This is the first in three-part series of blogs about my visit with DISC project schools in Mukono District, Uganda.
In Mukono District, about an hour outside of Kampala, Uganda, agriculture used to be considered a “punishment” for young people at school if they didn’t behave and something they would be forced to do if they couldn’t go to university or find jobs in the city, according to Edward Mukiibi and Roger Serunjogi, coordinators of the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project. Edward, 23, and Roger, 22 started the project in 2006 as a way to improve nutrition, environmental awareness, and food traditions and culture in Mukono by establishing school gardens at 15 preschool, day and boarding schools. And over the last year, DISC has received global attention for its work—DISC is now partly funded by Slow Food International.
They started with Sunrise School, a preschool taking care of children between the ages of 3 and 6. By teaching these kids early about growing, preparing, and eating food they hope to cultivate the next generation of farmers and eaters who can preserve Uganda’s culinary traditions. In addition to teaching the children about planting indigenous and traditional vegetables and fruit trees, DISC puts a big emphasis on food preparation and processing. “If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat,” says Edward. The kids at Sunrise—and the other schools working with DISC—know how to grow, how to prepare, and how to eat food, as well as its nutritional content.
As a result, these students grow up with more respect—and excitement—about farming. At Sirapollo Kaggwass Secondary School, we met 19 year-old Mary Naku, who is learning farming skills from DISC. This was her school’s first year with the project and Mary has gained leadership and farming skills. “As youth we have learned to grow fruits and vegetables,” she says, “to support our lives.”
Betty Nabukalu, a 16 year-old student at Kisoga Secondary School, manages her school’s garden and explained how DISC has taught the students “new” methods of planting vegetables. Before, she says, “we used to just plant seeds,” but now she and the other students know how to fertilize with manure and compost. And, she says, they’ve learned not only that they can produce food, but that they can also earn money from it. DISC is also helping build leadership skills. Betty represents students from her on the local Slow Food Convivium, groups of Slow Food members that are dedicated to preserving local food cultures.
Thanks to DISC, students no longer see agriculture as an option of last resort, but rather as a way to make money, help their communities, and preserve biodiversity.