Can Urban Gardens in ugandan schools connect youth to the land?

More than 5years ago, i went to visit an urban garden in the most unlikely of places, the middle of Kibera! Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and probably the largest urban dwelling in any African city! Kibera started out as a settlement in the forests at the outskirts of Nairobi, when Nubian soldiers were relocated here by allocation of plots in return for their efforts from the war.

The population of Kibera has since grown, and plans to demolish the place have been unsuccessful. Kibera is heavily polluted by human refuse, garbage, soot, dust and other waste. It is contaminated with human and animal faeces, due to open sewage systems and the humorously called ”flying toilets” (i will leave your imagination to run wild here). The lack of sanitation, combined with poor nutrition among residents, accounts for many illnesses and diseases.

Not to be deterred by this, Victor Matioli and his friends found a way to convert an unlikely space in Kibera into a urban garden that supplied organic vegetables to the people of Kibera.

“This area had a very bad reputation. The youth here were very bad before they reformed. People looked down on us and said bad things about us.They said, those young people are wasting their time, they have come up with an idea that will not help them. They are lazy and are in the habit of reaping unfairly, they will not manage. This brought our morale down, but we pushed on, encouraged each other and managed quite well.” Victor

The boys cleared the plot of all rubbish, and with some help from friends acquired a water tank and the farm was well on its way. They grew  ‘sukuma (a type of spinach), tomatoes, cucumber, and pumpkins which were sold directly to the local community, and being completely organic was /is an added bonus especially in Kenya, which is placed amongst the highest pesticide users in Sun-Saharan Africa!

When i visited Victor and the project, the boys were recovering from a bout of parasites that had attacked their crop and as such they were leaving the plot free to ”breathe” literally and applying organic alternatives to kill off the pests.

I have a dream, to pilot vegetable gardens and permaculture projects in Uganda’s local schools. I envision  young people connecting with the food production systems and taking ownership of food production. However, growing up, agriculture was often portrayed as punishment. When your grades were low or had committed an offense, as punishment you were sent to the garden with a hoe. We grew up seeing agriculture as hard labor, punishment, and something that the people in villages did, not as city dwelling kids. Luckily, i attended a boarding school where 2 days were dedicated to agriculture, we planted, harvested, and even prepared our food – not the cooking part as we were not allowed near a fire. We more or less knew where our food came from, we were expected to take responsibility of planting and harvesting. Nevertheless, when we graduated on to secondary school, this is the one part of our education we were so glad to leave behind!

There is a continued disconnect between people of all ages and where their food comes from. As the fast food industry slowly/quickly advances into Sub Saharan African cities, young people are not only becoming farmers, but they are also not becoming healthy, nourished eaters, and this can lead to rising youth obesity. I believe that one solution is reconnecting young people to the food chain, to see the opportunities and want to get involved in agriculture rather than be forced. It is a combination of students learning to produce food, and acquiring information on nutrition and food security. Students can learn how to grow, process, and preserve food and celebrate it in ways that allow them to recognize the diversity and uniqueness of their local food cultures.

One such initiative is DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation Project), the project is helping youth build leadership skills around farming. One of the project’s former students, Betty Nabukala, managed the school’s garden. She explained that DISC taught the students ‘new’ methods of planting vegetables. Before, she says, “we used to just plant seeds,” but DISC taught them how to fertilize crops with manure and compost, and how to save seeds after harvest. More importantly, Betty explained that she and the students learned that not only can they produce food, they can also earn money from its sale.

DISC was co-founded by Edward Mukiibi, who is now the Vice-President of Slow Food International. Edie is 28 years
old and has been part of leading efforts around Slow Food’s Thousand Gardens in Africa initiative, which is implementing gardens in communities and schools across the continent. “It is time to be proud of being a food producer and revive our lost food traditions in Africa,” says Mukiibi, adding that the Thousand Gardens initiative “is an opportunity for young ones, like me” to strengthen ties between communities but also within communities through the oral exchange of agricultural traditions and practices. Thanks to DISC and Slow Food, many students are no longer seeing agriculture as an option of last resort, but something enjoyable, intellectually stimulating and economically profitable.

To quote Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg , ”It’s clear that the future of agriculture is in the hands of young people – whether they’re family farmers, cooks and chefs, entrepreneurs, teachers or scientists. To cultivate that next generation, governments, academics, businesses and the funding and donor communities need to provide the investment and funding they need to nourish both people and planet.”


Can giving full land ownership to small holder farmers double world food production?

Around the world, small holder farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture, and it’s justified by the need to ‘feed the world’. But it’s the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases.

2014 was declared as the International Year of Family Farming, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its annual ‘State of Food and Agriculture‘ dedicated to family farming. In the report, FAO says family farmers manage 70-80% of the world’s farmland and produce 80% of the world’s food. On the ground in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain – rural people are being marginalised, threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land.

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world’s farmland – or 17% , and this meagre share is shrinking fast.

In its report, FAO claims family farms occupy 70 to 80% of the world’s farmland? In the same report, it claims that only 1% of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, and that these few farms control 65% of the world’s farmland, a figure much more in line with GRAIN’s findings.

