Innovation of the Week: Exchanging Bold Ideas to Empower Urban Farmers

By Janeen Madan

Julius Musimenta, from the Agency for Integrated Rural Development in Kampala Uganda, spent 6 weeks in April working at Growing Power, a U.S. nonprofit working to improve access to healthy and safe food. At the headquarters based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julius conducted vermi-composting projects, using worms to improve soil fertility, and worked on backyard poultry projects.

Food security fellows share ideas on practices in urban agriculture that are working on the ground. (Photo credit: Supriya Kumar)

Julius is one of 53 Professional Food Fellows in Food Security – an exchange program that brings together young leaders from the U.S. (Wisconsin, Colorado, and Indiana) and Africa (Uganda and Kenya), who are working to alleviate hunger in their home communities. They are involved in a wide range of agricultural projects, including expanding extension services, improving nutrition, and raising livestock and poultry in urban areas.

The program is supported by Bold Leaders—a Denver-based non-profit that provides training services for young leaders around the world—in partnership with Growing Power, Mazingira Institute, and Environmental Alert. It aims to foster collaboration among farmers, activists, and educators, working in the field of urban agriculture and encourages them to share ideas of what’s working on the ground.

During the two-year fellowship program, fellows visit each other’s countries twice a year, where they participate in training workshops, meet local organizations, and engage in discussions on the social, economic, and political factors that impact urban farming. The program hosts an interactive online forum where fellows can stay connected with each other and continue to share ideas, discuss best practices, and ask for advice.

The program is empowering fellows to make direct impacts on food security issues in their communities. After sharing his ideas and learning from other fellows, Stephen Makere Alexander developed a plan to start a school poultry farming project in his home community in Tanzania. The project will teach students to raise poultry, boosting nutrition and enabling them to earn extra money to pay for school supplies and uniforms.

The program emphasizes protecting environmental resources that small-scale farmers depend on for their food and income. According to Julius, food security has a symbiotic relationship with the environment. During his experience working with Growing Power, Julius worked with other fellows to find practices that can sustainably rebuild soil fertility.

Rather than silver bullet solutions, the program emphasizes the value of local innovations and seeks to find ways to connect farmers with ongoing research, says Alex Zizinga, founder and coordinator of  The Community Garden Project in Uganda. He adds that researchers—especially in Africa—are focused on scientific knowledge and often ignore the vital local knowledge of farmers.

This experience has enabled the visiting fellows to share lessons from their own work and to learn about similar food security issues facing communities in the U.S. “We shared our experiences with them and they told us what’s working. Now we’re taking a lot back home,” said Sylvia Galuoch, an urban farmer from Nairobi, Kenya.

Sharing ideas of what’s working and learning from each others’ experiences is an important first step in finding concrete solutions to the common challenges that urban farmers face.

Do you know of other exchange initiatives that foster collaboration among farmers across borders?

Janeen Madan was a communications associate with the Nourishing the Planet project. She is currently working with the World Food Programme in Dakar, Senegal.

To read more about the BOLD Food Leaders, see: Community Livelihood Strengthens Food Security at Grass Root Level

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discount, please click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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