To celebrate Earth Day, we’ll be highlighting the importance of farming for protecting biodiversity, enhancing soils, creating economic opportunities, and improving nutrition.
The Africa Soil Health Consortium estimates that around 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans are small-scale family farmers, but if you talk to Ugandan students you won’t find many who aspire to join them. According to Edward Mukiibi, that’s because many schools in Uganda, and across Africa, use farming as a form of punishment. As a result, most young people see agriculture as an activity for rebellious and irresponsible people, and a career of last resort. But 23 year-old Edward Mukiibi, and 22 year-old Roger Sserunjogi, decided to change that, launching Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (Project DISC) in 2006.
Now partnered with Slow Food International’s local convivium, the group grows indigenous crops at schools, with a special focus on local vegetables such as sumiwiki and African eggplant. The gardens don’t use any hybrid seeds and members are taught how to save seeds from local varieties each year. At boarding schools, Project DISC grows equal numbers of crops from the lowlands and the highlands, working to have something familiar from all students’ hometowns. All the programs also emphasize cooking and processing techniques, following Edward Mukiibi’s maxim, “If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat.” Project DISC gardens also keep fresh produce at the heart of student meals in a country where chronic diseases associated with poor diet, including high blood pressure, are on the rise.
The programs have already inspired students, including 19-year old Mary Naku at Sirapollo Kaggwass Secondary School, to think seriously about farming as a career. For her, agriculture is not a punishment or a last resort, it is an intellectually stimulating opportunity to make money, support her community, and preserve biodiversity.