What then is a ‘family farm’

Confusion seems to stem from the way FAO deal with the concept of family farming, roughly defined as any farm managed by an individual or a household. (They admit there is no precise definition. Various countries, like Mali, have their own.) Does a huge industrial soya bean farm in rural Argentina, whose family owners live in Buenos Aires, count as a ‘family farm’?. What about sprawling Hacienda Luisita, owned by the powerful Cojuanco family in the Philippines and epicentre of the country’s battle for agrarian reform since decades. Is that a family farm?

Taking ownership to determine what is and is not a family farm masks all the inequities, injustices and struggles that peasants and other small scale food producers across the world are mired in. This way, FAO conveniently ignores perhaps the most crucial factor affecting the capacity of small holder farmers to produce food; lack of access to land, and instead focuses its message on how family farmers should innovate and be more productive.

Small farmers are ever more squeezed in

Access to land is shrinking due a range of forces; population pressure, farms are getting divided up amongst family members, and vertiginous expansion of monoculture plantations. In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares – the size of almost all the farmland in India – has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. And this trend is accelerating. In the next few decades, experts predict that the global area planted to oil palm will double, while the soybean area will grow by a third. These crops don’t feed people. They are grown to feed the agro-industrial complex.

Other pressures pushing small food producers off their land include the runaway plague of large-scale land grabs by corporate interests. In the last few years alone, according to the World Bank, some 60 million hectares of fertile farmland have been leased, on a long-term basis, to foreign investors and local elites, mostly in the global South. While some of this is for energy production, a big part of it is to produce food commodities for the global market, instead of family farming.

Small is beautiful – and productive

The paradox, however, and one of the reasons why despite having so little land, small producers are feeding the planet, is that small farms are often more productive than large ones. If the yields achieved by Kenya’s small farmers were matched by the country’s large-scale operations, the country’s agricultural output would double. In Central America, the region’s food production would triple. If Russia’s big farms were as productive as its small ones, output would increase by a factor of six.

Another reason why small farms are the feeding the planet is because they prioritise food production. They tend to focus on local and national markets and their own families. In fact, much of what they produce doesn’t enter into trade statistics – but it does reach those who need it most: the rural and urban poor.

Should current processes of land concentration continue, then no matter how hard-working, efficient and productive they are, small farmers will simply not be able to carry on. The data show that the concentration of farmland in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day.

According to one UN study, active policies supporting small producers and agro-ecological farming methods could double global food production in a decade and enable small farmers to continue to produce and utilise biodiversity, maintain ecosystems and local economies, while multiplying and strengthening meaningful work opportunities and social cohesion in rural areas.

To double global food production, we must support the small farmers

Experts and development agencies are constantly saying that we need to double food production in the coming decades. To achieve that, they usually recommend a combination of trade and investment liberalization plus new technologies. This ,however only empowers corporate interests and fuels inequality. The real solution is to turn control and resources over to small producers themselves and enact agricultural policies to support them. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for genuine and comprehensive agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems worldwide.

for over 30 years, my family has been farming on this piece of land, producing mainly for household consumption. As our family decreased in size, we now sell of the surplus from bananas, milk, and most recently manure from the cows This year, we will transition the cows to zero grazing to grow more food for sell
for over 30 years, my family has been farming on this piece of land, producing mainly for household consumption. As our family decreased in size, we now sell of the surplus from bananas, milk, and most recently manure from the cows
This year, we will transition the cows to zero grazing to grow more food for sell

The Gender Dimensions of Food and Nutrition Security in the context of Climate Change

On UNFCCC Gender Day at COP18/ CMP8, the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice released a video and a policy brief on the gender dimensions of food and nutrition security in the context of climate change. The impacts of climate change on food security are exacerbating existing inequalities in access to resources, especially for women who are primarily responsible for food production and for feeding their families. This is contributing to an injustice whereby those who have done least to cause the climate change problem are already suffering disproportionately from its impact, which is undermining their right to food, their health and well-being.

Making hunger disappear is not about higher productivity’

re-blogged from

By André de Vos

Less intensive farming in the West and more intensive farming in developing countries can solve the world’s food problem. That is, if the farming is done on an ecological basis. ‘Farming methods in both developed and developing countries need to be updated,’ says Pablo Tittonell, professor in Farming Systems Ecology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, associate professor at the University of Montpelier and the National University of Lomas de Zamora in Buenos Aires.

Modern technology can drastically improve farming methods in developing countries. However, the highly industrialised and large-scale farming of the West is not a model of sustainability, requiring large amounts of energy, water, pesticides and artificial fertilisers. When talking about intensifying farming, Pablo Tittonell means something completely different. Using better logistics, education, mobile phones, and new ecological insights. ‘It is about using nature in a smart way.’ 

‘’It means western farmers need to rethink their way of farming, together with scientists and the government ‘’

‘Making hunger disappear is not about higher productivity’, Tittonell claims. ‘A higher yield per acre is not the start but the result of a combination of several mechanisms. Better organisation of food production, better roads, better education of farmers, making sure that farmers have access to credit. Put the right infrastructure and institutions in place and the result will be that farmers produce more.’

