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Youth (inter-)action for innovative upcycling solutions and income creation

Facilitating the exchange of ideas and knowledge between community and university youth to design and construct recycle bottle greenhouses .

Photo of Reagan Kandole
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Over the last 20 years, the capital city of Uganda, Kampala, has grown at an alarming rate from just under one million in 1995 to approximately 1.9 million people in 2015[1]. The rapidly growing urban centre faces many challenges among them the disposal 730,000 tons of waste produced daily of which only an estimate 1% is presently recycled. In addition, with one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world - about 53% of Uganda’s are younger than 15 – Kampala youth struggle to find paid employment. Currently an estimated 64% of unemployed are aged 24 and under. In Kampala alone, some 400,000 youths compete annually for approximately 9,000 formal jobs.

ECOACTION focuses therefore on supporting disadvantaged youth and women to develop sustainable income opportunities in the informal sector through the upcycling of waste products (both organic and non-organic). Within the Banda neighborhood of Kampala city, ECOACTION works presently with theparticularly vulnerable and marginalized community of garbage collectors. This community consists of some 78 individuals, mainly single mothers and children who collect and sort garbage for saleable items (plastic bottles, scrap metal, organic matter etc.). This small core group was displaced from a former location along the railway lines and is now squatting on private land with no formal entitlement to the land they live on. The group is joined for its activities by unemployed youth from Banda to explore opportunities of income generation. The aim is not only to find sustainable opportunities for individuals and groups and enable them acquire the necessary entrepreneurial skills. ECOACTION support aims to strengthen community collaborationfor members to proactively shape their futuretogether. The long term goal is to create a waste free environment as a model for other disadvantaged communities.

The community centre

In order to better organize collective activities and enable the community come together to learn skills and identify new opportunities, the community has constructed an all-purpose centre from recycled plastic bottles. The centre includes community meeting space, offices and training rooms. Inspired by the construction of the centre, the community considered building semi-permanent greenhouses from recycled plastic bottles for urban agriculture as a source of income and improved nutritional status of the community.

Finding a suitable construction however required expert input, not available in the community itself. ECOACTION assisted the community to partner with the Ugandan Christian University (UCU) in near by Mukono town to benefit from their expertise. A unique event brought together youth representatives from the community and young students from the departments of Art and Design, Agriculture and Engineering. In a three-day workshop, the youth shared ideas and knowledge to jointly design and build an appropriate greenhouse for urban/slum agriculture using recycled plastic bottles. The chief challenges they addressed where the stability and durability of the structure, ventilation, rainwater catchment, irrigation as well as suitable plants and cultivation methods for optimal use of a small space.

For the youth from the community, this interaction not only provided an opportunity to develop their idea, it enabled them gain confidence that their experience was equally important as the knowledge of university students. For the young students, it provided an opportunity for practical hands-on experience, an exposure to the community and the possibility to see how solving real life challenges required taking into consideration different perspectives, disciplines and knowledge.

The prototype greenhouse is now with the department of agriculture which is exploring the most suitable horticultural plants (indigenous and modern vegetables) for marketing and nutrition. In the meantime, the involved representatives from have shared the outcome of the workshop with other community members. The community has already adopted the idea of urban gardening around the community centre using compost from organic waste. The gardens serve both as a means of income generation through the sale of seedlings and produce as well as a way of improving the nutritional status of the community.

From here the community is interested in identifying markets for its produce to ensure sustainability of this income opportunity. To do so it has identified the need for capacity strengthening in marketing and financial management as well as in video documentation to capture their progress and share with other communities.

ECOACTION has been approached by other youth organizations in Uganda such as YES in Busia and Youth Rising based near the largest land fill in Kampala to share their upcycling solutions. The Kampala City Council has also expressed interested to support the initiative. This could lead to a wider out-scaling of urban agriculture using recycled bottle greenhouses. There are also plans to introduce urban agriculture and plastic bottle greenhouse construction into the school curriculum.

The university has also gained a valuable experience and contact to enrich its outreach programme and envisages internships for students with the community and further joint workshops.

[1] Index Mundi, Uganda Demographics Profile, 2016

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Photo of Nilusha Jayasinghe

Very nice Reagan! After visiting your site and seeing this work in action, I know the great work that you're doing. I will support however I can!

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