Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food

255 Edie Mukiibi - From a small farm in Uganda, disillusioned by hybrid seeds and agrochemicals, to leading Slow Food

October 24, 2023 Koen van Seijen Episode 254
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food
255 Edie Mukiibi - From a small farm in Uganda, disillusioned by hybrid seeds and agrochemicals, to leading Slow Food
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A conversation with Edie Mukiibi, farmer, agronomist, activist, and current president of Slow Food International, about modern input-heavy agrochemical agronomy education, the disillusionment with agrochemicals, hybrid seeds, and much more.

A wide-ranging interview that starts on a small farm in Uganda, where Edie was born, grew up, and received a very agrochemical agronomy education, which led to a huge disillusion with agrochemicals and hybrid seeds. The disillusion led Edie to a deep dive, which continues until today, in the world of agroecology, regeneration, and seed banks. The story could have easily stopped there, and Edie could have just focused on restructuring the agriculture education system in Uganda and the rest of East Africa, but he got involved in Slow Food, a global movemen of over 1 million people fighting for good, clean and fair food, which was started in 1989 in Bra, in Italy, by Carlo Petrini, who led the movement for 33 years until Edie took over in 2022.

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Speaker 1:

A wide-ranging interview which starts on a small farm in Uganda where a guest of today was born and grew up, followed by a very traditional or should I say modern input-heavy agrochemical agronomy education which led to a huge delusion with agrochemicals in hybrid siege, which led to a deep dive, and that continues until today, into the world of agroecology, regeneration, seed banks, etc. This story could have easily stopped there. Our guest could have, between brackets, just focused on restructuring agricultural education systems in Uganda and the rest of East Africa, because also there is a lot to do. But no, he got involved in the slow food movement, a global movement over over 1 million people fighting for good, clean and fair food, which was started in 1989 in Bra, italy, by Carlo Petrini, who led the movement for 33 years, and now, since 2022, this movement is led by a smallholder farmer from Uganda who got disillusioned by agrochemicals. This is the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food podcast investing as if the planet mattered, where we talk to the pioneers in the regenerative food and agriculture space to learn more on how to put our money to work to regenerate soil, people, local communities and ecosystems, while making an appropriate and fair return. Why my focus on soil and regeneration, because so many of the pressing issues we face today have their roots in how we treat our land, nrc, grower, food, what we eat, where and consume, and it's time that we as investors big and small and consumers, start paying much more attention to the dirt slash soil underneath our feet. To make it easy for fans to support our work, we launched our membership community and so many of you have joined us as a member. Thank you. If our work created value for you and if you have the means and only if you have the means consider joining us. Find out more on comroadcom slash investing in Regen Ag. That is, comroadcom slash investing in Regen Ag, or find the link below Welcome to another episode today with a farmer, agronomist, activist and the current president of Slow Food International, a global movement involving millions of people in over 160 countries working to ensure everyone has access to good, clean and fair food. So welcome to the show. To start with, a personal question, we always like to ask at the beginning and obviously asking also in this way how it led you to an organization as Slow Food. What made you? What led you to focus on food and soil and regeneration? What has been your path, let's say, towards that?

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Thank you so much and thanks for hosting me. Thanks. My childhood I've been part of the farming system. I've been I'm from a family of farmers smallholder farmers in Uganda and I've been going to the farm with my parents to grow food to sustain our needs, both financially but also in terms of food security. So I have been observing what's happening on our farm, what's happening on other farms, and Avora is wanted to look at a system that is not so expensive to the farmer and also a system that can provide food at all times without destroying the planet, without destroying the soil and also without causing harm to those who produce it, because I saw how my mom was struggling with producing food, how we work together on the farm. Like I said, I want to do to be a farmer, but I want to work in a system that is supportive to the planet, that is supportive to the smallholder farmers, a system that can provide healthy food without compromising the resources of the planet, like soil, and the system that rebuilds the greatest resource we have in agriculture, that is, the soil.

Speaker 1:

So that shaped my path. In your time, observing that the farm of your parents and also your farm, have you seen big changes in inputs and approaches and what have you seen change over the time observing that, or has it been relatively constant?

Speaker 2:

