Voice of the voiceless
In Africa, when an old man dies, it's a library burning.
— Amadou Hampâté Bâ
MAAIF, MO's, UNFFE, CSBAG, FRA, AGC, PSOs, NGOs, etc. I have learned a lot of acronyms this week while working with PELUM Uganda. PELUM stands for Participatory Ecological Land Use Management. PELUM is a network of 53 like-minded organizations supporting small holder farmers and ecological land use.
PELUM centers their focus on three thematic areas: agricultural market development, sustainable farming systems and advocacy. My work with PELUM was spent in the advocacy department. On my second day, I was sent as the sole representative to a breakfast meeting with various civil society organizations and members of Parliament. Although at first it was a little intimidating, I feel I learned a lot. Sometimes the sink or swim method of learning is the best way for me to learn.
One thing that makes PELUM Uganda unique is their approach to development. The P in PELUM (Participatory) is central to the work that they do. The most common trends in development tend to be top-down approaches where knowledge is imposed on farmers instead of garnered from them. However, PELUM flips the script and places the importance of development back in the field with farmers.
Top-down approaches to development are often not applicable to farmers. PELUM uses a bottom-up approach because they are a member-based organization, so the members own the network. This approach is effective, respective and empowering to the farmers themselves. So, who are the member organizations PELUM works with?
Remember a couple weeks ago when I spent time in the village with Kikandwa Environmental Association (KEA) and their community of supremely innovative farmers? KEA and the farmers of that community are one of the many success stories that PELUM works to support. They serve as the voice of the voiceless.
A picture from my time with Kikandwa Environmental Association, one of PELUM Uganda's member organizations.
The participatory approach that PELUM uses creates a more effective roadmap to development. The approach ensures that the solutions to the problems are led by the farmers and are not only replicable and affordable but also gender and technologically relevant to farmers.
I was connected to both PELUM and KEA by another transformative organization out of the United States called A Growing Culture. The work that A Growing Culture does with PELUM and KEA is one of a kind. A Growing Culture is intent upon bringing farmers back to the forefront of agriculture, seeding the way to a revolutionary agricultural movement.
One of my favorite things about the last few weeks was the opportunity to work in a very collaborative network of wonderful organizations. The last few weeks has been filled with connection after connection. From the innovative farmers in Kasejjere village and Kikandwa Environmental Association, to the advocacy efforts of PELUM Uganda and A Growing Culture, all of these organizations are unified with the mutual goal of food sovereignty. I'm lucky to be working with them.
I helped in the advocacy department this week. We started a petition and held a press conference on behalf of small holder farmers.
In the same way that the ecology of agriculture is filled with interweaving connections, so are we as people. Food systems are changed through grassroots efforts like the organizations I have been working with. When we begin to realize that we are all fundamentally bound together, and that this fact is a strength not a weakness, then we will see true justice.
It would be wrong not to mention and thank Ceaser. He has been my driver, fixer, translator and best friend the entire time I have been in Uganda.
"Mpola mpola, otuuka waala." - "Slowly by slowly, you will reach far." - Ugandan Proverb
Oh, and I became an uncle this week! Welcome to Earth, Nell Meadow!
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.