It takes a village
News travels fast in Kasejjere village. Whether the news is of a new farmer innovation or that a Westerner is in the village, communication is vital in rural Uganda. I spent the week with John Kaganga, the founder of Kikandwa Environmental Association (KEA). John is a very humble man who has traveled the world, has spoken at the United Nations, and has played a big role in the transformation of his community.
What makes John unique is the incredible amount he has accomplished with very few resources. When John sees a need, he does everything he can to fill that need. When he saw the nearest computer lab was 40 kilometers away, he raised funding to build one that also includes a small library for his community. The nearest school was 8 kilometers away; he started a school that has moved from classrooms under a mango tree to a temporary structure and is currently raising funds to finish a permanent school to serve more than 150 village children.
My brothers and sister at my host home this week.
The list of his accomplishments goes on and on; there are literally dozens of projects started by John and KEA. Kasejjere village is turning into a utopia of sorts in which the needs of the community are being met slowly but surely through the determination of just a handful of people that work for KEA. I met some incredibly innovative people that gave and gave but only asked one thing from me: that I share their stories. While each person deserves a whole book written about them, I will do my best to briefly describe their work.
Salongo Kakembo Ziboyimu is a community farmer using innovative techniques to control soil erosion, nutrient recycling, agroecological farming, and preserving native seeds and educating others about their importance.
Kakembo holding a few of the dozens of varieties of seeds he has saved.
Nabatanzi Margret is a farmer who has found and identified a rare variety of amaranthus native to Uganda and found 10 ways in which the plant can be processed into value-added products, which she sells all over the region.
Margret had me trying many of her amaranthus creations. They were great!
Kamya Jackson Salongo is a farmer practicing permaculture, intercropping and agroforestry. He teaches other farmers the importance of biodiversity and how diversifying crops builds resilience against the effects of climate change.
John (left) and Jackson (right) stand by Jackson's young eucalyptus trees.
All of these farmers live within a stone's throw of one another in a small community and are all known throughout East Africa for their unique innovations. If these farmers aren't teaching or presenting at workshops, they are teaching children and other farmers in their community. Their innovative techniques build strong livelihoods in rural communities and show the youth that farming is a viable career. These are the small-scale farmers that are leading the charge to promote sustainable ecological farming. These are the farmers who need the support of the government.
I have spoken a lot about the importance of food security, but another idea of equal importance is that of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food sovereignty is about the democratization of food systems in which those that produce, distribute and consume food are at the center of food systems and the policies which govern them.
Food sovereignty means that communities own the decisions about what, when, why and how food is produced. This idea shuns the idea of a top down approach to food systems and encourages a linear approach that promotes autonomy between producers, distributors and consumers.
The democratization of food systems views people as citizens rather than consumers and treats food as a human right. The promotion of food sovereignty also respects and places value in the innovations of farmers, cultural traditions and indigenous knowledge. It is a pragmatic approach to ensuring everyone has a voice in the decision-making processes that determines access to safe and nutritious food. Food sovereignty ensures farmers like Kakembo, Margret, and Jackson are given the justice they deserve.
I'm trying to make Oklahoma City Thunder fans everywhere I go.
Tanner Roark is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Roark is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where he focuses on international agriculture development.