We. There has been a change since we started growing crops. Since I was young, sometimes we could go to the market and buy seeds, especially maize seed. We could go to the shop and buy like beans and plant. But also in terms of soil management, we definitely we ride so much on local manures and the like, but we never, ever focused so much on the interaction, on the science behind all this. It's kind of the traditional system of farming that we grow crops together, we intercrop because I come from the banana coffee farming system where we grow bananas together with fruit trees and coffee all in the same piece of land. But this is the traditional farming system and I never. Since I was young, I never understood the interaction. But as I grew up, I also studied agronomy, I studied soil science. I came to understand why we should do what we are doing, what we have been doing for so long, why we should preserve the farming systems that foster interaction. So in the end, I have also invested quite a lot of knowledge, a lot of energy in maintaining this system but also making it better, introducing new trees on the farm, native trees that are also supportive to the agroforestry system, also setting up compost areas and also planning the farm pretty well to have some plots resting and regenerating and also to go for zero tillage or minimum tillage practices on the farm, however small the farm is, but it's now. The microclimate has greatly improved, the use of compost and also the number of trees on the farm have greatly improved and also now we no longer buy seeds from the market. We produce all the seeds we need on the farm, like all the planting materials, like for sweet potatoes, for beans, maize or corn, banana planting materials. So we keep everything on the farm. Unless we find a variety of bananas or a variety of coffee that we don't have already on the farm and it's on another farm, then we can talk to another farmer to exchange and get this other local variety of a product that we need. So it's now the farm is almost self-sustaining. So this has been the most important change and also learning more about generative agriculture, about agroecology, about sustainable food systems from other farmers from the different areas where I have worked, where I've interacted with farmers managing regenerative farms. I also come back to educate my parents, to discuss with them why we should continue doing the good work that we do. So that has been the biggest change. And now another important thing is the involvement of the whole family. So it's become a truly family farm with all my sisters. We work together, we manage things together, we take decisions together and also we share the produce together. So that has been the most important change and much, much less external labor being used on the farm, because in many cases we leave plots of land under follow and we don't invest a lot of money in cultivating it. So those have been some of the changes that have happened and that have observed.

Speaker 1:

When you decided to study agronomy and I don't know at the time, you say when I was young, you're still relatively young but when you decided to study agronomy in Uganda, was that the traditional agronomy, traditional meaning how you were used to farm, or was it the highly intensive, let's say, industrial agriculture agronomy? How was the agronomy study you did? Was it a challenge or was it really finding out, like you said, starting to study why you did certain things the way you were doing it anyway? Or was it a bit of a clash with how you were used to farm?

Speaker 2:

It's a bit of a clash. When I went to study agronomy at the university because all my time I wanted to be a farmer, I wanted to be in the agriculture profession and also when I was at school, I wanted to make a big change in the way school gardens are managed, not to be a punishment but to be an interest-oriented activity that young people can go to learn how to farm. Because I love farming, my parents made me love farming and I know it's a very important activity. But when I went to study agronomy at the school, I realized that most of the agricultural education in institutions, in academic institutions like the universities, it was bent towards promoting industrial agribusiness, industrial, chemical-based, conventional farming systems, to my shock.

Speaker 1:

Must have been such a joy for you to study there. No, I'm joking.

Speaker 2:

To my shock, everything we studied was about. Most of the things we studied were about the chemicals that work with the hybrid seeds. It was about how much fertilizers you apply per acre or per hectare. Most of the education was around there, and also when I was at the university, because the university was the agriculture. Education system in the universities has always been inspired by the Greener Revolution new hybrids, intensive industrial farming systems and high-tech production systems. When I was at the university, I got involved in this project that was promoting a hybrid seed, a new hybrid seed that had been developed by then, and we were demonstrating and trying it out in western parts of the country around Chiang Kuan Zi district, and we were convinced that this is truly the agriculture of the future. This is the agriculture that Africa or the whole world needs.

Speaker 1:

We were kind of indoctrinated, but when we worked with I was going to use the word brainwashed, but you did it.

Speaker 2:

It was doubting about it.

Speaker 1:

And then, how did the bubble burst? How did the bubble it was in?

Speaker 2:

