Cultivating a Passion for Agriculture

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(photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

(photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

This is the third in a three-part series of blogs about my visit with DISC project schools in Mukono District, Uganda. You can read the first two by clicking here and here.

One thing you immediately notice upon meeting Edward Mukiibi and Roger Sserunjogi is their passion for kids and agriculture. Their eyes both lit up whenever they talked about the students who are part of DISC, Developing Innovations in School Cultivation, a project they founded after graduating from Makere University in Kampala. When we met Edward, he had just gotten back from the World Food Summit in Rome, where he was representing Slow Food International’s Youth Delegation. He works during the week at the Ugandan Organic Certification Company. Roger is a school teacher and administrator at Sunrise School, where DISC launched its pilot project in 2006.

Edward says that after fulfilling their goals of being able to go to university, he and Roger wanted to “help other people realize their dreams.” And they wanted to spread their “passion for producing local foods to the next generation.” By focusing on school gardens, Edward and Roger are helping not only feed children, but are also revitalizing an interest in—and cultivation of—African indigenous vegetables. The schools don’t use any hybrid seeds, but rely on what is locally available. Students and teachers at DISC project schools are taught how to save seed from local varieties of amaranth, sumiwiki, maize, African eggplant, and other local crops to grow in school gardens. They learn how to both dry the seeds and how to store them for the next season. With support from Slow Food International, DISC is establishing a seed bank to, according to Edward, “preserve the world’s best vegetables.”

Improving nutrition is especially important for boarding school students, who eat all of their meals at school. These children come from all over Uganda and DISC tries to make them feel at home by growing varieties of crops that are familiar to them from both the lowlands and highlands. According to Edward, “a child needs to see what she’s used to” in order to appreciate its importance.

At both day and boarding schools, students work with school chefs to learn how to cook foods—giving them the opportunity to understand food production literally from farm to table. And unlike most other schools in Uganda, DISC project schools get local fruits with their breakfast and can harvest their own desert at lunchtime. DISC is planning the “Year of Fruits” for the next school year, which begins in January or February depending on the school—each school will be planting its own fruit trees on campus.

Roger explained that in addition to the monkeys who live around Sunrise School and who like to eat some of the crops from their garden, the biggest challenges for DISC involve transportation and equipment for the schools. Because DISC doesn’t have its own vehicle, the coordinators, who need to evaluate gardens and make sure that the children are actually getting the food they help grow, often have to scramble to find transportation. And they lack good ways for the schools to communicate with one another about disease outbreaks and other problems.

But as the project receives more interest—from teachers, students, parents, and policy-makers (the local extension officer for the National Agricultural Advisory Services is a member of the local Slow Food convivium)—and more funding, they’re likely to overcome these challenges and make farming a more viable option for youth in Mikuni and other parts of Uganda.