Name: Paul Zaake
FOOD SUSTAINABILITY: FOR UGANDA’S PEOPLE AND THE PLANET
From a very tender age, I learned how to farm. The techniques had been passed down to me from previous generations, including my grandmother who knew well how to farm using available resources.
Therefore, it was never an expectation for me to go to school to learn farming. “I want to become a doctor,” is what I can recall telling everyone who asked when I was young. To go to the school I could afford, I had to use a bridge. My primary school was near River Kagera, Lake Victoria and Malabigambo natural forest. No wonder, it was blessed with nature including hippos, monkeys, kobs, elephants, fish, big indigenous trees, etc. It was no surprise to find an elephant moving near our school compound. One time the bridge infrastructure was destroyed by heavy rains. I spent the next school terms at home; I could not afford any other school. When I spent my first school term sitting at home because we couldn’t pay school fees in other schools, I knew my dream of becoming a doctor was shrinking.
Fortunately, Children of Uganda welcomed me to their sponsorship program and I was able to join the prestigious village school called Sabina Primary Boarding School. I remember, after getting my first school report card, I was discouraged to find myself among the last pupil in my class by position. With support from sponsors, we all studied for free – so I felt there was no reason for my poor performance in school anymore.
We lived like a family at school with teachers and pupils. I saw many talents developing in my friends, including sports, singing and dancing. I never thought I was talented because I was not strong in any of these areas. So, I knew I had to read hard to earn my place. I started reading anything – school books, novels, newspapers, textbooks and the Bible. In fact, I was soon chosen to represent my school in Bible reading during competitions.
Maybe reading was my talent! It was a super blessing for me to emerge among the top two in my final primary leaving exams. This meant I would be offered an opportunity to study for free at the secondary level and again at another prestigious school in Kampala.
In my village, we all knew that good and valuable things came from Kampala. So, we all grew up believing that Kampala was the land of opportunities. Studying in Kampala during that time brought me so much satisfaction and pride. My secondary education was incredibly joyful mostly because of the people – my teachers, fellow students and friends.
With the love, care and support from Children of Uganda organization, I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture at Gulu University in Gulu, Uganda. I began working with different grassroots efforts to empower rural farmers in Uganda to gain more skills and knowledge to improve their livelihood. I even co-founded a community-based organization called Rakai Environmental Conservation Programme (RECO) to improve agriculture and promote environmental conservation in my local communities. Many know that starting a new initiative is not easy; so, I struggled to manage and mobilize resources for RECO. Fortunately, however, I received training in civic leadership from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI-EA) which was founded by the former USA President, Barack Obama.
My confidence grew, but the more I learned the more I understood the greatest challenge facing us all: climate change. A few months after I had the opportunity to present about climate change in France, I got a scholarship from TRECCAfrica to further my studies on climate change. I’m proud to say that very soon I will be graduating with my Master’s degree in climate change from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Since I initiated RECO in 2011, one of the communities that I am working with to promote environmental conservation is the community surrounding the primary school I missed to study from because of the destroyed bridge. I believe if we take care of nature, then nature will not be angry at us. Nature will be happy. People will get enough food. Our infrastructure will not be destroyed. Children will be able to study happily.
In 2018, at RECO, I established a tree nursery that raised 33860 multi-purpose indigenous trees (including fruit trees) which are suitable for our local climate. During the same 2018, together with my team, we planted 10,720 seedlings in in the communities of Rakai and Kyotera districts. 6170 trees were planted at the previously degraded Katongero, Simba and Kabala hills; 1000 trees were planted along River Bukoola bank; 950 trees were planted at schools; 2600 trees were provided to farmers to plant at their own farms and gardens. Still in 2018, I directly trained 198 community members about climate change action. We even trained 30 representatives from local government, non-government organizations, religious institutions, education institutions and private individuals on how to integrate climate change action in their initiatives.
This year, at RECO I am continuing to do the school outreaches, run the indigenous tree nursery, and restore the degraded lands as it was done previously. More eco-friendly school nature trips are being supported. Agro-forestry targeting the local farming system is being promoted. However now we are adding energy saving stoves, briquettes making from waste, radio talk shows, cerebration of environmental days, and bee keeping.
Now, I am no longer just a son of my village – I am a son of the world. At the regional level, in my capacity as the YPARD Country Representative, I have helped empower youth in agriculture together with our partners. YPARD is Young Professionals for Agricultural Development platform with over 25,000 youth members. As new problems arise and technologies are developed to combat them, we must equip farmers with the knowledge and resources to solve these issues. In order to do this, we need better policies, charters and frameworks. At the global level, I have contributed to the development of the Berlin Charter on rural development and presented at the G20 conference amidst other global change makers in Berlin, Germany.
I never imagined my life would cycle back to farming. But now i am sharing with my communities that we do not just do farming anyhow, rather we should farm sustainably. And although I did not become a medical doctor, I see myself instead as a hunger doctor!
When I look back, I see how nature had become so angry that it destroyed the only bridge to my primary school. How I almost stopped my education career. Thanks to the support I got which enabled me to continue with my education. This is the reason why I always continue to pay it forward in any way possible and as much as I can to nature, people and our planet. I am so happy that even after getting other opportunities, my focus has always been conserving our environment in my village and improving the agriculture for my people.