Puglia and Uganda Together for Biodiversity: Rwentobo Food Garden Planted at Vocational Institute

The network of Slow Food gardens in Africa continues to grow. Organized by the Puglian non-profit Meridians, a new food garden in Rwentobo has been made possible by the support of Slow Food Puglia and the Franciscan Friars Minor in Africa.

A country of highlands, lakes and volcanic mountains, Uganda is rich in water and forest resources. Over 70% of the population works in the agricultural sector, but government investments are concentrated on exports. The focus is on products such as coffee, bananas, palm oil, sugarcane, corn, rice and beef, all of which are causing serious damage to the environment, plant and animal biodiversity and the sustainability of small-scale farming.

Slow Food has been working with food communities, young volunteers and regional coordinators in Uganda since 2006, creating Presidia and supporting farming activities within the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project. Slow Food Uganda has over time built up a solid national network, particularly in the central regions, which now comprises over 10,000 activists fighting to protect the right to food and develop sustainable local economies by organizing annual events, Earth Markets and education activities.

Monica Nabaasa, the national coordinator for the Slow Food gardens in Uganda, explains some of the challenges they face: “Currently, there are a lot of improved seed varieties on the market that require a lot of synthetic chemical use that is not only hazardous to the environment, but also to human health. Most of the improved seeds are bought expensively and cannot yield highly once replanted, thus straining local farmers financially and also putting the indigenous crops at risk of extinction.”

Using organic fertilizers and diversifying crops are some of the necessary solutions that Monica highlighted at the meeting to present the Slow Food Gardens project, held with the local Rwentobo community and 30 students from the Puglia Vocational Institute. Built in 2013 thanks to the collaboration between numerous associations, volunteers and local authorities from Puglia, the school is located along the main road that connects the Ugandan capital Kampala to Kigali, the capital of neighboring Rwanda.

Farming as Punishment

Monica tells us more about agriculture in Uganda: “Most of the local communities in Africa produce food unsustainably because they are not aware of the outcomes from their practices. Due to modernization, most children do not know how food is produced and in some schools, agriculture, the backbone of Uganda, is used as a punishment.” But, she continues, “Slow Food gardens play a role in educating and motivating students and communities about responsible food production and consumption through various activities like agroecological training sessions and awareness events for a sustainable food system. Slow Food gardens are also important for the protection of biodiversity, because they enable people, especially young generations, to learn about indigenous crop varieties that are at a risk of extinction and how they can be safeguarded and valued more through seed saving, seed sharing and their consumption.”

The Rwentobo Slow Food Garden

Students from the Puglia Vocational Institute in Rwentobo, Uganda

The Slow Food garden in Rwentobo is part of a wider humanitarian support project that serves as a tangible sign of international solidarity, the “Villaggio Puglia a Rwentobo,” in which many Puglian associations and local authorities are involved. Among the coordinators of the project in Italy are Domenico Zonno of the Meridians association, Marcello Longo of Slow Food Puglia and Pietro Zito, a Slow Food Alliance chef from the Ristorante Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso di Andria. To highlight further the link between the land and food of Puglia and Uganda, Zito has proposed donating and planting a selection of traditional Puglian seeds in Rwentobo.

“The program of Slow Food gardens in Africa goes well beyond the gardens themselves,” explains Longo. “It means giving communities a way to access fresh, health food, ensuring the reappropriation of local agricultural traditions, combatting poverty and working towards food security, as well as training leaders who are aware of the value of their land and their culture, future protagonists of change for this continent.”

The collaboration between Puglia and Uganda also includes two important health support projects at the Mbarara Hospital, located in Uganda’s second-largest city. A dialysis center and a teledialysis project are currently being implemented in conjunction with the Bari and Foligno polytechnics and the University of Bari School of Medicine, led by Professor Loreto Gesualdo. The Puglia Vocational Institute in Rwentobo is also currently being expanded, in collaboration with the Franciscan Friars Minor in Africa, led by Father Frederick Odhiambo.

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