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.”
Respect sacred natural sites to guarantee human rights, says new African Commission Resolution.
States, businesses and civil society must recognise and protect Africa’s sacred natural sites and territories in order to guarantee the human rights of her people, and especially the rights of indigenous peoples, says Africa’s largest human rights institution in a newly passed resolution,
The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) passed Resolution 372 in late May at its 60th Ordinary Session in Niamey Niger. Sacred natural sites are recognised internationally as one of the oldest forms of culture-based conservation, defined as “areas of land or water having special spiritual significance to peoples and communities”. These sites, and therefore human rights, are under threat globally from the expansion of the extractive industries.
The resolution’s successful passage is a cause for celebration amongst the thousands of custodians of sacred natural sites and territories across Africa, civil society groups and African Commissioners alike. It marks a new chapter in Africa’s acknowledgement of these critical sites, ancestral lands and the traditions that have protected them for generations.
In the new resolution, the African Commissionacknowledges the critical role sacred natural sites play in the protection of African ecosystems, and also in the realisation of African people’s rights, including the right of peoples to economic, social and cultural development and the right of peoples to a satisfactory environment favourable to their development.
Stating its concern around “the continued growth of environmentally damaging industrial activity”, the resolution urges states, business and civil society groups to “recognize and respect the intrinsic value of sacred natural sites.” This is emphasized by a recent report from the African Commission and IWGIA, highlighting the impact of the extractive industries on indigenous peoples across Africa.
In an important step towards the decolonisation of African law and conservation practices, the resolution also recognises the strong existing role indigenous custodian communities are playing in caring for and protecting sacred natural sites and ancestral lands. The commission calls for the support and protection of these communities’ rights, practices and governance systems.
Custodian communities played a central role in the creation of Resolution 372 through a joint statement featured in 'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'. The ACHPR drew on this report in drafting the resolution. Whilst the resolution does not meet all the recommendations in the report, it does mark a positive step forward, and the Commission has shown enthusiasm and eagerness to work with civil society and custodians in enhancing and furthering this protection.
“Sacred sites and our rituals keep the land and the local climate in balance. Without them everyone suffers. This resolution will help us in our work to remind people of our responsibility to protect life for the next generation”, says Kagole Margaret Byarufu, a sacred natural site custodian from Buliisa, Uganda, who helped develop 'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'.
“The WGIP [Working Group on Indigenous Populations] is happy to have worked on this landmark Resolution and be at the vanguard of indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa”, says ACHPR Commissioner SoyataMaiga.
“Working with the African Commission and other regional bodies is essential in challenging industrial interests and standing up for Mother Earth, indigenous rights and future generations. I have been very encouraged by the Commissioners' commitment in the face of the escalating pressures on our continent”, says SulemanaAbudulai, Chair of the African Biodiversity Network.
“This is a huge achievement. Africa has a strong tradition of Sacred Natural Site conservation and it is part of our ongoing efforts to decolonise the law and conservation that makes this event so important for the whole continent”, says Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committe.
African Commission Resolution 372 comes at a vital moment. Sacred natural sites and territories, and thereby human rights, are coming under threat due to the rapid growth of environmentally damaging industrial developments, which can cause irreparable damage to land and culture.
“The gist of the resolution is that there can be no human development without the consent of people who are affected by the various ventures that pass as industrialisation, through extractive industries and other development interventions that have hitherto ignored the communities directly affected by their actions. By extension, the resolution reminds us that it is now high time to recognise that ignoring indigenous and traditional communities and violating their rights constitutes a crime”, says MelakouTegegn, Expert Member of the African Commission WGIP.
“Indigenous peoples are facing increasing violation of their ancestral lands in the scramble for Africa’s rich natural heritage. The current dominant legal system legitimises the plundering of the planet. In this landmark resolution, the African Commission opens a space for affirming plurilegal systems, which recognise the Earth as the primary source of law. The Commission positions itself with other progressive initiatives to transform the dominant industrial jurisprudence and recognize indigenous rights and Nature’s rights”, says Liz Hosken, Director of The Gaia Foundation
A recent report by the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Peoples highlights how extractive industries like mining are pushing Africa’s indigenous peoples to the margins and invading ancestral lands and previously protected areas. Oil and gas activities alone are compromising almost 30% of Africa’s protected areas, according to the UN Environment Programme.
“That this topic and then resolution have been met with such enthusiasm by the African Commission and its working groups attests to both its importance and the ambition of the Commission itself”, says Joseph Lambert, Researcher and Legal Support Officer of The Gaia Foundation
For more information, contact:
Frank Muramuzi,Director , National Association Of Proffessional Environmentalists (NAPE),
Background to the release.
NAPE, has been working on a program on strengthening community ecologica Governance systems, especially with Bunyoro communities along L.Albert in Western Uganda, to advocate for recognition and protection of Sacred Natural Sites as a way to address the impacts of climate change.The programe is part of bigger global efforts by governments, Civil society organisations and Cultural leaders to influence policies and laws for critical recognition and protection of these places if meaningful conservation of environment,food,fisheries and marine is to be realized.
NAPE, here in Uganda has worked closely with the Uganda Human Rights Commission ,including participating and launching the report;
'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'. with the Commission in May,2016 in Kampala.
"The passing of the resolution is a great success to NAPE efforts the Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and all communities in Uganda who treasure their traditional cultures in conservation of their food,land and Ecosystems.'' Says Frank Muramuzi ,NAPE.
A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems (2015).
The full report can be downloaded from: www.africanbiodiversity.org/CalltoAfricanCommission
Extractive Industries, Land Rights and the Indigenous Populations/Communities’ Rights (2017)
The full report can be downloaded from: http://www.iwgia.org/publications/search-pubs?publication_id=763
Though weather patterns have changed tremendously, planting seasons in Uganda are known to begin in March and August of every year respectively, depending on weather patterns. Towards that time, farmers are busy preparing gardens and seeds for planting.
Women are mainly at the center of seed selection for planting and preservation due to their primary responsibility of household food security. Traditionally, women were crucial to seed conservation efforts to keep their families endowed with food throughout the cycle.
Mrs. Plaxeda Byabataguzi, a resident of Kabaale parish in Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district was used to growing indigenous varieties of cassava, millet, simsim, beans, sweat potatoes and yams. She was used to the practice of saving and exchanging seeds with neighbors for planting.
Using her indigenous knowledge, she would know which seeds are suitable for the changing climatic conditions, nutritious and high-yielding; and which methods are best applied to protect the crops from weeds and how to control pests and diseases after harvesting. With this knowledge that was shared from generations to generations, the indigenous varieties played a very important role in securing households against food insecurity.