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Rooted Scientific Farming Communities in Eastern Uganda

Centering local food systems in knowledge-generation and application ensures an adaptable food system in service to all.

Photo of Sally Nourani
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Kimanya-N'geyo Foundation for Science and Education

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Village groups in the following places: Jinja Subcounty (Danida, Wairaka and Buwenda Kikire, Budondo Subcounty (Kagera Valley, Kibibi, Bujagali, Lukolo), Kamuli District (Kiyunga, Kisozi, Busanga, Bugwala, Nawantale, Buwaibale) and Buikwe District (Bukabala, Kikondo, Nansana). We work with Education Officers in Jinja District, Budondo Subcounty and in Buikwe District, Njeru Subcounty. We hope to use the grant to also begin formally collaborating with district agricultural offices and other NGOs working in the area.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.kimanya.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Jinja

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Uganda

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Jinja, Kamuli and Buikwe Districts

What country is your selected Place located in?

Uganda

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We are collaborators of Kimanya-N’geyo Foundation for Science and Education. Kimanya-N’geyo was established in 2007 and is based in Jinja, Uganda. Kimanya and N’geyo are words meaning “to know” in two different local languages spoken by inhabits of this region. That name is representative of the vision of our organization, to draw on the power inherent in the diverse people of our region, to assist us to build capacity to use knowledge to direct the development of our communities. Kimanya N’geyo applies a curriculum called Preparation for Social Action (PSA).  This curriculum builds capabilities among our inhabitants to read our own reality in increasingly systematic ways. While studying this curriculum, we also conduct research around the processes of community life in our own communities, namely agriculture, health, socio-economic and education systems.

Kimanya-N’geyo Foundation has three areas of action in our region: a teacher training program, study groups in communities, and agricultural research and application. The teacher training team works closely with the District Education Office in Jinja and Buikwe to implement a multi-year teacher training program that has been very successful in assisting teachers to reflect on approaches to pedagogy that cultivate scientific capabilities in our children. The second line of action, called “PSA  in communities” enables groups of people to consciously integrate the accumulated knowledge of humanity into local knowledge systems that advance as knowledge is applied towards the forward movement of our communities. Third, the agriculture research team coordinates the efforts of participants to advance knowledge around specific problems that farmers in this region of Uganda articulate, experimenting with possible solutions based on resources readily available to smallholder farmers in the region. We are ultimately seeking to organize participatory scientific communities along each of these lines of action.



Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Our region is on the border of the Eastern and Central Region in Uganda and includes Buikwe, Kamuli and Jinja Districts. The region borders Lake Victoria on the southern end of Jinja District and contains the beginning of the Victoria Nile as it emerges out of Lake Victoria. Temperatures have low variance, between 15 and 30 C, with two rainy seasons that fuel two cycles of agricultural activity annually. Annual patterns are shifting dramatically, however, likely due to climate change.

Small scale agriculture dominates the socio-economic landscape, with over 80% of individuals still engaged in food cultivation. There is a history of food abundance and polyculture in this region, with multiple staple crops, fruits, vegetables and cash crops such as coffee grown in various combinations and consumed. Historically some foods have been obtained from wild or semi-wild populations including game, insects, herbaceous plants and fruits. These sources and practices have become scarce, however, with increasing population density, mono-cropping, hunting pressure, pesticide use and development of land.

Since Jinja is the location of the source of the Nile, it has historically attracted a diverse array of tribes, including Basoga and Baganda people among others. Population pressures have increased in recent years due to migration from the northern part of Uganda perhaps due to civil conflict. There are also historic populations that migrated from India in the late 1800’s and some South Africans and Europeans involved in ecotourism businesses.

It is a peaceful area with very little violent crime. Cultural and language differences have been managed in ways that promote and strengthen social cohesion. We believe there is an underlying rationality that prioritizes social relationships over individual achievement. Redistribution of wealth happens through social networks, receiving in times of need and giving in times of abundance.

The food reflects the diversity of tribes and influences from other nations, with many staple foods consumed: maize, plantains, cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, along with common beans, cowpeas, pigeon peas, tilapia and silver fish, beef, goat and chicken and a broad range of vegetables and fruits.