Take the smart phone, for example. A wonderful way to bring people and food together. Tittonell: ‘I recently met Jamila Abass, a woman from Kenya who is bringing consumers and farmers together by using mobile technology. By now, ten thousand small farmers have joined the programme. If they can reach their customers in this way, they have a big incentive to improve their production.’

Sustainable farming
Pablo Tittonell is a strong advocate of agro-ecological farming. He sees it as the solution to the unbalanced food production worldwide, with the almost industrial large-scale approach in the West versus the traditional smallholders farming in developing countries. Both no longer suffice. Tittonell’s solution: ‘extensify’ Western agriculture, intensify agriculture in developing countries. ‘The Western approach to farming uses a lot of energy and water, causes pollution, and depletes the soil. The negative side effects do not show in the price of the products, being subsidised by the government. Which once made sense. Faced with a growing population in the cities, the system was aimed at feeding as many mouths as possible by as little farmers as possible, in the cheapest possible way. But it is not a sustainable model. It is delivering cheap produce because the external costs are not charged to the consumer.’

Small-scale farmers in developing countries originally produced mainly for self-consumption. And even though in most developing countries the majority of people still live in the countryside, this way of farming is no longer working. A surplus is needed to feed the growing population in the city.

Disruptive change
A great deal of food research goes into raising production of farming in developed countries even further. But trying to get greater yields of already intensively used acreage is expensive and will make Western farming even less sustainable. Instead, Europe and the US should change their farming systems into a less destructive, more organic way of farming that will produce less at the beginning. The initial lower food production itself will not be a problem. There is no food shortage in the West. Financially however there will be a big problem, Tittonell explains. ‘The whole farming system is based on large-scale production. Even if a farmer wants to start farming on an organic basis, he will not succeed easily. He is part of a system. He needs the bank for finance, and the bank will not be enthusiastic about changes that cost money and possibly bring less yield. We are talking about a completely different way of producing that will take time and investment. It means Western farmers need to rethink their way of farming, together with scientists and the government. It is a disruptive change that will cost money.’

Yield-raising strategies
In developing countries new nature-smart technologies, better organisation and the latest organic insights can easily improve agricultural production. Even now it is already feeding half the world population. ‘It is easier to bring the yield from 1 to 3 tonnes per hectare in developing countries than it is to go from 12 to 14 tonnes in developed countries. The main advantage of course is that the extra food will be available where it is most needed.’

Tittonell is no opponent of yield-raising inputs such as fertiliser, as long as they are used judiciously, at strategic times, and in a way the soil can handle it. But the agro-ecological approach is showing the same results in a more sustainable way. ‘Ten years ago an article in Nature claimed that organically managed soil has more biodiversity, which you need for a higher production. It was received with scepticism. Now these results are accepted. The science of soil biology is going forward at a high pace. We find that clever combinations of crops in space and time can bring better yields than the mere use of fertilisers and pesticides.’

The problem is that in the West most investments and scientific research still go into the industrialised, large-scale farming, while in developing countries small-scale farmers have no access to modern technology and the latest scientific knowledge. Furthermore they lack the right infrastructure to optimise their food production. India wastes 21 million tonnes of wheat every year through poor storage and distribution: 18 times the total wheat production of the Netherlands.

Consumers’ impact
In developed countries an elite of consumers is getting more interested in organically produced food. ‘Mainly because the industrial farming methods are heavily subsidised, organic products are more expensive. Additionally, there is a yield gap between traditional and organic production. If more research money went into agro-ecological production, that gap would disappear altogether.’

Consumers play a major role in changing the agricultural production methods. But Tittonell does not think that the market by itself can cause a major shift towards ecological farming, as governments make the present production methods viable. In developing countries intensifying agriculture in a sustainable way is even more reliant on the government. And there is no simple approach. Brazil, the first country to put agro-ecological policy into practice (France will perhaps be the second), deployed about sixty different mechanisms to eliminate hunger, none of them directly aimed at increasing production. One of the instruments was to pay more for ecological products in school catering. ‘If you can stimulate industrial agricultural production by subsidising it, as has been the case in most Western countries, why not do the same with organic production? Can you even begin to imagine what the impact would be if the European Union gave ecological farming the same financial and academic support as traditional farming? In the long run it will be the only way to feed the growing world population.’


Prof. dr. Ir. Pablo Tittonell is head of the Farming Systems Ecology group of Wageningen University. He is also associate professor at the University of Montpelier and the National University of Lomas de Zamora in Buenos Aires. Furthermore, he is board member of the Africa Conservation Tillage Network, a pan-African not-for-profit organisation who aims at bringing together different stakeholders and players to improve agricultural productivity through sustainable utilisation of natural resources of land and water in Africa. In his oration prof. Tittonell stated that the contemporary intense agriculture won’t be able to feed the world population in the future. Radical changes are necessary. The world food production has to be increased, and we have to make use of the possibilities of the natural functions of the ecosystem, in a clever way.