2007 that I was involved in the outreach program for this project and this maze was like any other new maze varieties developed in Africa and other parts of the world. The promises were really high Hilding, drought resistant, nutritious, and all these kind of things that it will be the one to take farmers out of poverty. And the most important thing was it was drought resistant, like it can survive in the harsh tropical conditions. The bubble burst when we I asked farmers to take up this maze and they planted it, because it also came with a long list of agrochemicals that you have to plant with the ammonium phosphate that is damp, you have to do at knee height, you have to do top dressing of urea and you have to add the NPK at the tussling stage. So all these kind of things which we told the farmers, and the farmers had to dig deep into their pockets to get the chemicals to invest in this and we were all convinced this is something that will help them. But in the end, here we were, hit by drought in 2007 and the rain which we expected never came, and it was the test of how to the drought resistance. Yes, it was a very big test and we got a lot of complaints that the maize is failing, farmers are losing so many of the fields were drying at knee height. Even after investing in chemical fertilizers, investing in the seeds, investing in the foliar fertilizers, farmers were not getting anything out of that because of the drought. So I was asked to go and check what is happening, to check the ground, the truth behind the claims that it's not working, and I was shocked, reaching the farmers' fields and I could see the sense that disappointment. And, being from a family of farmers, I imagined, if it was on our farm, that we had subjected all our farm to one single crop and it's failing, and we had put all our eggs in one basket and it's now all broken. So I started imagining this and, as farmers explained to me, I had these imaginations and I was wondering what is the fallback position for these farmers? How are they going to feed their families? Where are they going to get money to pay the credit? They took fertilizers on credit. They took agrochemicals from the chemical shops on credit. How are they going to pay the credit? So this emotionally touched me and I said maybe this is not the right path for our African agriculture. Maybe the real path is to go back to our diversified farming systems like the one I imagined, the one we have on our farm, where we have, even if the coffee fails, we still get the bananas, we still get the vegetables, we still have the fruits and we have the sweet potatoes and this kind. We cannot really suffer in a heavy drought and this is the traditional African farming systems. So I went back to the university in disappointment. I explained to my supervisor and I said I don't think I can continue working with this system. I don't think I can continue following this project. I will need to do something else. And towards the end of 2007 I went back to the community. I went back to the farmers. I told them I no longer with the project, but do not be angry with me. I want us to see how we can change things. We started talking about reviving our traditional farming systems. We started talking about the importance of intercropping, the importance of diversity, the importance if farmers had planted five different crops on their farms, they would not be suffering as much as they suffered by then. So this is when I started rethinking the whole education I was getting from the university and I started looking out for more knowledge sources, for more knowledge on biodiversity and agroforestry, starting to read more about that and also asking a few professors who are working on soil productivity how we can build soil productivity without chemicals. Then I started learning more about organic agriculture, about regenerative agricultural systems. So that's also in early 2008,. That's also when I contacted, I was searching and I came across Slow Food and I contacted the Slow Food Foundation for biodiversity because I was feeling so much alone in the university and I was like working on this alone and I started looking out on who else is doing this kind of work. So this is when I got in touch with the Slow Food Foundation and I was much, much welcomed and invited to Teramare, where I found a very big family, a very big world of people thinking the same people actually doing the same people changing the food system, with concrete examples of communities, of projects, of initiatives, and I never stepped back and it also gave me a lot of energy to improve our family farm. I came back from Teramare 2008 with a lot of energy, with a lot of enthusiasm, with a lot of knowledge and I went straight back to work. I went to the communities, I went back to our family farm, I went back to the university and started talking about a different form of agriculture and I, as a leader of the university, I created another outreach program for our faculty for the students in the holidays to go out to the communities to learn more about diversified farming systems, to talk about landscape approach, towards agricultural systems management, and this has kept me going until now and it gave me a lot of energy and I started working in the organic sector, in the organic agriculture, when I left the university, but also working with the communities, working on my school gardening project and building more slow food communities. And this is how I changed my mind and I don't regret and it's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life to jump out of this sinking ship and support communities, rebuild and regenerate the agricultural systems.

Speaker 1:

And we're going to get into slow food in a second, because I think many people know, but also many people don't really know what slow food is. But first a question practically now on the ground at the university is there an agroecology department? Is there more attention for the non-sinking ships, let's say the thriving ship, or is the university still in the same direction in, let's say, part of the sinking part of agriculture and food, or do you don't know? Have you been in touch with the university?

Speaker 2:

Yes, I've been in touch with the university, but not only that university, not only Macquarie university, but I've been in touch also with so many other universities, because also one of my goals is to change the education system when it comes to food and agriculture, so that is also part of my goal. In 2012, when Carlo Petrini visited Uganda, we had a seminar at the university in the same university in Makerede, and this is also an indication that the university had become now more and more open to different form of knowledge the regenerative agricultural knowledge, the agricultural knowledge but also it's facing a lot of competition from other universities who have even created specific courses or degree courses on on agroecology, on regenerative agriculture, and also in the university has worked on a collaboration together with other, with the institutions like the national organic agriculture movement of Uganda, civil society organizations, to start a summer school on organic agriculture. So that summer school ran for quite some time and I facilitated also a session in that summer school because this is we worked with some professors and this is what we wanted for people to in the university students, agriculture students not only to learn about conventional agriculture, but also to start thinking about organic agriculture. So there has been quite also a lot of research on agroecology at the agriculture research institute, the university agriculture research institute, where there is a small department, not really well-developed, not very big, but working on the bioeconomy like vermicompost and other organic inputs. So other universities, like Uganda Matta's university has also created the African center of excellence for organic, for agroecology and organic agriculture. Also mountains of the moon university. Also they have started a master's degree program in agroecology. So it's really changing a lot because many, many people now realizing um agroecology or regenerative agricultural practices very, very important, especially in the changing climate and also in in the uh, with the uh growing destruction of the planet. We need to move away from the destructive production systems, from the destruction, destructive, destructive knowledge systems in agriculture to more regenerative systems and sustainable ones and, and then I mean it sounds like in Uganda itself, with us in East Africa and in the whole continent.

Speaker 1:

Obviously there's more than enough work to do also for you, but you decided to become much more active in slow food international and at some point become vice president and even president. And what motivated you? Motivated you to to step up this role of of the on the activist side and and not only on the farming and the agronomy and education side uh.

Speaker 2:

The most important, the the good thing is that my role in in slow food even starting from a convivial leader and being a local uh slow food chapter leader back in 2008, late 2008 to early 2009 it also it. It gave me more opportunities to reach out to more farmers, to learn more and explain more and demonstrate more to to the farmers the food system that we want the good, clean and fair food system. Um, the most important thing to note is that, despite the leadership role that I have, it does not affect negatively my practical uh involvement in farming activities, in training activities with the farmers. It actually gives me more space, more opportunities and a bigger opportunity to interact with more farmers and to share this inspiration practically. So climbing up the ladder of leadership in slow food is part of the, the big picture. It's part of the big job that I have to do that I'm committed to do as a leader, to inspire, but also as a leader, to demonstrate practically what food system we need. And it also adds to the voice to talk to the policymakers, because it's not always enough to do things in isolation and say, yes, we are changing the system, but we are only changing the farms. We also need to talk to the policymakers. We need to talk to the research institutions. We need to talk to the universities, which are creating also a lot of trouble by going into promoting the, the conventional knowledge systems. We need to talk to a lot of people and, in many cases, you, you need a leadership role to talk to these people. You need uh, uh, uh uh. This I don't want to say the position, but you need the, the, the voice.