For meals, upper middle class people eat one or two starches with some kind of meat or vegetable stew with a sauce to flavor the starch. The sauces are usually either tomato based or pasted with ground nut sauce. Middle income Ugandans strive to have fish or groundnuts as a protein in their sauce several times a week, poorer Ugandans make sauce from greens and aspire to have a meat protein on holidays. For the poorest, a meal of starch and greens may be taken only once a day, and when food prices rise, the urban poor may eat a meal of starches less than once a day. There are increasing issues with malnutrition/diabetes in people who consume too much maize and sugar without enough other sources of protein and vegetable to balance the diet.



What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

3475

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1700000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Our complex problem is a result of a set of forces that prioritize industrial technologies and urbanization in development policy over the knowledge, desires and ways of local people. One major force is the haphazard introduction of agricultural technologies. These forces have pushed the long-standing cultural and economic dynamics supported by environmentally-sound, small-scale, polyculture into disequillibrium. The resulting system works in a manner familiar to much of the world: stripping people from the land they cultivate and nurture in the name of material progress.

Farming households in this region used to prosper, providing the economic, social, nutritional and spiritual basis of their communities and families. Today, experienced, full-time farmers struggle to produce enough to sell to cover family expenses such as school-fees and healthcare along with enough food for their families to eat. These farmers seek other sources of low-skilled off-farm income, lowering their economic status. This results in a simultaneous lowering of social status, where farming is becoming seen as a low or backwards occupation,  reflected in the ways in which our communities push children to any occupation other than farming. The demographics of the country, with 60% of people under 30 years old means that the number of graduates seeking wage labor jobs is out of proportion to the positions available and youth unemployment and underemployment are high. The long-standing agricultural backbone of Uganda is eroding. Given the tight connection between agricultural production and processes of community and social life, this erosion coincides with the degradation of culture, family life, health and security.

One example of the forces of industrial agriculture acting on the region, a part of this complex challenge is reflected in the presence of large sugar-cane operations in our region. These operations pay low wages to youth, attracting them away from schooling or farming on their own families’ land. Small-holder farmers are enticed to rent their land to sugar-cane operations for a 5-year term for a sum that seems large at the outset. However, the families struggle when the cash runs out and they don’t have their land to use to grow food for themselves. Also, sugarcane monocropping strips the land bare of any fruit trees, useful wild plants, nutrients in the soil and often leaves highly toxic pesticide residues.

Very few young people see a future in farming, which portends a major shift in the agricultural base of Ugandan society as farmers age and the youth leave for urban opportunities. The complexity of the problem extends to the future of socio-economic systems and culture as the means of production other than labor become inaccessible to the vast majority of Ugandans. The rich knowledge-base and cultural heritage embedded in un-documented local knowledge – a type of knowledge reflected in the practice of our people – will be lost. The future challenge lies in preserving our knowledge and extending it in ways that allows for local practice to evolve and adapt to the modern age.



Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

After studying a series of courses and engaging in basic research, Kimanya N’geyo’s collaborators, called promoters, select a long-term course of action that promotes well-being in their community. To begin, we will seek out the roughly 100 promoters who have experience in agriculture and further systematize their research activities through local farmers groups. We will first do this by convening quarterly agriculture research seminars that draw lessons from the results of community-based agricultural research plots. The seminars will allow the results and lessons from these plots to be documented and synthesized into new training materials that evolve as we develop further insights into new systems of production. The experimental plots of these farmer groups provide training grounds for the next set of promoters recruited from nearby communities who form new plots.

Each new experimental plot will first be designed insights from interviews with local farmers. Thereafter, new crop and animal combinations will be explored that cohere with the ends sought by the local community. Depending on the knowledge needs of a region, the network of farmer groups may request specific types of experiments to learn about solutions to water, pest and disease management issues in their locality. It is clear that this process benefits from added observations and insights that eventually necessitate the expansion of this scientific community.

In this way, small but sustained efforts to transform local knowledge systems gives rise to individual and collective development. Young people are excited by opportunities to apply their intellectual energy through local experiments. Community elders provide encouragement as the community’s intellectual assets applied locally. School teachers who integrate experimental plots into the classroom experience orient students towards locally uplifting research paths.

Over time, however, the desire for material progress also needs to be addressed. The increasing systematization of farmer groups can yield a corresponding complexity that increases material gains. We envision, for example, networks of farmer groups whose research can establish a well-functioning seed bank where farmers in our network can contribute and receive seeds and stems of local varieties of crops. This banking method can relieve the financial burden and risk to farmers of trying new crops, which further reinforces a culture of experimentation and learning. It can also serve as a genetic storehouse of important medicinal species (and corresponding medicinal research branches) that free households from unnecessary medical expenditures.

