Uganda: Teacher leaves classroom behind but keeps educating

John Kaganga and KEA young farmers

John Kaganga and his Kikandwa Environmental Association young farmers, also known as his children.

John Kaganga is transforming the lives of rural youth. The retired teacher is inspiring young people to pick up their hoes and build a brighter future in Kasejjere village, 70 kilometres northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

Mr. Kaganga says: “When I returned home after living in the city for 20 years, I saw the community was lagging behind. Everywhere you looked, trees had been chopped down for making charcoal and the soil was degraded.”

To respond to these problems, he founded the Kikandwa Environmental Association, or KEA. With a garden hoe in one hand and a notebook in the other, Mr. Kaganga encourages children and young adults from seven to 30 years of age as they farm. The 59-year-old teaches his “class” to use farming as a way to achieve food security and tackle climate change.

He says: “I was born into a farming family. My mother died when I was only two years old, so my grandmother took care of me and taught me to love agriculture.”

The now-fertile farmland on which Mr. Kaganga teaches young farmers was once used for slash and burn agriculture. Farmers cleared all vegetation to create more space to grow crops. But many struggled to put food on the family table.

Mr. Kaganga explains: “This wasn’t environmentally friendly and caused serious soil degradation. When I started [KEA], my objective was to inspire young people to become sustainable small-scale farmers and to stop deforestation.”

There are 200 households and nearly 1,000 residents in Kasejjere village. More than 100 young farmers have joined KEA, including some of Mr. Kaganga’s eight children and ten grandchildren.

Claire Nakate is Mr. Kaganga’s granddaughter. The 14-year-old is in her first year of secondary school. She wields a hoe as she digs in the family farm alongside two brothers and four helpful friends.

Ms. Nakate says happily: “I like to do weeding and pruning and sowing seeds. Most of all I like to rear animals like goats, pigs and cows. Through farming I can get money for my school fees and food to eat.”

Her proud grandfather smiles broadly and sets down his hoe. Picking up a handful of soil, Mr. Kaganga says, “A lot of youth today want to make quick money, so they sell land to buy motorbikes or move to the city looking for work. Not many want to get their hands dirty.”

Mr. Kaganga thinks young people should turn to farming to create their own jobs. He says farming can have a huge impact on food security and the environment, if young people are taught sustainable techniques.

KEA is supported by Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum, or ESAFF, which helps to train many small-scale farmers in Uganda on sustainable agricultural practices.

Yvette Ampaire is ESAFF’s campaign and advocacy officer. She says, “It’s inspiring to see the work [Mr. Kaganga] is doing. He’s quite an exceptional farmer. He learns something, puts it into practice, and passes on the information to others.”

She is impressed by the ambition of Kasejjere’s young farmers. Ms. Ampaire says, “For them, the sky is the limit.”

Mr. Kaganga has helped Kasejjere become a model farming village. He has also established a community resource centre for young people to prepare for a successful future in agriculture. KEA’s library houses books on sustainable agricultural practices, environmental issues, and climate solutions.

Mr. Kaganga says, “Information is power. If we are going to solve the climate crisis, we must connect rural villages across the world to share information.”

Published online @ Barza Wire

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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