Speaker 1:

It helps? Yeah, it helps to communicate to them Today.

Speaker 2:

Since my election as the president of Slow Food, I've had a chance to meet quite a lot of leaders here in Uganda alone that I never. I always wanted to meet, but I never had an audience with them. So I've had meetings with many. Members of parliament have been invited to meet, different ministers of foreign delegations have been invited to talk to the university chancellors and to the Ministry of Agriculture, with set up relationships, and now also I'm one of the big voices here in Uganda pushing for talking to the ministry, to push for the national agriculture strategy. So all the all the meetings, they want me to be there because I represent a global network. I represent a global voice. I represent a network of millions of actors out there who are working there every day to change the food system. So this is why it's important to share the inspiration, not only to work in isolation and say, okay, I'm concentrating on my farm because I want my farm to change. Of course I do a lot of farming. I get a lot of time when I'm in the country to try out things on the farm, because an agriculture farm or a relative farm teaches you new things every day. You see, you get to see new interactions, you get to learn new ways plant plants behave, you get to learn to see new plants coming up in terms of biodiversity. So I also take a lot of time to observe my family farm and work there, but also I take a lot of time to go to the communities to share with them, to learn more from them, and also take a lot of time to go to talk to the policy makers and to talk to the global community. So in the end, it's a very big opportunity to talk to, to influence not only the actions of producers, the actions of farmers, the actions of vendors on the streets and in the markets, but also to influence the policies and programs of governments and the direction of agriculture education.

Speaker 1:

And speaking on that policy piece. What are they looking for? When you talk to members of parliament, when you talk to delegations that visit Uganda, also in general, because you do a lot of international work as well what is? Because I don't think many of us listeners get the chance often to speak to people in that kind of I don't want to say power, but that kind of position, and we always say, oh, policies should change, policies should change, which is very easy to say, very difficult to do. What in those conversations, of course, without naming names, what are they looking for? Is it because they get, of course, bombarded from another side as well with very good presentations, very strong lobby influences on the agrochemical industry to like let's not change course because we're all going to starve, and all those things? Let's say, the lobby from another food system is very strong. And then they talk to you as well. What are they looking to learn and what do they need? More of us? Do they need more stories, more case studies, more numbers, more research? What can we do to influence that? When you're in those closed meetings or those conversations with policymakers, what are they mostly looking for or wondering?

Speaker 2:

One thing that I have realized doing this job is that there has been quite a lot of greenwashing. There has been quite. The lobbies have been very strong for so long, and there are quite a lot of policymakers who are looking at scale scale in terms of producing too much but they never, ever, understand the realities of people on the ground.

Speaker 1:

So what we are bringing on the table is the reality of the situation on the ground and also looking at how they need to have an experience like you had with the hybrid seeds and the input, and then the shock of the drive and there are so many of these experiences out there, and they are all suffocated.

Speaker 2:

They don't have a voice, they don't have a platform.

Speaker 1:

So one thing but of course, if you're in your office and in your air conditioned car, you're not going to ever see that or feel that or sense that, because your food just going to arrive and there's no question.

Speaker 2:

