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.”


How rice farmers in Africa can point us out of California’s water crisis

Food Tank – Friday 17th April

Rice farmers in Asia and Africa could teach the developed world a great deal about how to manage the water it uses for agriculture much better.

Devon Jenkins, technical specialist in sustainable rice intensification (SRI) at Cornell University, invites us to think about how techniques used by (mostly) small-scale farmers to increase yields while cutting water use might give us some ideas for saving California’s drought-stung agriculture industry. SRI focuses on improving both soil and individual plant health without the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides – the soil’s humus is key. This decomposing organic matter is rich in microbial life, which breaks it down and makes the nutrients available to plants.

The focus on the individual plant means that much less water is used. These farmers don’t flood rice fields as has long been traditional practice: they water plants individually. The two principles combined result in healthy productive plants with strong yields and dramatically reduced water usage. And SRI isn’t just for rice – its techniques can be applied to a wide array of crops, and used in horticulture as well as agriculture. When you think about it, its ethos is one of giving the plant just what it needs, nurturing the health that will help it thrive.

Aligned with SRI is permaculture, another agro-ecological approach described by Jenkins as “… smart design, based on observation of nature and combined with an ecological and humanistic ethic … permaculture allows us to create functional, resilient, and abundant spaces for water in harmony with natural systems”. It provides a blueprint for thinking differently about agriculture’s relationship to nature. No longer adversarial but rather symbiotic, it seeks a consonance with it.

The shift in thinking is what points a way out of California’s water crisis. Jenkins highlights a systemic change that fundamentally alters our approach to the problems at hand, “showing us that a life lived in greater harmony with natural systems isn’t one of scarcity, but of abundance”.

Films every foodist has to watch

Cross-posted from Food Tank
Films and short videos are a powerful way of increasing awareness of and interest in the food system. With equal parts technology and artistry, filmmakers can bring an audience to a vegetable garden in Uganda, a fast food workers’ rights protest in New York City, or an urban farm in Singapore. And animation can help paint a picture of what a sustainable, just, and fair food system might look like. Film is an incredible tool for effecting change through transforming behaviors and ways of thinking.

There are many incredible films educating audiences about changes being made — or that need to be made — in the food system.

Anna Lappé and Food Mythbusters, for example, just released a new animated short film on how “Big Food” marketing targets children and teenagers, filling their diets with unhealthy processed food products — and what parents, teachers, and communities can do to combat it.

In addition to Lappé’s timely and compelling call to action, Food Tank has selected 26 films — both long and short — to share with you. From the importance of land rights for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to the insidious dominance of fast food in an urban community in California, each of these films can inform and inspire eaters all over the world. We ask that you, in turn, share this list with your networks in order that they may reach an even wider audience.

1. A Farmer in Africa: Property Rights: The lack of property rights and rental agreements create problems for smallholder farmers in many developing countries. Sometimes governments or corporations engage in land grabs, pushing farmers off the land, or regulate land use, keeping farmers from being able to cultivate their land. This short from the World Resources Institute explains the difficulty of balancing individual citizens’ rights to farm with the public good in sub-Saharan Africa.

2. A Place at the Table: Hunger, especially in the United States, is often not the result poverty, not food shortages. A Place at the Table profiles three of the 50 million Americans who live with hunger every day, and describes the challenges they face between staying full and eating healthy food.

3. Cooking by Heart: Domi et Cyril Sarthe’s Gnocchi with Spinach SauceCooking by Heart’s short film is more than a lesson in how to make dumplings: It’s an examination of how simple and delicious a meal can be when the ingredients are grown right in one’s backyard.

4. Fast Food: Did you know the potato is the most-consumed vegetable in the United States? Or that the customers who visit McDonald’s 10 times a month make up 75 percent of its business? The Infographics Show packages fast food facts into easily digestible, pardon the pun, graphics.

5. Food Chains: Award-winning filmmaker Sanjay Rawal’s upcoming film sheds light on the human rights violations that occur to farm workers who pick 125 million kilograms (280 million pounds) of fresh fruits and vegetables each day across the United States. The movie discusses how big food companies ensure unfair wages exist, but also how some companies are using their weight in the market to push for labor justice.

6. Food FightEarth Amplified’s music video creates a world in which processed food is literally deadly. The Oakland-based hip-hop group makes more than music: Through SOS Juice, they also host community food justice workshops and serve fresh juice.

7. Food Speculation: In 2007 and 2008, food prices rose dramatically, resulting in food riots across the developing world. These riots reoccurred in 2010 and 2011. World Economy, Ecology & Development outlines how speculation on food futures causes dangerous fluctuation in food prices.

8. Forks Over Knives: This film takes a look at degenerative diseases that are plaguing the United States, linking them to America’s consumption of processed food and animal products, and suggests eating a more plant-based diet.

