It is 2pm on a bright Monday in Kigwera Sub-County, Buliisa district. The elders are performing rituals during a food ceremony in their resolve to revive and preserve the past Bagungu community norms including conservation of indigenous seeds and natural sites.
The rituals which lasted close to 30 minutes, are meant to ‘cleanse’ ecosystems in sacred sites.
Led by 85-year old Aloni Kiiza of Kisansya village, a group of 20 elders was calling on their ancestors to ‘cleanse’ Lake Albert which is currently facing degradation and also regain fertility on the land so that food can grow.
Kiiza said it was rare for them to get sick in the past because of the traditional foods they were eating which they believe might have been medicinal.
“Many African countries spend a lot of resources in preservation of indigenous foods, culture, skills and biodiversity that are being eroded by foreign cultures and the ceremony was meant to revive and share them,” Kiiza added.
Apparently, African Institute for Culture and Ecology (AFRICE) is implementing a three-year project (2021-2024) in the district to revive their traditional food systems majorly through agro ecology.
Dennis Tabaro Natukunda, the Executive Director for AFRICE, told The Albertine Journal recently that they are funding the revival given their cultural, nutritional and medicinal importance.
The AFRICE executive director says food ceremonies are part of conservation because they are important in strengthening food systems.
The project, which has exchange visits between organic farmers (in agro ecology), is being implemented with funding from African Biodiversity Network and Swedish Government.
“We also sensitised and lobbied the district council to pass an ordinance which is before the solicitor general for approval intended to recognise and conserve sacred natural sites,” Natukunda said.
The sites are places of spiritual, cultural and ecological significance which are embedded in ancestral lands of indigenous Bagungu people.
They include wetlands, rivers, organic seed spots, lakes, hills, mountains and trees, places where indigenous people had been denied access before.
The rituals are also believed to stop calamities, bring peace so that there is order in the land and restore the depleted environment which is key in rainfall formation to support farming.
Natukunda said they have helped communities to build granaries and are finalising plans to establish a community learning centre which will help young people learn how to practice agro ecology and traditional seed conservation.
“This is aimed at mitigating hybrid seeds and give them indigenous types which are drought resistant such as Bambala nuts, millet, sim-sim, maize and yams.
“With the coming of hybrids, most households have been hit by famine because they do not last long,” says Robinah Kaahwa, a custodian of seeds in Ngwedo sub-county.
Kaahwa says practicing agro-ecology measures help in mitigating harsh climatic change effects hence upholding food security.
Research shows that in order to have sustainable food production, traditional systems need to be revived because they maintain and promote biodiversity.
Meanwhile, Buliisa’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Samuel Magambo says natural seeds are easily accessed.
“We hope the programme will help in nature conservation especially towards natural vegetation that is endangered due to oil and gas developments,” he said.