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.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
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 movement 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.
GOOD CLEAN AND FAIR FOOD NEEDS A LOT OF EDUCATION
One of Edie’s goals is to change the education system with agriculture university students not only learning about conventional agriculture, but also thinking about organic agriculture.
”You have to speak this out. For people to understand, many times they may 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 at Slow Food 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 policymakers. It’s very, very important.” – Edie Mukiibi
”The big agribusiness corporations, they always love greenwashing and hijacking the concept. […] The goals are different for them; their goal is not to regenerate the planet; their 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 they employ a very big PR tool, they employ a lot of marketing teams to completely change the meaning of the concept 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. We see this, and that’s why part of our strategic goals is education, 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.” – Edie Mukiibi
IT ALL STARTS WITH SEEDS
We no longer buy seeds from the market. We produce all the seeds we need on the farm, says Edie. If he had the power, he would stop the system of developing new high-tech seeds, and he would support the preservation and protection of local biodiversity, revive local seeds, support communities to build seed banks, 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 food system. Once they control the seed, they’re directly controlling how people should feed themselves and how people should access food because everything starts with the seed.’’ – Edie Mukiibi
‘’If people develop their high dependence on external inputs, a time will come when all these seed companies merge into one and say, we’re 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 and a lot of hunger is bound to happen […] This is not going to happen in communities where people have already saved their seeds from the indigenous or local made 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.’’ – Edie Mukiibi
”But large companies have a very important role to play in rethinking their production systems, rethinking their programs, and rethinking their business model towards a truly regenerative one, 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, 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 catalogue. But we want to collaborate with a women’s group or an indigenous seed bank to supply us with the seeds on a quarterly or annual basis that we can pack and sell and tell the story of this community, how they’re preserving biodiversity. So, we evaluate the system and we get back to the roots of the community. Like I said, 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 and seeds, but who is really producing these and what struggles are they going through, which kind of social and environmental injustice 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.” – Edie Mukiibi
WHY EDIE IS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD
“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, protection of biodiversity and also in the support of smallholder farmers. So, 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 monoculture 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 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.’’ – Edie Mukiibi
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Edie also talked about:
- Bringing out the realities to policymakers
- The biggest threat to the food system
- Early signs of change in the industry
- Finian Makepeace – How to get regeneration at the heart of the next US Farm Bill
- Sven Verwiel – How to unlock the potential of syntropic agroforestry in East Africa
- Luni Libes – Building a Warren Buffet style portfolio while serving 1M African smallholder farmers
- Angus McIntosh – Going from Goldman’s trading desk to regen farming in South Africa
- Clément Chenost – Lessons learned on investing 80M into vertically integrated agroforestry companies in LATAM and Subsaharan Africa
- Thekla Teunis and Gijs Boers, what African regenerative farmers can teach us
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.