9. FRESH, the Movie: This film celebrates farmers who are innovating and reinventing the food system by confronting issues such as pollution, obesity, and depletion of natural resources.

10. The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers: On average, residents of the United States eat three hamburgers a week, which means the United States raises a lot of cows. This short from the Center for Investigative Reporting spells out the costs of conventionally raised beef.

11. How to Feed the World?: Created for the Bon Appétit exhibition at Paris’ Cité des Sciences in 2010, this short film profiles various ways of interacting with the global food system, from eating locally to to subsistence farming. It provides the viewer with a global perspective on food production and distribution, along with guidance on how to eat more sustainably.

12. La Cosecha/The Harvest: This 2010 documentary follows the lives of three migrant fieldworkers — all of them under the age of 18. These are just three of the estimated 400,000 children who work picking crops in the United States.

13. King Corn: Two East Coast documentarians move to the American heartland and plant a one-acre crop of corn, and discover how much of the American diet corn infiltrates.

14. Myth of Choice: Is junk food what we really crave?: Do kids want to eat processed food products devoid of nutritional value because they simply like them better than healthier, more nourishing food — or does junk food marketing target youth very aggressively? Food Mythbusters’ newest short film is dedicated to answering this question.

15. Nokia, HK Honey: Hidden in the cityscape of Hong Kong, there is a community of beekeepers who are providing residents with access to local honey and helping bring urban dwellers closer to their food.

16. Our Daily Bread: This film offers a shocking look at how food is produced and how food production companies use technology to maximize efficiency and profit. Without using words, the film allows the viewer to form their own opinions through the use of sounds of machinery, conveyor belts at a chicken factory, and the motor of a plane spraying pesticides.

17. Planning for a Sustainable Local Food System: Ideally, city planning also includes planning for a sustainable food system. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GOTO2040 program calls for a stronger regional food system in the Chicago area, created through better financing and infrastructure.

18. Soil: Our Climate Ally UnderfootThe Center for Food Safety recently released a short video on the importance of improving and preserving the health of damaged soils. In the words of conservationist Richard King, interviewed in the video: “It’s critical to [future generations] that we develop a regenerative agriculture — and to do that, we have to start with building soil health.”

19. Soil Matters on the Farm: Gabe Smith doesn’t till his North Dakota farmland and he grows some crops not for food or for sale, but as cover crops. Smith’s goal is to improve the quality of soil — and, consequently, the nutritional value of his crops. His rejuvenated soil holds larger amounts of water and his farm is more drought-resistant. Because of his holistic approach, he no longer needs to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

20. Sustainable Agriculture: Where Do We Go From Here?: Large-scale agriculture is doing more harm than good, and the current patterns of population growth and agriculture will lead to more destruction of the planet’s resources. The Nature Conservancy argues for smaller-scale, environmentally sustainable agriculture.

21. The Garden: This Academy Award-nominated documentary tells the story of a South Central Los Angeles community of farmers and their urban garden that rose up, despite facing numerous obstacles, such as claims of eminent domain by the garden site’s previous owners.

22. The Meatrix: In 2003, GRACE’s Sustainable Table produced The Meatrix, an award-winning short about factory farming. The Eat Well Guide was released with the movie, offering viewers information about more sustainable food choices.

23. The Price of Sugar: This poignant film examines the working conditions and treatment of Haitian sugarcane farmers, exposing their struggle for basic human rights as they work to bring consumers an ubiquitous kitchen staple.

24. The Scarecrow: Tex-Mex restaurant corporation Chipotle’s new video is a beautifully made short about one scarecrow’s quest to free his local food system from unsustainable, processed foods.

25. Taste the Waste: German documentary filmmaker Valentin Thurn focuses his lens on food waste. Taste the Waste won Best Film of 2011 in Germany’s Atlantis Environment and Nature Film Festival and a Documentary Film Award at EKOFILM International Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

26. WASTE: Wasting food has greater costs than just what the consumer pays: It also wastes fossil fuels, water, and other crucial environmental resources. From the makers of Taste the Waste, Food Waste TV sheds light on the larger effects of food waste.

Have you seen any of  the films on the list?
My first one was ‘Fast food nation’ some years ago when i was writing a paper for my class on foreign labour in food production.
What film have you seen, and what was your opinion of it, was it a good representation of our food systems, did it provide solutions on how we can mend the broken ends?

“Man in the Maze,” – communities working to save the food from waste

February 01, 2015 12:00 am  • 

A key to feeding the hungry of the world can be found in an award-winning documentary filmed in Southern Arizona.

“Man in the Maze,” one of five films to win the Sundance Short Film Challenge,, takes the viewer from the devastating dumping of fruits and vegetables into the Rio Rico landfill to the Borderlands Food Bank in Nogales and on to Southern Arizona communities working to save the food from waste, and to grow their own.