So policymakers only go back to their communities during the time of looking for votes and campaigns and they don't get a chance to see this. So one thing that we have done, even during the GMO campaign to stop the GMO bill, was to bring farmers to parliament and accredit them as observers and exploit all these legal opportunities that are out there. So farmers come to talk to their members of parliament, come to talk to the different policymakers about what experiences they already have with the hybrid seeds, so, and also expressing what challenges they are facing with the industrial production system. So we bring in real life experiences, we bring in the concept of communities and also the real solutions, not the false solutions, and we have, by all means, we have to count on the shortcomings of the big agribusiness industries to the communities, to the people. Yes, farmers, the governments are looking at figures like GDP, the contribution of agriculture to the total national GDP, but again, what we have to look at is how the share of the GDP, the agriculture GDP, affects the communities. It doesn't make a lot of sense to produce, to evict 1000 families, to produce a lot of coffee for export, and then we say the agriculture has counted to more income, but again more poverty has been created by the same need to earn for an exchange. So we bring out all these cases and the truth is, many policymakers, they get shocked hearing all these stories and they feel how much they have betrayed and neglected the communities, the societies, because many times they listen to the beautiful presentations that also come with a lot of kickbacks financial kickbacks from the big agriculture industries as they want to take over the seed system, they want to take over the land, they want to take over the fish from the lakes, and then many times the voice of those who affected doesn't really come out very well. So, even going beyond the local policymakers, we also talk about the international or regional government, like to the East African community, to African Union. So when we have a chance, we also make clear demonstration of how Africa can feed itself, how communities are feeding themselves. It's not always only about earning money for the government, but it's also about feeding the growing population and giving the power for the growing population to feed itself, not to get someone American or Dutch company coming and take over land and produce and say we are feeding Africa. This is not on paper, it looks like, yes, they are producing a lot to feed Africa, but it's not feeding anyone. It's actually creating more problems. It's creating more starving. It's creating more pollution, more environmental problems, which affect more and more and more communities in the rural and urban areas. So these are some of the realities. The most important thing is that when we talk to the policymakers, we bring out the realities which they may not have had access to. Also, when talking to other people outside Africa, like when I'm in Europe, I actually bring in all my experience from the 30 more African countries where I've worked, experiences from the communities, also analyzing the bilateral policies in relation to the common person and how these bilateral policies are actually driving more poverty in African communities. Instead of eliminating poverty, they are actually extending the imperialistic trade policies and relationships and creating more and more problems. But you have to speak this out for people to understand. Many times they may have not had access to this in-depth information because a lot of information is not in the books. A lot of wrong information is in policy papers and books, but not all this true information is out there. The real information is with the communities and that's why, as Rofood, we work a lot with communities to amplify the voice of the communities, for communities to speak for themselves and to speak directly to the policy makers. It's very, very important.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, we've seen that also in the US with regenerate America, a big push to get at least soil into the farm bill. The most powerful thing, it seems, there was to bring real farmers to Congress and to have them testify and share their real experiences and all the challenges they have. And I think it's the same in Brussels, it's the same in Kampala, it's the same in Accra, it's the same in any capital the distance between the political institutions and also the academic institutions we had quite a few scientists here that set out of the system because they simply couldn't do the research that really was necessary. Or they saw in the fields with farmers, they were working with things that, according to the university or according to their books, wasn't possible. So there's a huge disconnect there and we always say just you need to go and visit the farmers and visit the communities and see for yourself and listen and learn there, which, of course, is very difficult if you're in an office writing policy papers. But in terms of the regeneration piece and regenerative agriculture, you mentioned it a few times and you really specifically picked for Terra Madra, which is your off-slow food. The big biennial will be next year again, but we were there last year, in 2022, and you're in a very big fair conference gathering and you picked the theme of regenerate. Are you scared of the big agrichemical companies? Because I've seen a few already starting to use regeneration. Like, look, you need only this chemical to regenerate. Or, look, you need this kind of lobby, and green washing or regenerative washing or whatever we want to call it, is starting to also enter the policy lobby again. Like, yeah, of course this is nice to soil, but if you only use this and this input, you'll be fine. Do you see that already or not so much yet, because I've seen some early signs of it.

Speaker 2:

Yes, I've seen that already because the big agribusiness corporations they always love green washing and jumping to hijack the concepts that are really.

Speaker 1:

Not the outcome, but the concept.

Speaker 2:

They want to hijack the concept. They want to hijack the terms, the concept, but the outcomes are very different because for them and also the goals are different. For them, their goal is not to regenerate the planet. The goal is to make more and more money and also expand their income sources and exercise more control using that concept. So we are much, much aware of that and that's also and they employ a very big PR tool they employ a lot of marketing systems to completely change the meaning of the concept in there towards what they want, and also they want to change the whole outcome towards their business model, selling more and more inputs and creating more and more dependence on their custom inputs. So, yes, we see this and that's why part of our strategic goals is education, and not only educating in schools, but educating communities on the true regeneration, on the regeneration we want as slow food and the regeneration the planet wants. It's not the regeneration that chemical companies want, so it's very, very different. So, looking at regenerative agriculture, we are focusing on regeneration that is in favor of local resources, of self-sustaining farms, and also regeneration that is actually community led and community managed, and regeneration that also respects the dignity of young people, the dignity of women farmers and regeneration that respects the rights and dignity of indigenous people, thank you. And also a regenerative system that is not based on external inputs, but it's based on biodiversity, based on local knowledge and the knowledge of the producers, of the farmers, and it's based on the local food systems. So this is the difference from the kind of hijack the big agribusiness or input companies that they are focusing on, because for them it's all about creating more inputs that farmers can depend on, and like stopping farmers from thinking and from innovating, and from the intention is to break the circular flow of resources on the farm, such that farmers will always have to run to their input. So, but this is not the regeneration we want.

Speaker 1:

And do you see a role for larger companies and I'm not saying agrochemical industry, but let's say larger companies and if so, are you helping them as well with Slow Food International I know with like Terra Madre. Of course you have some larger sponsors the La Vazza, a very big coffee brand of this world and for sure you get approached by companies. Do you engage with that? Is that a role you take as Slow Food and is that something you see in this regenerative transition, that there is a role for larger companies to play?

Speaker 2:

The Slow Food we are talking about today is open and inclusive. We open to partnerships for those people who truly want to regenerate the planet, who truly want to how do you test that?

Speaker 1:

when somebody knocks on the door, what's the filter?

