Small-scale farmers using social media to restore lost indigenous species in central Uganda
A group of small-scale farmers in Masaka district in Central Uganda started a move to restore banana species that were getting lost in the farming communities. Buddu Banana Restoration is an initiative by small-scale farmers, started in 2018 by six small-scale farmers. Organic banana growers started the move to restore the lost banana species at first, but later, all the small-scale farmers engaged in other enterprises joined, and as of now, there are over 30 small-scale farmers in the movement across the country.
The initiative started after an increased spread of banana wilt in Masaka district led to the depletion of the indigenous species of bananas. The major aim was to protect bananas, a staple food for people in Buganda. Buddu Banana Restoration's move started by creating a WhatsApp group that influenced many small-scale farmers and their families to protect the indigenous bananas in Buganda and other regions like Teso. This involved sharing the importance of protecting the varieties, the actions that can be taken, and how this can be done.
“ESAFF Uganda gave us knowledge on organic farming and the preservation and use of indigenous species, and we started it in our small farmer group in Basoka Kwavula. We realised the need to share this knowledge with other small-scale farmers, hence this initiative”. Olivia Muwanga, chairperson, commented on how the group started.
Later, they started mobilising other small-scale farmers to join them in the journey to preserve the local banana species under attack. The group members started recording audio and videos while giving training to other small-scale farmers in the WhatsApp group. The WhatsApp platform is engaging since, in most cases, members use the local language that people understand best. So far, the group has shared knowledge of organic farming and preservation practices with community members and other small-scale farmers. There has also been access to markets for agricultural products for the members, especially organic matooke like gonja.
“Long ago, we used to pay for the knowledge we are receiving now in our group, and we are so proud of how far we have come. We have mobilised many small-scale farmers and provided them with the necessary agricultural information. The group has solved so many small-scale farmers’ problems." Olivia Muwanga added
The group members can access all the organic products as members only post in the group, and the market will get the products. We have created a strong and broad network of small-scale organic farmers nationwide, including in Buganda, Bunyoro, and Teso, among other regions.
The challenge that the group faces in using ICT to form a movement of small-scale farmers is the many bad actors who want to destroy our cause by sharing wrong information in the group to mislead people.
“We know that some people aren't happy about our actions, so they send their agents to destroy our initiative, but once we know that a member of the WhatsApp group is deliberately sharing and giving people the wrong information, we remove that person from the group and delete all the wrong information”. Olivia added.
There is also an increased influx of hybrid bananas in the farming communities, affecting the great work of the banana restoration team. Since some government programs are marketing hybrid species, the majority of small-scale farmers believe them and end up dumping the native species. The good thing is that many small-scale farmers and other consumers have come to understand that the hybrid species are not sweet and are not all resistant to pests and diseases, and this is one of the reasons for the need to restore indigenous banana species.
The group’s future plan is to restore all the indigenous bananas in Buganda and other regions. The team has already started collecting the names of all the indigenous bananas. The group will also expand to restoring other local seed varieties that are currently disappearing from the communities as a result of the introduction of "new seeds".
"We have so far collected information concerning 25 indigenous banana species, and we are not going to stop until we get all the species and restore them”. A member confirmed.
The group calls on the government to protect the local and indigenous species of bananas, as they are sweet and resistant to pests and diseases. The government should design programs that target local initiatives like Buddu Banana Restoration to reach a wider community of small-scale farmers.