My journey from humble beginnings to slow food

I was born into a relatively large family that lived on the northern shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. Like many other low-income families in the area, our main source of livelihood was mixed farming on a small plot of land, which also provided most of our food needs. I quickly learned the importance of farming and food production, and I always loved going with my mother and brothers to the garden. Every time there is something to harvest, and we also plant something at the same time, due to the nature of the mixed and cultivated garden.

On the other hand, in school, farming is increasingly becoming a way to punish students for minor infractions such as arriving late or speaking local languages ​​instead of English at school. With all the work I had to do every morning at home and the strong attachment I had to my local language, I was a regular visitor to the school garden. Eventually I started talking to the teachers and trying to convince them to let us do the gardening not as a punishment but as an important activity, so that the pupils could learn how to grow food. I wanted to teach my classmates some additional skills and reverse the negative behavior they were developing towards farming. Of course this was ignored by the school administration and I promised myself that one day I would do something to stop the use of farming as a punishment.

That’s why in 2006, after joining Makerere University in Kampala, I founded the Innovation Development in Schools Agriculture (DISC) project in order to work with schools and communities to make farming an interest-oriented and productive educational activity rather than treating it as a punitive educational activity. My work in agriculture in schools and a desire to expand positive experiences has inspired me to take leadership positions in the College of Agriculture and to support more outreach programs for the communities.

When I was in college I had one of the worst experiences of my career. But it was also a turning point that brought me to an important decision about agri-food systems.

As a very active agricultural student, I had the opportunity to work on a project that promotes hybrid maize seeds throughout the Kyankwanzi region. This maize hybrid was considered drought tolerant, and I worked with a team to encourage and educate farmers on how to grow this maize for higher yields. These higher returns will only be achieved if all recommended synthetic inputs are also used. As farmers are always looking for ways to beat the harsh climate, many have got the seeds and inputs for the growing season, ready to plant this new variety, which is even better if grown in a pure setting, without the traditional intercropping and agroforestry systems.

But early in the first planting season of 2007, a drought occurred and resulted in losses for farmers who set aside large plots of their land solely for corn. I went back to the community to meet the farmers, as it was a standard practice of checking, evaluating and providing support, and I couldn’t believe the damage this system was doing to the communities. When I spoke to them, I felt their disappointment, frustration, and insecurity. This led me to rethink which production system really works for African societies if we are to eradicate hunger, poverty and malnutrition, among other grievances. When I apologized and sympathized with the farmers, I began to think of working with them to rebuild a local system based on local resources, knowledge, and diverse traditional farming systems. In fact, the renewal of local systems to become as flexible as the ones that existed.

I vowed to stick with that decision, even though at the time I lacked much knowledge of sustainable diets. However, I had my childhood experience on our family’s small farm, which helped me to continue my chosen path. I left my tempting job with a well-funded project with a lot of future career prospects to develop agribusiness solutions because I realized that these solutions do not work for the local population, but create more suffering and agony around the world. I started looking for more knowledge on how to rebuild traditional farming systems based on local ecosystems and started organizing training sessions with a few farmers to rebuild traditional African farming system, which is respectful of local environment and seed system knowledge and based on inputs and resources.

Most importantly, I began to incorporate this knowledge into the school gardens I had created and which I was actively working on. It was a lot of hard work, but over time I started collaborating with other students who supported my idea and making local communication innovations like using community radio. I started looking for other people and organizations who were also interested in rebuilding food systems based on diversity, local resources, knowledge and working with communities moving in the same direction, as well as those who had a connection to the educational project I was running in the schools. I’ve shared this inspiration and experience via online learning platforms, which is how Slow Food found me. I was so relieved to learn that there are other people out there who care about these issues and that I don’t work alone against the big powers. The real and unforgettable moment of my first encounter with the Slow Food movement and the Terra Madre Network was when I was invited to participate in Terra Made 2008, a truly exhilarating experience, learning, connecting, inspiration and renewal that gave me the strength to go home and do more to build a broader, more effective, stronger network and join in. To the movement for a good, clean and fair diet. This is the electrifying feeling of Terra Madre.

Reflecting on my story, I realize that there are many farmers, artisans, and other grassroots activists from humble beginnings and rural communities whose work gives practical meaning to our philosophy and translates the founding ideas of Slow Food into reality.

Finding ways to continually welcome this diversity, enthusiasm and creativity into our structures creates a wealth of diverse knowledge, skills and experiences that enrich our global movement from the local level up. The new organizational structure opens new opportunities for our network to break social and geographic boundaries and reach more open and inclusive. The participatory founding model that we adopt from July onwards is the result of groupthink and reminds us of who we truly are, a true grassroots movement made up of Convia members and communities from every corner of the world. It will give us the vital strength to confront and challenge the complex deficiencies of the current diet, which is marked by a series of crises and injustices. It is important that we put more efforts and resources to strengthen and grow this interconnected grassroots network by training and nurturing more leaders and more activists, opening up to more communities and building our Convivia membership base. It is also important to open our doors, hearts, and minds to collaboration with others who are on the same journey as us, and to create advocacy alliances and other partnerships.

The time has come when we must break out of our social and geographic bubbles and make connections with others who share the same vision of a good, clean and fair diet and those who work to regenerate the planet.

This interconnectedness within and outside our network creates a mosaic that may seem imperfect at first. But in the end, the small pieces of this mosaic together form a powerful image of a snail, one that is clearly visible and powerfully present throughout the world. Through complex wisdom and physical actions, Terra Madre brings us together to define our basal strength.

This path is also very important for the development of our thematic networks and creates a healthy ground for pollination of ideas on how to develop robust management systems for our major projects and other popular activities. It may sound complicated, but with the Call to Action as our guiding document and with the open and inclusive organizational structure we adopt, I’m sure our path to a good, clean and fair diet will become much clearer.

We are stronger together.

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