Speaker 2:

A large company is actually keep knocking on the door and say we want to Like coffee companies, especially through our very successful coffee coalition project. Large companies keep knocking on the door and say we want to support more farmers. We want they are not only focusing on the product, they're also focusing on the origin of the product. There is one big quality of those we are working with. This is also one of the most important things it's not only to focus on coffee. I want to use the example of coffee, because this is where we have had a successful story, like a success story of working with some of these companies. It's not focusing on the coffee when it arrives in Europe or in Italy or in United States. It's about going back to the communities and say we want to support community-led regenerative agriculture, we want to support communities to do agroecology, we want to support communities to build agroforestry systems, to build the resilient mountain ecosystem projects. We start with that. There is a lot of transparency. There is mutual support. The most important thing is that the focus is on supporting those who actually do most of the work, but they have always been the least.

Speaker 1:

Took most of the risk as well.

Speaker 2:

They have taken most of the risks, but they have always had the least reward at the entire value chain. This is why we do not only focus on the outcome. We have to focus on what Like focusing on the people, focusing on the communities, focusing on ecosystems, focusing on biodiversity and resources before we focus on the outcome of the entire collaboration. The slow food we are talking about is not the slow food of closed doors. Anyone knocks on the door. Of course, there is always room for discussion on how truly you want to support the regeneration of the planet. We are much, much aware of the greenwashing. We are aware of what is happening globally and only companies they want to use their regeneration as a marketing strategy, as part of their peer. But we are aware of all these greenwashing strategies. That's why we are also very careful when we are going through the process. The large companies, of course, like you said not talking about the input companies, I mean the agrochemical companies but large companies have a very important role to play to rethink their production systems, to rethink their programs, to rethink their business model towards a truly regenerative one and towards one that supports the communities, even when we set up seed banks, like here in Uganda, where communities have set up indigenous seed banks. They have been approached by local seed companies Some of them are bigger, others are small and they say okay, we want to bring back the local vegetable seeds on the market I mean on the market as part of our seed catalog, but we want to collaborate with a women group or with an indigenous seed bank to multiply these, to supply us with seeds on a quarterly basis or annual basis that we can park and sell and tell the story of this community, how they are preserving biodiversity. So we evaluate the system and we get back to the roots of the community. Like I said, it all comes back to the people, it comes back to the community, it comes back to the resources and not only the outcome or the output as seeds. But who is really producing this and what struggles are they going through? Which kind of social and environmental injustices are they enduring and how can we support them to bring about fairness and to support the work they do, to continue this work they do and to truly communicate their work. So it's not that there is no room for talks with relatively big companies which want to rethink their production and business models. Their window is there and they have a big role to play in supporting regenerative agriculture. They are those companies which are investing in agriculture, business models and supporting agriculture entrepreneurs and with capital, startups and many, many other. They are banks, like regional banks, which are now starting to focus on supporting agriculture entrepreneurs with low interest loans, because they are convinced that they now believe that we need to support healthy food systems. They are worried about what is going on in the world and they are worried about the fragility of the industrial system. So these all need to be supported to transform their business model towards a more regenerative and agricultural one. But, of course, we are much aware of the greenwashing that could happen along the way.

Speaker 1:

And, yeah, and what would you do? This is a perfect bridge to a question I love to ask what would you do if, tomorrow morning, you weren't in charge of Slow Food International but you were in charge of a billion dollars to be put to work? So definitely on the investing side, but it could be extremely long-term investments if you want. It could be no return or very little return. It could be any flexibility you want, but you basically have I'm not saying unlimited resources, but a very significant one. I'm asking this question not because I want to hear exact dollar amounts, but I'm always curious from people on the ground. What would they prioritize? What would they focus on if they had a crazy amount of money to put to work, like a billion dollars In your case? What would you focus on?

Speaker 2:

This is a tricky one but it's what we prefer Slow Food to have a billion dollars, or me to have a billion dollars to invest and I would definitely invest in the I would put it in impact investment like to invest in.

Speaker 1:

Would you focus on seeds or on compost or the input?

Speaker 2:

side or education technology. Because the world is crazy with profit. The world has gone so wrong with the need for profit and greed keeps multiplying because companies want more profit and when you have more profit, you have more power. But what we are looking for is impact to the communities, impact to in terms of the change to the environment to regenerate the planet, regenerate the environment, to redesign the destroyed mountain ecosystems towards more ecological ones. So I would invest in the communities in terms of preserving and multiplying more local and indigenous diverse seeds, and also I would invest in the impact of indigenous peoples in protecting territories and something that would not bring back the monetary profits but will bring back profits in terms of sustainability to the planet and also like bringing more life to the planet. This is the kind of impact investment I'm thinking about Working more in agroecology, in communities that are working on agroecology, building agroecology businesses, farmers, markets that would improve the healthy of the food system, that would reduce the ecological impact of food on the planet. This is where money needs to go right now. This is where the one billion needs to be spent, not to spend this one billion on high tech lab meat or high tech seeds like GMOs and new GMOs. This is where all the money in those investments need to be pulled out and sent to the communities to support more impact-oriented community initiatives that have a positive impact on people's health, on the planet, on the ecosystem, that can rebuild soils and that can clean the water shades and water systems and that can have a lasting impact on the food security, like food sovereignty that is local and best in specific territories. So this is where money needs to go.