As our farmer group networks document their own research, they will be increasingly capable of integrating their knowledge into national discourses around agricultural production and policy. We feel that only five to ten years of quarterly cycles of action, reflection and consultation will result in profound transformation.



High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We are interested in a food system vision that begins with people in community and is stimulated by a place-based and ground up educational process. This process leads to complementary functions for institutions, government, markets and communities leading to just, equitable and resilient regional food economies. What is needed is a process of learning and action spanning decades, culminating in a process in which networked communities act as “rooted scientific communities.” These communities have the capacity to build institutions in their own micro-regions consistent with the aforementioned process while sharing knowledge through regional networks. Centering this enterprise around knowledge generation and application ensures an ever-changing and adaptable food system in service to all.

In our context, a major marker we will look for is the attitude people have towards farming. The process we will help to give rise to recognizes agricultural work as the very important, highly intellectually engaging work that it is. Farmers are storehouses of knowledge about the local environment and the means of adapting to changing climatic conditions. We have highlighted how this knowledge is highly valuable to the communities themselves, but we also believe that this knowledge will become increasingly utilized by scholars at all levels of society, including universities. The power of knowledge that is rooted in action does not go unnoticed by serious scholars and, already, we have attracted a number of carefully selected academics to help document and describe our activities and develop the research capabilities of our staff. We envision that these types of collaboration might also give rise to the establishment of a rural university rooted in processes of community life. This will elevate the status of farming while stimulating and sustain local economies and culture - all of which further strengthens a healthy attitude towards farming in society.



Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Vision for 2050

By 2050 farmers in our region will have developed systems of thought and action that facilitate the production of nutritious food in an ecologically sustainable way, that create new institutions that strengthen the economy, health and education of our communities while premised on core local values promoting social interconnectedness, and that elevate the economic and social status of farming to the high-skilled and rewarding profession it can be. To bring it into reality, an ever-expanding group of people must struggle against strong forces acting in society and bring new spirit and function to existing institutions while simultaneously building new institutions to support the growing movement we articulate throughout.


We have the tools that can cultivate an understanding in our communities that local knowledge can be developed in a way that is integrated with global knowledge systems and its application can result in individual and collective progress. At its core, the challenge can be addressed if individuals become conscious of opportunities that align individual development with a knowledge-centered process of development that enriches rural collective life.


The Preparation for Social Action (PSA) curriculum that we utilize cultivates this type of consciousness and generates momentum as a locally embedded scientific community begins to emerge. In this community the relationships we have with each other and our place are not sacrificed for notions of progress that destroy our environment and serve the few. A hopeful vision for the future is instilled from early ages as our inhabitants begin to view themselves as scientists of their community through rich educational and research experiences.


It may be helpful to state a set of assumptions that guide the next phase of system change as we envision. First, the use and sharing of knowledge is central to the development of a community. Human beings have evolved and succeeded primarily because of their ability to learn about their environment and share that knowledge with each other. At earlier stages in our evolution, hunters and gatherers had to know and pass down to each generation huge amounts of information about wild food sources (what could be found where at what times of year); dangers and many other skills needed to survive in the natural environment. This human instinct to learn and share knowledge enabled us to domesticate crops, over a long period of time, separately across virtually all of the continents. This instinct is also manifested in the drive towards industrialization and the “development enterprise” which desires to spread the benefits of technology to all people on earth. In this “information age” global consciousness has risen about how we are interconnected with all members of humanity. Despite this, the global intensification of information exchange has not led to an inclusive form of prosperity shared by all inhabitants of the world, and especially the rural populations producing a vast majority of the world’s food.


Our vision includes a re-thinking of how we produce, use and share knowledge - to ensure that knowledge does not remain a product of the ivory towers, but also benefits and involves the participation of the segments of society struggling at the grassroots. Rather than getting farmers to adopt one technology or the other, we want to equip an expanding number of farmers with greater scientific capacity to analyze and improve their own systems, not just for their own prosperity but for the well-being of their neighbors, neighboring communities, nation and world. We want to do this in a way that engages an ever-widening circle of people in cycles of knowledge generation, application and diffusion. As a result of the work of Kimanya-N’geyo over the past twelve years, we have a place to start. We have relationships in many villages across the region and a reputation for appreciating the knowledge of all. 


