gone.”
Mr. Okello started going to school soon after settling in with Mrs. Okao. He attended classes during the day and worked on the farm in the evening. His adoptive mother smiles as she thinks back to when he was younger. She says: “During the holidays, he never fooled around like the other boys in the village. He was always in the farm tending to the crops. We had a farmer field day and he was the one talking to all the other farmers who came.”
Mr. Okello says, “Now I attend a teacher training college. I hope to educate young people and teach them about farming.”