Speaker 1:

And what would you do, as another questioner who is like to ask, if you so you no longer, unfortunately, are in charge of the $1 billion, but you do have the power to change one thing overnight, the magic want question I like to ask. So if you could change one thing, and one thing only overnight, what would that be?

Speaker 2:

I would stop demos.

Speaker 1:

Why is that the intervention point you choose instead of agrochemical inputs or anything else? What's the angle there? What's the reasoning there?

Speaker 2:

Because it's clear that GMOs not only increase the need to develop new agrochemicals but also they take away sovereignty of a lot of people to feed themselves. So one of the reasons why we still have quite many agrochemicals being developed, the glyphosate users more than doubled and all the environmental challenges with the chemicals they have come as a result of seed modification. And the more new seeds from the super hybrids to GMOs you develop, the more need for a long list of recommended chemical inputs for better production and to realize the potential of those seeds. But again, that is one part, because if you focus only on agrochemicals and you let the need for agrochemicals continue to grow, it becomes inevitable. So it's better to prevent the need to work on the preventive side, to focus on cutting the demand, than stopping the supply. So when there is no demand, not a lot of demand the supply will go. So that is one thing, but also when we are focusing on enslavement enslavement of farmers, especially smaller farmers in the global south, who always don't have enough money to reinvest in buying new seeds every season, GMOs are bound to create more and more challenges. Recently in Uganda. There is something which is actually happening in Uganda today because the seed companies for maize, for corn, they said they may not be able to supply maize seed for this season. So in just a statement like this, the price for maize seed, the hybrid maize seed, has exploded. It has increased by more than 100%. So the cost of a hybrid maize seed last year, the average, like DK, the one which is imported from Kenya, was at 10,000 Uganda shearing. That's roughly three US dollars a kilo. Because this maize, the companies are not going to supply this maize seed this season. Now a kilo, one kilo of this maize has gone to 50,000 Uganda shearing.

Speaker 1:

From 10 to 50 just for our people listening and taking notes. That's 5X.

Speaker 2:

In parts like northern Uganda which are hard to access, which are very far away from the central, and there are long lines of people now fighting to stock the maize seed. So this shows that if people develop the high dependence on external inputs, a time will come when all these seed companies merge into one and say we are not supplying maize seed until such and such a condition is met, and this will risk a lot of lives. This is already risking a lot of lives. A lot of famine, a lot of hunger is bound to happen just because a seed company is not willing or not able to supply maize seed. This is not going to happen in communities where people have already saved their seeds from the indigenous or local maize seed, and already in our communities people have started sharing the seeds, and this is the biggest threat GMOs and new hybrids and new conventional breeding systems have on the livelihoods of people. This is why, if I had the power, I would stop this system of always developing new high tech seeds and support the preservation and protection of local biodiversity and revive our local seeds, support communities to build seed banks and have seeds and improve on seed sovereignty, as well as removing and eliminating all the seed laws in the world that are meant only to protect corporations and take away the right of farmers or local people to share and exchange seeds. This is a very big thing because once someone touches the seed, they are directly touching the seed, the food system. Once they control the seed, they are directly controlling how people should feed themselves and how people should access food, because everything starts with the seed.

Speaker 1:

Would you then retrospectively looking at the 1 billion the question I asked before and focus that all on seeds? Is that fair? Or is that again the monoreductionist, monoculture view of we need everything and the umbrella to change? Of course, but here you're arguing seeds is the most important entry point. Without that, we're.

Speaker 2:

everything else is irrelevant In terms of investment, seed banks and the impact on biodiversity protection.

Speaker 1:

that would be one of the we're developing new seeds based on old seeds, but also figuring out and scaling, because all the traditional seed companies have been bought up by a few. Now we're almost left without any seed companies to do proper work Because they are not focusing on impact.

Speaker 2:

They are focusing on profit, the monetary gain, but the seed banks are focusing on impact. The community seed banks Protection and preservation of biodiversity is not focusing on monetary profit. It's focusing on the environmental impact, on the social impact of this is where money needs to go to invest in the social impact of the work of the communities Protecting seeds, building seed banks. Many of the seed banks are not focusing on the monetary impact. They're actually focusing on the social and environmental impact. They're focusing on food sovereignty.

Speaker 1:

Have you seen examples that are set up as a company I'm not saying for the highest profit, but as a for-profit company or at least a break-even company? Let's say you are there. Have you seen models where this is a sustainable company structure, of course not focused on crazy profits, but at least to pay your own bills, to be also, there again, independent from outside sources of capital or grants?

Speaker 2:

Definitely. Seed banks multiply and keep seeds and sell seeds at a reasonable price to those who want the seeds. Also, recently I talked about the May's scandal, the May's seed scandal from Dicke, which is, I think, also Monsanto subsidiary here in East Africa. They are the ones who are not going to supply seed because they want people to suffer and government pass policies in their favor. On the contrary, we have a civil society, like a communication page, whatsapp, where we have farmers, where we have people who are working on agriculture and regenerative systems. Once this scandal came up, we said whoever has an indigenous May's seed, please share with the nearby communities, even if it's at a fee. You realize that most of the people who have the local May's seed they are actually selling. They are not just giving it out for free. There are some seed banks which have a ton of seeds. They have worked so hard over the past years to multiply this May's seed. No, it should be real. They are actually selling at half the price of the old price. They are selling a kilo at 5,000, which is very, very reasonable, because they calculated that it could offset the costs and maintain the seed bank. They can reinvest this money into multiplying more and more seeds. It's like giving away, but at a cost. They have this not only to make crazy abnormal profits but also to make an impact, to build seed sovereignty, but also to meet the costs of the work that they do, because they have to build premises, they have to invest in seed preservation methods like cooling systems. They have to buy more and more solar systems to generate the energy they use in the underground cooling systems. So definitely the cost is reasonable. It's not out of speculation.