Second, systems must be set up to ensure the application of the principle of justice: all members of the community find ways of participating in the process of local knowledge generation and its application. The methods and tools of science need to be accessed by the masses of humanity so that they can be used to solve the particular problems of particular people and places. To do this, capacity must be built to access bodies of relevant knowledge, both academic and local knowledge. Simultaneously, seminar-like spaces must be created where locally sourced scientific insights can be shared with a broader network, ensuring that local knowledge is generated that serves local, regional and national systems of food production and distribution.


Third, we need to seek greater levels of unity and collective will by recognizing that the health and happiness of each individual is organically linked to the development of their environment and community. Among other concepts, this includes the crucial notion that a community is based in a physical place, defined by climate, ecology, soil and a pool of genetic resources in domestic and wild plants and animals. Our rootedness in a place has eroded in this modern era with extensive migration within Uganda and across national borders. However, forms of prosperity that are sustainable and ecologically-sound must respond to the ecology of that particular place. This is achieved as our group of collaborators uses texts from the PSA program to learn more about the knowledge contributions of various scientific disciplines, including ecology, and characterize our own ecosystems with increasing clarity of thought.

We envision cycles of study, action and reflection that address the following topics as all are essential to the type of ecologically sound, culturally rooted prosperity that we hope to work towards:


RE-LINKING AGRICULTURE AND NUTRITION


People need to eat a diversity of foods. As the scale of farming has increased, the crops produced have narrowed, increasing the availability of calories but without the accompanying protein, vitamins and micronutrients that people need to be healthy. This trend needs to be reversed to promote nutritious diets sourced from a local area. Farmers have an important role in considering the nutrition of their families and their villages. As individuals with the knowledge of how to produce food from the abundance of sunlight and fertile soils, farmers can be very important contributors to nutrition at the level of the village if they think about their role in this way. The networks of farmer groups we hope to bring together can consider and consult about lines of action that have the potential for helping people improve their nutrition. 


CONSIDERING ALL HUMAN ACTIVITIES AS EMBEDDED WITHIN ECOSYSTEMS


We are dependent on the life-giving processes of our planet. And we have to pursue food production in ways that doesn’t undermine the capacity of the soils, watersheds, insect populations and many other systems. As they go about their work, some farmers are keen observers of the natural world around them, including ecological nuances and the impacts of subtle or obvious changes in temperature or rainfall patterns. By drawing on the rich genetic and cultural heritage of the region through the interview process described, farmers in our learning network are in a key position to remember, record, find seeds and plant vegetables, fruits and wild species that have long been important to the region but are becoming increasingly scarce.  Researchers working in another region in Uganda 70 years ago were predicting an environmental collapse due to the pressures of population growth on local agricultural production systems. However, this collapse never occured and an article in 2002 by Grace Carswell described adaptation and changes that farmers undertook, without external intervention. We believe in our capacity to adapt in this way.


We envision people in our area also developing systematic knowledge and ways of monitoring wild animal species in our ecosystems. This will help us learn whether we are also providing space for these non-human neighbors. Within the PSA are texts on ecology and environmental issues that can serve as a starting point for action and knowledge generation. Wild animals are a big agricultural pest in Uganda. If we have a long term vision of balanced ecosystems, we will have to carefully consider what kinds of ecosystems can support wild populations of animals while also protecting crops meant for humans.


Rural Prosperity and Conscious Technological Choice


We envision the creation of spaces through our expanding networks where people can consider and try to envision for themselves what a prosperous rural community may look like in Uganda. This will require pushing back against materialistic forces and images we are fed about what it looks like to be wealthy and recognizing and articulating non-material forms of wealth. Simultaneously, we need to consult realistically about what rises in living standards are needed in our area for health and prosperity. We treasure the knowledge and spiritual qualities embedded in our local culture. And also recognize that cultures need to advance to rid themselves of harmful superstitions and to ensure the progress of all members, for example, in considering the equality of men and women.  


We hope to strengthen and reinforce the social status and importance of farmers in the region and to attract more young people to farming. The process we have outlined of placing knowledge generation, application and diffusion at the heart is very different than interventions who view farmers as consumers of technology produced far away.  Many agricultural technologies have been and are being promoted in this region. We envision farmers who themselves can consciously select technologies, sometimes as individuals and sometimes as groups to intensify their food production without unintended negative consequences. 



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Photo of Dickson Kikyonkyo
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Thank you for the food and farming systems extension initiative in Jinja and surrounding areas. I suggest for a discussion with you for partnership with your team.

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