Ensuring youth take their role in biocultural conservation
Conservation of biocultural diversity on the continent is both an individual and group responsibility if we are to regenerate the earth, contribute to food sovereignty, mitigate the impact of climate crises and conserve the peoples’ culture. The National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) is collaborating with the ABN to conserve the biocultural diversity of some communities in Uganda. David Kureeba, Programme Officer of Forests and Biodiversity at NAPE, shares the role they see various players as having, especially the youth, in conserving the biocultural diversity approaches in the communities in which NAPE operates.
Youth in Uganda constitute about 78% of the population. They are the least employed and as such are often used by politicians to advance their agendas. These agendas do not bring them close to production of any goods for sale or realignment into agricultural systems for improvement of their livelihoods. Yet agriculture is the backbone of Uganda’s economy. Similarly, while over 70% of the women are involved in subsistence agriculture, they receive little support in provision and protection of their indigenous seeds. Instead, they are dragged into the use of non-organic seeds and agricultural supplies to produce not for their families but for the market. This has led women into procurement of so called ‘fast growing, drought resistant, pest resistant seeds’ for growing in their gardens. This strategy of using climate change as the excuse for the introduction of false solutions to seed and food sovereignty serves the commercial interest of a few people at the expense of the health of the communities and the environment.
Some of the underlying causes of climate change are known to have a direct link to human activities, for instance, through the corporate capture of agriculture, agribusiness and extractives. Having recognised these challenges in communal agricultural systems, NAPE in partnerships with ABN and development partner, SIDA, have initiated a project called “Conserving Bio-Cultural Diversity through Strengthening Community and Ecosystem Resilience”, in which women and youth related activities to promote their wellbeing have been embedded. Such activities on ecologicology and bio-cultural and biodiversity to identify talents and skills among the youth and women. These talents are nurtured through capacity-building sessions among the youth and elders. Here, they discuss culture, agroecology and biodiversity under intergenerational learning approach for cultures’ continuity.
Approaches of engaging youth, women and elders to conserve biocultural diversity
In the same spirit, community dialogues are held among the Butimba and Kihagya, comprised of elders, clan representatives, youth and women on traditional practices such as the totems, ceremonies and rituals associated with the conservation of threatened biodiversity. From such interventions, the youth identify their talents and skills rather than doing whatever just comes their way. They are encouraged to pursue their talents and skills to support conservation and to better the health of the Earth. Some of the talents identified include propagation of indigenous trees, farming, apiary, singing, dancing and drama besides making traditional baskets using local materials.
The youth are the majority in most communities. Aligning them to agroecological practices is key in conservation, particularly on seeds and soil life. Some of the challenges faced while implementing such activities include western religious beliefs, commercialization through agribusiness approaches, land grabbing, use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, alien seeds such as ‘improved’ and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) promoted by the government agricultural programmes headed by National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS).
Toxic pesticides, herbicides and extraction approaches thwart attainment of food sovereignty
Pesticides and herbicides are identified as having a detrimental effect on the bees that are much needed in the apiaries and in agriculture for pollination. During the meetings and training, cultural revival is key and the youth are advised by elders to follow into their path. The Obukadde Magezi, which means ‘elderly is wisdom’, indicates that the youth need to take their advice on ecological farming approaches seriously if they are to sustain and pass on a healthy nature to future generations. The youth are reminded of their ancestors’ key contributions to sustainably manage the nature in which they lived. That they would not have been born, had their elders not embraced similar sustainable approaches that had been passed to them during such training sessions. It’s said that charity begins at home, similarly conservation and an understanding of how to care for nature for the good of all also begins from a level of a family, with clan forming a cultured community.
Beyond the trainings and identifying their talents, NAPE is urging the youth to focus on the revival of biocultural diversity, healing the earth from the toxic chemicals that have been used. The earth suffers from agribusiness ventures that have cleared large tracts of land to pave the way for commercial production. This has led, not only to biodiversity loss, but has also exacerbated the negative impacts of climate change. Human rights violations have increased due to land grabbing and compulsory land acquisitions that, most times, leave people in internally displaced camps. Also, oil and gas mining activities do not adhere to the environmental conservation guidelines. The global temperatures have risen to high levels. Such irresponsible actions against the environment further contribute to the warming of the earth. Uganda, being a signatory to United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a signatory to the Paris Accord, which emphasizes the reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, should be at the fore front living these agreements. Yet Uganda continues to indulge in oil and gas mining, which compromises the ability of the youth to engage in farming activities as the lands of their parents are grabbed. These youth end up as squatters and casual laborers on their own lands.
NAPE and ABN are jointly working in these areas where all these harmful practices are happening with an aim of reversing the loss of biodiversity and improving food sovereignty in the targeted communities in Uganda. NAPE is among the 21 partners of ABN collaborating in implementing a project across the continent with a focus on Conserving Bio-Cultural Diversity.