Agroecology School Spearheading the Transition of Chemically Ravaged Mubuku Irrigation Scheme
The topography of Kasese district is varied, with plains, valleys, and mountains among its features. The district is dominated by the Rwenzori Mountains, which are renowned for their snow-capped peaks. Coffee, bananas, maize, beans, and other agricultural products are the main sources of income for small-scale farmers in Kasese district. In the area, raising livestock is also widespread. The Kilembe mines' exploitation of minerals like copper and cobalt has historically had a significant impact on the local economy while employing many people. Kasese district, like many other places in Uganda, struggles with issues like poverty, poor infrastructure, restricted access to healthcare, and food insecurity. The district is also prone to drought and flooding from the river Nyamwamba, experiencing adverse effects such as crop damage, soil erosion, contamination of water sources and soil, and displacement of homes, gardens, and livestock, causing significant economic losses, malnutrition, and food insecurity.
The Mubuku irrigation scheme in Kasese district was founded in the 1960s to leverage the region's rich soils to advance national food security, and it is among the most productive in Uganda. Over 5,000 hectares of land are covered by the project, and a system of irrigation channels and canals runs through it all. The River Sebwe serves as the scheme's primary water source and grows rice, maize, millet, sweet potatoes, and ground nuts. The scheme's monoculture practices have, over the years, led to an overuse of agricultural chemicals, including pesticides and fertilisers, which have contaminated the water, air, and soil, harming the ecosystem and deteriorating the environment and soil.
With the realization of this problem in the community, small-scale farmers had to find a solution to address it. In its stride to promote agroecology in the region, Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda, working with small-scale farmers in Kasese district, formed the Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School so that agroecological practices and knowledge are upscaled in the community. ESAFF Uganda runs 35 Community Agroecology Schools in the country, 6 in the Kasese district. The Community Agroecology schools focus on promoting agroecological practices to address issues that small-scale farmers are facing in the community. Our Community Agroecology Schools are the heart of regenerative change, fostering knowledge and practices that nourish the land and its people. Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School was started earlier this year and has 25 members, with 21 being female, representing 84%, and four being male, representing 16% of the membership. The school is owned by ambitious women and men who work together to find solutions to soil and environmental contamination, poverty, and hunger in farming communities, among others.
Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School, therefore, identified the high level of chemical use among small-scale farmers in the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme as a significant contributor to soil degradation and water contamination in the district. The small-scale farmers at Mubuku Irrigation Scheme use chemicals including striker247SC, green winner, and rainbow non-rice, while they use rocket, Dudu cypher for beans, and duvacilimakatin for maize. These chemicals have high and long-lasting effects on soil, biodiversity, and human health, including the following: causing a range of health problems, killing non-target species, leading to a decline in biodiversity; air pollution (from gases and particulate matter); water pollution (from chemicals in rivers, lakes, and oceans); and soil pollution (from contaminants in the ground).
“Chemical use in Kasese is dangerous as everyone has become affected. People are eating chemicals in food from spraying with insecticides and pesticides bought from agrochemical shops. This is not good for our health, and it contaminates the soil.” – Masika Hope Allen, Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School.
As a community agroecology school with no possession of any piece of land in the scheme, the school members decided to contribute among themselves to hire land in the scheme to set up their agroecology garden. The Community Agroecology School members were requested to contribute UGX 150,000 each as part of their contribution for hiring land at the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme. The money was used to hire 2 hectares of land at Mubuku 2, where they grow maize and vegetables. They also used the money to hire 1 hectare of land at Mubuku 1, where they grow cassava and groundnuts. All the farming on the two plots of land is done agroecologically, where members make organic fertilizers and manures, organic pesticides made from local herbs and resources, and use mulch in the garden, among others. The members of Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School are applying agroecology practices and knowledge to reclaim the soil and environment in the scheme that had been lost due to conventional agriculture, including chemical use in the scheme. This process involves improving soil health and fertility and protecting plants from pests and diseases.
“The most important thing with our community agroecology school is that members are committed and determined to reclaim Mubuku. With the necessary support, we will make history, and Mubuku Irrigation Scheme will be chemical-free.” – Pangani Beatrice, Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School.
Small-scale farmers who are members of the Community Agroecology School use mixed farming, intercropping, organic farming, and other sustainable agroecological practices to build a case for agroecology in the district. Agroecological practices ensure high yields, much more than conventional farming practices, ensuring food security and environmental and biodiversity conservation. All members of Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School own kitchen gardens and carry out collective selling of organic products to restaurants and communities from which they earn income to sustain their families. The knowledge acquired from the Community Agroecology School is shared with the entire community to ensure safe and sustainable agriculture.
“When we started this project, we never knew that it would succeed, but with progress, I can say that we are very proud of the work we are doing in this area. This will benefit not only the people at the scheme but the whole district.” – Tushemereirwe Scola Chairperson Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School.
Additionally, another unique thing about Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School is that they own a registered enterprise called Mumbuzi Agroecology School Enterprise, which takes on cassava value chain business and is supported by ESAFF Uganda through the Agroecology Business Hub. This was because they realized that cassava is versatile, less labour-intensive, drought-tolerant, doesn’t need frequent weeding or pest management, and can grow in a range of soil types. It is a vital staple food for millions in their area and the country. Therefore, the group is looking forward to adding value to make cassava products such as cassava flour, chips, and starch, which can be sold locally and internationally, thus tapping on market opportunities while ensuring food security in the region and improving economic well-being for all group members, especially women and youth. This also builds the case that agroecology is economically viable and promotes sustainable, diversified, resilient food production systems for improved livelihoods.
The members of Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School focus on reviving the soils at Mubuku Irrigation Scheme and building a case for agroecology in an area where most people believe agroecology can’t thrive. The school expects to implement these agroecological practices over a long period to reclaim soil structure and fertility. The members of the school know that sustainable practices are vital to ensuring that the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme continues to support agriculture without degrading the soil or the environment. Many small-scale farmers in the scheme are watching the work being done by Mumbuzi Community Agroecology School. They are eager to learn because many of the small-scale farmers are trapped in chemical use, but most of them wish not to apply any chemicals to their farms.
Agroecology is a powerful tool for addressing environmental, social, and economic challenges. By supporting Community Agroecology Schools, we can sow the seeds of change and cultivate a brighter, more sustainable future. The adoption and support of Community Agroecology Schools represent a critical step towards a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future for our communities. We implore all stakeholders to take action on this matter and be a driving force in advancing sustainable agriculture and community well-being by integrating agroecology into the extension services in all ways possible.