Edie Mukiibi is 29 and from Uganda. I’ve known him since he was 23. It was 2008 and he was finishing his agricultural studies in Kampala when, working in close contact with local farmers, he started to become aware that something in what he called modern agronomy wasn’t actually working.
“Towards the end of my studies, I found myself working alongside some small-scale farmers who had been persuaded to plant a commercial hybrid variety of corn. In the logic of industrial production, other crops had been neglected to make way for it. That year was truly disastrous. A terrible drought destroyed the entire crop, leaving the farmers destitute, as they had been plunged into debt buying the seeds.” For Edie it was the first time he had witnessed first-hand the damage that a production system can do when it doesn’t always meet farmers’ needs and is hardly suited to different cultures and crops, branding traditional knowledge as outdated and unscientific.
“After that major disappointment, I decided to help the farmers go back to the farming and the crops they knew, and to plant indigenous seeds, whose genetic heritage has been formed over centuries by adapting to the environment. This was clearly an emergency situation: if replaced by hybrid varieties, indigenous varieties with their unique genetic make-up risked disappearing in just a few years.”
As he started to voice his doubts, Edie came into contact with several other young people, including some agronomists, who shared his concerns. He set up a small activity to recover local seed varieties, starting a dialog with those who had to choose in which direction to take their farms, and raising awareness among local producers of the need to maintain crop diversity in their fields.
Through this work, Edie discovered several Terra Madre food communities and found a common interest with Slow Food’s goals.
“In 2008 I attended my first Terra Madre meeting in Turin and it was an incredible experience. Meeting people who, despite coming from all over the world, shared my doubts and my concerns, and who found themselves facing problems very similar to my own opened my eyes. There I realized that together we all really can make a difference.”
Edie’s energy is contagious and on his return from Turin he decided to found a Slow Food convivium in Uganda, which now has around 20 young, enthusiastic students, farmers and agronomists as members.
They immediately started work on one of our association’s most important projects: the creation of 1,000 food gardens in Africa. This project, with a recently increased target of 10,000 gardens, enables small communities, namely villages, schools, families and hospitals, to have healthy, fresh food in every season, and to set up meeting places for exchanging knowledge, helping people understand how food is produced, and the importance of preserving cultural diversity.
In order to reach everyone and be able to communicate with places further afield too, Edie set up a network of small community radio stations for exchanging information and coordinating activities in the countryside, helping to make individual communities stronger. “I wanted even the smallest farmers to feel they weren’t alone. We often manage to keep in touch by phone too, but with the radio we’re certain to reach even the most inaccessible areas.”
“In Uganda, where over 85% of farmers are small-scale, allowing systematic land grabbing by foreign states and agro-industrial giants and policies that are unfavorable to small-scale producers to destroy indigenous knowledge is tantamount to burning down our libraries. It means losing our history and our traditions.”
Since last year, Edie has been Vice President of Slow Food International and is one of the most politically active members of our network. And there are increasing numbers of young African leaders who, like him, are working towards a more sustainable and fairer future for their continent.
Article first published in La Repubblica Milano, March 22, 2015.
Edie is a member of Terra Madre Youth – We Feed The Planet, which, from October 3 to 6 in Milan, will bring together all young people involved in the food chain: thousands of farmers, fishers, students, chefs, cheesemakers and activists from around the world.