‘Slow food gives biodiversity a strong boost’

Edward Mukiibi learned farming as a punishment for bad behavior at school. Today he is a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and the new chairman of Slow Food International.

What started as a school sentence, going to work on the land, became his life’s goal for Ugandan Edward Mukiibi. “Sustainable, local agriculture is the foundation of happiness and the solution to hunger, unemployment and loss of biodiversity,” says the new president of Slow Food International, which operates in 160 countries.

Mukiibi (36) remembers well the first time he was sent to plow and harvest the land: it was a punishment for misbehaving at school.

But instead of hating punishment, he loved digging in the ground with his hands. He discovered his passion and it only grew when he realized that agriculture is the foundation of balanced food, health and wealth.

Today, Mukiibi is a social entrepreneur in Uganda. His mission: to prove that sustainable agriculture is the basis of happiness and a solution to hunger, unemployment and loss of biodiversity. He promotes food production based on local resources, local knowledge and traditional farming techniques.

He is also the new president of Slow Food International, an organization that promotes local food production and traditional cooking worldwide.

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Traditional knowledge

“I feel happy and honored, also for the slow food movement, which has emerged as a powerful organization, not only on the European continent where it originated, but all over the world,” he says.

Slow Food International was founded in 1986 by the Italian Carlo Petrini with the aim of preserving the cultural and biological diversity of food and diets. Today, the movement is active in 160 countries and focuses on education and dissemination of traditional knowledge and local culinary skills.

From personal experience that there is still a great untapped potential for agriculture in school, Mukiibi founded Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC), a project that aims to give young students a different perspective on local, small-scale farming and agriculture . to see.

“I regret that tillage is used as a punishment in school.”

He sees great potential, especially in Africa. ‘70% of Africans are under 40’, he says. “I therefore regret that farming is used as punishment in school, just as many prisons send their inmates to large industrial farms where they have to work with the land as punishment. ‘This does nothing to upgrade the profession and prevents young people from loving this wonderful job.’

Responsible food choices

As an entrepreneur, Mukiibi has also been involved in the development of Slow Food Gardens, a project that oversees the creation of green spaces that are aware of African food diversity and where local residents can go for fresh vegetables, grains and fruit . Meanwhile, slow food gardens have been established in more than a thousand schools in Uganda.

“Slow food provides a 360-degree view of the food system because it is a unified philosophy of what we eat and how we grow, harvest, store or process food,” he says. ‘In this respect, slow food cannot be understood simply in its literal translation, nor is it the strict opposite of fast food.’

‘It’s about taking responsibility for food, agriculture and the planet. When we make responsible food choices, it’s about healthy food produced in a healthy environment, with attention to local culture and traditions and to the people behind the whole chain.’

The slow food movement is also about fair transactions and transparent food chains, he explains. ‘So we also look at the interests and rights of the small farmers, the indigenous communities and state that nature also needs fair treatment.’

Biodiversity on the plate

His organization also looks at climate change and loss of biodiversity, he says. ‘We don’t just talk about climate change at conferences, but we go to thousands of small communities to teach, for example, agroecology or the principles of permaculture. In Africa alone, 3,500 organic gardens have now been established in schools, where thousands of young people can see and experience environmentally friendly ways of farming.’

‘We open the discussion about what we lose in nutritional richness at the table itself.’

With the creation of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the movement wanted to express its concern about how quickly biodiversity is disappearing in nature, but also on our plates. Among other things, there is collaboration with chefs who learn to bring more biodiversity back into your menu.

“Talking alone is not enough,” says Mukiibi. He wants to show what we have all lost on our tables because a few highly controlled products have taken over the monopoly.

‘We open the discussion about what we lose in terms of food wealth at the table itself. In this way, we bring foods that are threatened with extinction back to attention and to the table.’

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