Fostering Innovation at the First East Africa Agroecology Conference

10 Apr 2023

 width=The First East Africa Agroecology Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from March 21-24, bringing together farmers and food professionals from around the world for four days of discussion around current trends in agroecology in East Africa.

The theme of the conference was “Strengthening Resilience and Sustainability in Food Systems for Environmental and Socioeconomic Development”, and included keynote speeches, panel discussions and presentations from leading experts on different topics. One of the guest speakers during the conference was Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries in Uganda Hon. Fred Bwino Kyakulaga delivered remarks highlighting Uganda’s commitment to organic agriculture and sustainability. He also applauded the participants for their dedication to agroecology practices and emphasized the importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing in building a sustainable food system in East Africa. The conference also featured discussions about agroecological policy initiatives that could potentially shape future government regulations on sustainable practices at the regional and international level.

The Slow Food network in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania was represented by ten participants at the conference, including the President of Slow Food International, Edie Mukiibi, thanks to the support from Biovision Foundation, Agroecology Fund and PELUM Uganda.

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Other Slow Food network members who participated included food producers who exhibited agroecological products such as indigenous seeds, fruits like local bananas, porridge from indigenous millet and sorghum varieties as well as some Ark of Taste products like Bambara groundnuts and Kobe yams from Uganda. There were also Presidia products including Kisansa Coffee, Nyasaland Coffee and Teso Finger Millet from Uganda, and Mau Forest Dried Nettles, Lare Pumpkin and Endorois Bogoria Kisochon from Kenya. Slow Food publications such as the Ark of Taste Book from Kenya, the “From Earth to Table” cook book from Uganda, the Gardens in Africa handbook, and the Food and Health Position Paper were shared with the conference guests.

There were also discussions with the team from the Biovision Foundation, where the Slow Food team from Uganda and Kenya highlighted the impact the Foundation’s contribution makes to upscaling agroecology in East Africa. Coming together to share these experiences ultimately led to a better understanding of different perspectives at the conference: this is vital when we are collectively seeking to tackle complex problems like how best to feed increasing populations without damaging delicate ecosystems! During the side event organized by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), a lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University, Dr. Murongo Marius presented findings that were conducted by a group of students on how to preserve perishable products like tomatoes using the naturally available resources like ash.

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Visitors to the Slow Food stand during the event included the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries of Uganda: The stand was an effective platform that provided visitors with insights on how different agricultural practices affect local communities. These insights were the fruit of field visits conducted to three farms (Brackenhurst Limuru in Kiambu, Grow Biointensive Agriculture Centre in Murang’a and Charles’ Farm in Machakos Counties—all in Kenya) by Slow Food members who went to learn more about agroecological practices such as vermicomposting, organic manure making, water harvesting, agroforestry (syntropic agroforestry), crop diversification, integrated pest and disease management and seed saving.

The Slow Food International President’s Perspective on the Conference

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One negative to report is that sadly no Kenyan government officials turned up for the event. The Kenyan government has exhibited strong support for GMOs and agribusiness corporations in the recent past, and this will cause more hunger and suffering in East Africa.

The topic of consumption and diets was not given sufficient attention in the research abstracts presented in breakout sessions.

We believe that besides supporting farmers in agroecological production and advocacy work, there should be more initiatives promoting agroecological transition in diets among the growing African middle-class, who erroneously associate ecologically-produced food from local species with poverty, and, by extension, associate junk food with wealth.

This is a question of social ignorance that needs to be addressed by the agroecology movement in Africa; this is work we do through the Cooks’ Alliance and our education programs, but this work receives little attention because of the limited public understanding of what needs to be done to unlock the potential of agroecology.

The absence of Kenyan government officials is a cause for worry for so many Kenyan people, especially considering the government’s commitment to ending hunger and food injustice, issues which are a daily reality for Kenyans. This conference would have been a great opportunity for the government explore the solutions to food insecurity that were presented and shared.

Overall, Slow Food participants gained valuable insights from this opportunity to network with other like-minded people from around the world. What we learned at the event will help to inform future food production decisions among our network, ensuring long term success for the farmers, those that reply on the food they grow, and for the sustainability of the planet.

 

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