Speaker 1:

What would be the message to the financial or to investors? Let's say, we do this at Taramada next year in front of an audience and there's quite a few people from Milan, from London, from Kampala, from New York that are in the position of resources or in the position of investing at some point. What would be your main? Of course, we're going to enlighten them and talk about real case studies and real the issues and challenges of farming in the current system. They will learn a lot. But if they have to remember one thing from our session on stage, what would that be?

Speaker 2:

The message I would send out to investors is to think about impact investment, first of all, in the food system, impact investment in communities, in environmental and ecological protection systems, and also investment in non-destructive technologies like food preservation in the global south, where we still have a lot of food losses and food waste due to inadequate value addition and preservation methods. This is an area of investment where they could invest resources but, most importantly, focus on impact investment in food sovereignty in agriculture and environmental protection for the communities.

Speaker 1:

As a final question have you seen something change in terms of discussions, conversations you mentioned? A lot of large companies are knocking on the door of slow food, and you've been present now for a bit. Has anything shifted? Because of course, the worry with large companies as well is they just do it for the green washing. They do a nice project somewhere on the side, but they don't really decommodify deeply internally. Have you seen a shift in attention and real interest in this type of deep regeneration that we talk about here, or not? Yet Are we still early on?

Speaker 2:

I think it's early to tell, but the companies, like I, will still come back to the coffee coalition and also the wine coalition, and very soon we need to involve people dealing in other like companies dealing in other products. The change is in the communication, not only to treat coffee as a commodity but as a food product this is part of the change, but it's too early to tell but also the focus on community and also the producer support systems and the transparency in the procurement. These are some of the early signs of change which we are following up, but of course we have to follow up more and track the impact of our actions on these companies and also the impact of our collaboration with them. I can say the coffee coalition project is in its very early stages, but it's very promising. It also involves companies that are making coffee machines, companies that are working at the entire value chain of coffee. Also locally, there are coffee companies which are now focusing on specific local varieties or indigenous varieties which never mattered to them before. Now they are promoting them and creating specific value chains. This is a very big impact on protecting coffee biodiversity. Thanks to the coffee coalition and the collaboration we have with these companies, they start opening up to communities which are still keeping and protecting indigenous coffee varieties. They create special focus on them, create special attention. The communities become proud of protecting biodiversity and it's a win for the planet.

Speaker 1:

I always end up asking another follow up question after the final question, and this is no different. Are you hopeful giving your journey from a diverse farm which is now much more diverse, of course, and I hope to visit at some point, but, let's say, a diverse farm into a very traditional industrial agronomy, and then getting hit by a drought and seeing the non-shiny brochure side of things and going deep into agriculture and now to slow food. What, seeing both all sides of agriculture and food, are you hopeful for? And, of course, at the same time, seeing all the challenges of climate, of colonization, of commodification, seeds, etc. Are you hopeful for the future of food and agriculture?

Speaker 2:

I'm very hopeful for the future because, like I said, a lot of people are coming to realize that the future of food, the future of agriculture, is not in the industrial, global agribusiness corporations anymore. It's in the regenerative systems, it's in the protection of the resources, the protection of biodiversity and also in the support of smallholder farmers. Governments can report big incomes but at the same time, poverty levels rising, and this shows that there is a problem somewhere. The increase in food prices, given the large expansion of monocultural farms, is also an indication of the failure of the system. The climate change and the destruction of the resources forests, wetlands is also part of the failure of the industrial system and many people are now thinking on how do we counteract this. So I'm really, really hopeful that things are changing for the better and things will eventually change for the better.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for ending this conversation with that helpful message Not that it wasn't a hopeful one, a hopeful conversation, but it's always good to end like that and thank you so much for the work you do and, of course, with a full team of Slow Food, which many people don't realize is quite a large, not a large organization. It's a large movement with activities and ways to get involved everywhere, from Uganda, like you did, but from almost anywhere you live you can get involved. I will put the links definitely below in the show notes and in the description, so you can get involved too. And, of course, come to Teramadra, which I think will be autumn next year. It's every two years, so whenever you're listening to this, it will be 2024. If you can, because I've been multiple times and it's always an amazing experience and for you it was also a transformational one. So thank you so much for coming on here, share about your journey and, of course, for the work you do.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, too, for hosting me and also for the interesting discussion we had today.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for listening all the way to the end. For the show notes and links we discussed in this episode, check out our website investinginregendaragriculturecom. Forward slash posts. If you liked this episode, why not share it with a friend or give us a rating on Apple Podcast? That really helps. Thanks again and see you next time.

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