National Association of Professional Environmentalists, (NAPE) is implementing a 3-year project in Bunyoro region, under the project entitled, “Strengthening community cultural governance system to defend community food, land and cultural heritage in Hoima and Buliisa Districts”.
The Project works with women small scale farmers in Kabaale village in Buseruka subcounty, Kisansya West and East in Buliisa. The project also works with other two cultural groups i.e. the Bahagya clan around their cultural forest (Kihagya Forest) in Kakindo , Kyabigambire subcounty- Hoima district, and Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites along Lake Albert in Buliisa.
The project uses community dialogues as an approach to providing an organic environment for communities to discuss, recall the past, analyze the present and plan for the future. Traditional governance practices on food, land and ecosystems conservation are being discussed and revived. Women elders are at the fore front in bringing back the knowledge on seeds, while men elders share the knowledge on traditional practices for conservation of land and ecosystems through performance of rituals in the Sacred Natural Sites (SNS).
The project started in July 2016 and in October 2017, NAPE had a conversation with some women to understand what had changed since the project inception.
Qn; What has changed since the last dialogues in April?
Frolence Ngonzebwa, (92 years) a small-scale farmer from Kabaale – Buseruka
“Since I joined these dialogues, I have learnt new things even when I am older than many here. Because we share knowledge that we had lost, one remembers what used to happen and gets directed by the situation, or instance, putting off shoes!!!! This is something we used to do without knowing its value. But since these dialogues started, I have learnt that it’s healthy to walk on bare feet. We have revived growing of our indigenous seeds because they have many functions, including having high nutrition for people of different age groups, medicine and ceremonial.
“Yesterday, here I picked a pencil and participated in drawing a seasonal calendar, something I had never done. I know the seasons where we used to have different activities but people of these days no longer follow them. Am very excited to see that this learning considers even us elderly people to be having important knowledge”. Florene narrated.
“My name is Violet Bitamare, a farmer in Kisansya, Buliisa district. Since the April dialogues organized by NAPE here in Buliisa many changes have happed in my life. I and my children have since shifted from depending on hybrid varieties provided by government to planting indigenous food varieties like Nyarokosi, Bukarasa cassava, yams, bambara nuts and others. We also formed a small holder farmer group and our struggle now is to look for other indigenous seed varieties that got extinct from our community.
Drawing the ancestral seasonal calendars has also taken me back to my childhood era when my mother would predict changing weather patterns depending on signs in the sky, landscape and eco-systems.
In our farmer group we meet twice a month to reflect on how to implement the indigenous knowledge we get from these exchanges. In these reflections we involve our daughters and sons so that they also can understand and appreciate the indigenous knowledge.
Me, I have even gone an extra mile; I am empowered and food secure because I have food. So, I normally bring my children and grand children together to share with them the culture associated with growing food and the importance of seed in one’s life.
I have been excited by drawing of seasonal calendars and ecological maps because they link the importance of our ancestors in connecting the spiritual network to our food and seeds because through the custodians performing seed rituals the ancestors bless our land and food crops grow very well……All these are captured in ecological mapping and ancestral seasonal calendars”.
“Now I have embarked on conscious selection of indigenous seed varieties from those provided to me by the government. I now have separate gardens. I want to see the deference because hybrid crops have been rotting”.
“Since we left the Tamarine Resort for dialogues in April, said Mildred, we have put our resolutions of having a mother garden of indigenous seeds into practice and we now have it.
We invite a group of elders both women and men who tell us what used to happen especially the rituals and ceremonies performed during planting and harvesting seasons. Through these ceremonies more indigenous knowledge is generated through sharing.
What I am now doing as a person, I have launched a hunt for more seeds like ndemesa, sweet potatoes, maize and pumpkins that lasted longer in older times.
I am excited about ancestral calendars because its nature that directs you either to plant, weed or harvest depending on signs. And what we shall do from here, each of us will draw her own ancestral calendar to follow in our daily lives and practices”.
“I can say I have now graduated in terms of growing indigenous crops and knowledge practices. At home I was food insecure and to put a meal on table we would first go to the market. Sometimes we would not eat because hybrid cassava varieties rot.
I planted groundnuts, enkoore and other legumes that are vital for African foods. I used to beg my husband for money to buy groundnuts source (nsanyusa) but now I have everything with me including greens. I also plant millet and other cereals because it works as medicine especially among mothers.
I have also learnt to consciously select the best seeds from crops and this I attribute to Robert Katemburura because he took us through this seed conservation and preservation exercise after returning from his exchange visit in Ethiopia. I am a strong African woman who has food at home now. I even wonder where rain came from!!! We had taken a full year without rain, but I think it is because of our custodians who have started performing rituals in the Sacred sites”.
“Peoples’ mindset had for long been colonized by industrialization capitalism. It affects the lifestyle, food they eat and use of chemicals was now the way to go.
This mindset has led business people and governments to also encroach on natural resources thus destabilizing the ecosystems. But since the inception of these dialogues we have been decolonizing our minds especially reverting to search for indigenous seeds and ecological farming and we now have enough food in our homes.
NAPE trained three members from our group as Community Animators of which I am a member. So as animators, we first meet for two consecutive days to reflect on what should be done before we share with the rest of the group members since it is a learning process for all of us, but it (dialogue) must be guided. After one week we call other members to share knowledge.
Because of these trans-generational processes of knowledge flow, our traditional practices have been revived and the group which started small is attracting an overwhelming number of members joining willingly.
Before we came to Buliisa to be trained as animators in April we were only three. When we left after these dialogues, we recruited other members and we became 10 but today other members have joined and the group now has 32 like-minded members
How we do it………….
We don’t have any agenda in these meetings at group level. We only begin with mystica, putting off shoes and it’s from this mystica that we follow the energy in our reflections, connecting them to our life and how our fore parents depended on other beings like the lakes and forests for survival.
Now like on the ancestral seasonal calendars, we have gone back to the understanding that it’s the ecosystems, the nature that will determine your livelihood because we used to follow western calendars and used dangerous chemicals to spray. But following these calendars will enable you to effectively time the planting season, not following written calendars.
Through these meetings we have realized that from the beginning, man had the inner deep knowledge on how to live with nature but was disrupted.
We now practice ecological/organic farming and this has changed our lives. In our village we have revived traditional maize seeds and greens vegetables. We now use organic spray which we learnt from these dialogues. For example, we use fresh cow dung mixed with water put in a sack, keep for about a week, then take to the plants. It’s a good fertilizer. I have used it on pumpkins, beans, maize and this past season I had a bumpy harvest
We have found a big deference between hybrid seeds and our indigenous ones in terms of survival during storage. We also realize the need to revive construction of traditional granaries for storage now that we have food. We need to be food sovereign because a wealthy family is that one that has food.”