The film, made by New York City-based Greener Media, heavily features Tucsonan Gary Nabhan talking about ways to rebuild food systems. It begins with an aerial scene of the dumping of the produce from Mexico. Red tomatoes, yellow peppers and green cucumbers tumble over the landfill, most looking fresh and eatable. Nogales is the largest inland entry port for fresh produce in the world, Nabhan says in the film, and the third largest port of entry in the country.

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of all the produce that we eat year round comes from the border towns,” Nabhan goes on to say.

“With that is a tremendous amount of food waste, because if the Florida tomato prices drop on a certain day, 120,000 pounds might be thrown into a landfill just because of the pricing.”

As the co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, Nabhan is also helping farmers plan for the uncertainties of climate change. He emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainable farming. Nabhan writes, “We must not attempt to imitate, but instead emulate, what traditional desert peoples have learned about living with climatic uncertainty. Take inspiration, not recipes.”

The filmmakers, Phil Buccellato and Jesse Ash, follow some of the food that is spared from the landfill and distributed through the Borderlands Food Bank. They also talk to residents of the rural town of Amado who feel passionately about growing their own food for their families and their community.

Ash and Buccellato, who through Greener Media produce works that address social issues, worked closely with Food Tank, a food think tank with programs and a presence around the world.

When the filmmakers heard about the Sundance competition, underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and geared toward addressing such issues as poverty and hunger, they brainstormed with Food Tank. They found out about Nabhan, one of the founders of Native Seeds/SEARCH, an author, food advocate and 1990 winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant. They were convinced they found the subject of their documentary.

Then they landed in Southern Arizona.

“I think this story unraveled in a way that wasn’t expected,” says Buccellato in a phone interview with the Star. “I wouldn’t have expected to do the Rio Rico landfill. You reach out to one person, and they refer another, and another.”

That referral chain resulted in a poignant interview with Christina Natalini, a mother who is teaching her young daughter to grow her own food; another with Arturo Lopez, who maintains a community garden in Amado, and another interview with the people at The Avalon Organic Gardens, a community-supported agriculture program in Tumacácori.

“This is an important story that impacts billions around the world — how do we sustainably feed a growing population,” says Ash.

The Sundance Institute’s Mike Plante says about 1,300 films had been submitted for the competition, which has five winners — each pocketing $10,000. Those initial entries were culled down to about 15, which were then sent to the Gates Foundation for the final selection.

“Quality factors in, but most important to us was what the story was,” says Plante. Ash and Buccellato “took on a very gigantic issue and overwhelming problem and boiled it down to a story,” says Plante. “They told the story with style and information.”

“The documentary has great power to change the conversation about the issues,” says Buccellato. “If we can be a catalyst for someone to make a donation, or get involved in some level, that would be greatly satisfying.”

Biocultural Diversity Combats Climate Change

Bio-cultural landscapes are holistic systems of culture and nature that have been shaped by human management over long periods of time. They maintain ecosystem health, utilize traditional knowledge, protect biodiversity, provide cultural value, build healthy soils, enhance resilience, nourish agriculture, fisheries, and forests, and mitigate climate change.

From the Saami in Europe, to the Maori in New Zealand, indigenous communities are creating and maintaining rich bio-cultural landscapes. A bio-cultural landscape is a holistic system of culture and nature that has been shaped by human management over long periods of time.

Food Tank produced a video highlighting how bio-cultural landscapes can benefit the health of both people and the planet. WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

According to the United Nations, there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Native peoples practice holistic agriculture, mixing diverse livestock and crop varieties in an integrated farming landscape. They grow traditional foods that are resilient, nutritious, and delicious, and help shape landscapes to enable farming in a range of conditions.

These multifaceted landscapes maintain ecosystem health; create cultural value; maintain healthy soils; provide meat, milk, transport, and medicine; and nourish both people and the planet.

Bio-cultural diversity tends to be richest in locations where native peoples have had long, intimate connections with their landscapes. This diversity is reflected within languages and traditional ecological knowledge systems, and manifests itself in beautiful ways through cultural and artistic expression, according to The Christensen Fund.

The video highlights how domesticated animals are key to a healthy bio-cultural system by providing not only protein, but transport, fiber, and cultural value to communities.In addition, trees, shrubs, roots, and vines are important resources, providing fruit, fiber, and medicine. Bacteria, microbes, protozoa, fungi, nematodes, rhizomes, and arthropods provide an entire underground ecosystem for healthy soil. Bio-cultural landscapes tend to have high rates of carbon sequestration in forests, rich soils, and grasslands, making them important in the fight against climate change.

When a bio-cultural landscape is intact, a bounty of biomass and cultural riches thrives as inhabitants and ecological pieces interact creating a strong defense against climate change. SHARE THIS VIDEO HERE and to learn more about bio-cultural landscapes check out The Christensen Fund’s interactive info graphic HERE.


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