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  • Rashida Kabanda, Naume Kalinaki & David Oming

Addressing the Knowledge Gap in Agroecology through Academic Institutions and Community Schools

Despite the increasing use of the term agroecology by farmers, scientists, social movements, and policymakers, its definition remains a source of contention. Over the years, a myriad of misinformation has been formed about Agroecology. This is simply an ecological method of farming that is frequently referred to as low-input agriculture that focuses on improving social interactions, empowering farmers, creating value locally, and favouring short value chains. It is not only a collection of agricultural practices but also enables and prepares farmers to adapt to climate change, utilize natural resources responsibly, and protect biodiversity. Agroecology is not a new term, and it has evolved over time to represent many different perceptions of what it means to advance agroecology and how it can help today's society deal with the agri-food system crisis. The current mainstream agri-food system is dominated by multinational agri-businesses which control the flow of goods and wealth through the system. The rise of agroecology in both developed and developing countries is a growing response to the current agri-food era.

Why Agroecology?

Agroecology enhances the quality of life as it acknowledges agriculture's multifunctional aspects, local and indigenous practices, and illimitable knowledge that the method offers. This therefore presupposes that producing food through agroecology will culminate to the production of enough food to feed the ever increasing demands of the population.

Secondly, agroecology as an important aspect of the agricultural industry ensures a significant reduction in the use of inputs such as pesticides and chemicals hence contributing to the country’s economic development. In an article made by the International Journal of Food Contamination in April 2022, it was reported that Uganda lacks a formidable system for monitoring pesticide residues in in fruits and vegetables. It is without a doubt that the many contributions of this smart method of farming will put an end to the pandemic of harmful chemicals endangering both the small-scale farmers and consumers of the produce.

As soil health is vital for agroecology, improving it is inevitable. Agroecology makes natural functions like carbon capture and water retention easier to perform. This results in efficient crop production of healthy crops and reversing soil degradation. Agroecology in the end becomes the answer to the urgent need for soil and environmental restoration

Agroecological approaches empower people and communities to overcome poverty, hunger, and malnutrition by building autonomous and adaptive capacities to manage their agro- cosystems, while promoting human rights.

Our Work on Agroecology

ESAFF Uganda first introduced Agroecology Clubs in 2019 during the first National Organic Week. These were introduced in the Rock, Pagak, St. Mauritz and Otubet Primary schools in the districts of Kasese, Amuru, Gulu and Amuria respectively. Since then, Agroecology Clubs have become an effective approach in sharing information and practices about agroecology and these have been scaled out to Apac, Mbale and Adjumani districts.

To empower farming communities, ESAFF Uganda also introduced the Community Agroecology School. The objectives of the Community Agroecology Schools and Agroecology Clubs were to promote exchange and cooperation between small-scale farmers and learners, and more importantly, to coordinate and promote research, and education in the agricultural community. This was also to disseminate agroecology initiatives, techniques and practices to the community through community training and practices. This leads to the documentation and dissemination and development of better practices in the Community Agroecology Schools and Clubs.

With the establishment of Community Agroecology Schools and Agroecology Clubs in academic institutions, ESAFF Uganda is promoting sustainable agriculture as a way to increase yields, conserve natural resources, especially soil fertility, manage water resources, protect agrobiodiversity, and optimize the natural cycle of the farms. This in turn has enabled sustainable intensive and healthier agricultural practices. This has enhanced food security and has also effectively combated the horror that is climate change.

“There is a great deal of knowledge and experience in the field about how small-scale farmers and students can practice agroecology. The challenge is to systematically disseminate and enhance all of this. I hope that the Agroecology Club is the ideal solution for this” Oyera Donald Aquila, Head teacher Maruzi Seed SS in Apac district during the launch of the Agroecology club in the school.

ESAFF Uganda launched an agroecology school for journalists and communicators in 2021. The school aims at creating a network of journalists and communicators in Uganda and Africa who will closely work with small-scale farmers to contribute to the national and continental transition to agroecology through information dissemination. This was created by ESAFF Uganda as part of our efforts to scale up Agroecology in Uganda in order to achieve equitable and sustainable food systems in accordance with the FAO's Scaling up Agroecology Initiative.

In 2020, ESAFF Uganda developed and launched an online market application (KilimoMart App) for small-scale farmers to market their organic products. Overtime, the app has provided markets for their products in the EAC region. In this way it has promoted agroecological farming in the region to meet the demands of the population for organic products.

In order for the farmers to meet the demands of selling organic products through KilimoMart App, the farmer groups are using the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) to certify their organic products. This guarantees ready and steady market as the products are deemed safe for consumption.

Moving forward

Amidst global challenges of hunger, climate change coupled with the advent of chemical- intensive and environmentally unsustainable commercial agricultural production, agroecology ignites a sparkle of hope among small-scale farmers and learners in Uganda.

As the international community is becoming increasingly aware that current food production practices have become unsustainable in relation to both the environment and society, there is therefore an urgent need to renew the industrial agricultural model. Community Agroecology Schools and the Agroecology Clubs in learning institutions play a central role in this process. This involves learning and exchanging ideas through the agroecology/demonstration gardens in the farming communities and the school garden programs to expand knowledge and facilitate transitions to more sustainable models and lifestyles that promote the upscaling of agroecology in Uganda.

Small holder farmers firmly believe that in order to give rural communities' concerns a voice, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) should be domesticated It is vital to give agroecological approaches the necessary political and financial support to be promoted in market, extension, and educational systems. The society we live in today is rapidly changing and so are our needs. Agroecology is here to reinvent the wheel of farming and create answers to world problems earlier mentioned. The government and other academic institutions should encourage studies that highlight agroecology as a strategy for ensuring food security and sustainable agricultural systems.



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