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  June 1998    

Flagship environment project meets for strategy talk in Uganda
The UNU's People, Land Management, and Environmental Change (UNU/PLEC) project held a field-based planning meeting in Mbarara, Uganda, from 29 March to 4 April. Having successfully secured US$6.17 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility, the big question at Mbarara was what the project can achieve in the four years it is currently funded for. The five-day event was attended by 38 project members from around the world.

According to Juha Uitto, the UNU Senior Programme Officer in charge of the project, "UNU/PLEC is a demonstration and capacity-building initiative that aims to conserve biological diversity in managed agricultural ecosystems. Its 100 members work in close cooperation with small-scale agricultural farmers and herdsmen."
The collaborating farmer, Mr. Bikangiso (in the middle of the photo) in Mwizi, Uganda, discusses crop residue management with UNU/PLEC scientists.
Photo by Luohui Liang, UNU/PLEC.
The project's members are documenting and learning from the indigenous ways that these farmers preserve biodiversity on agricultural lands that lie at the margins of forests, semi-arid regions, mountains, wetlands, and land corridors. These plant-saving strategies can then be used to help other communities where biodiversity is at risk.

The project works through locally-based "clusters" that have been established in several areas: West Africa, East Africa, China, Papua New Guinea, and the Amazon.

The workshop was hosted by the Uganda subgroup, which is part of the East Africa cluster. Its purpose was to plan the project's future activities.

The workshop's main outcomes were the ideas, experiences, and discussions about the demonstration sites that were shared among the participants and farmers through the technical sessions, illustrative posters, slides, and farm visits. Decisions were also made on five important issues:

  • The project's central agrobiodiversity focus was clarified.
  • Multiple pathways will be explored towards attaining UNU/PLEC's main goal, which
  • Several ways that the project will work towards conserving agrobiodiversity were identified, such as moisture conservation, soil erosion prevention, and soil fertility regeneration.
  • Emphasis will be placed on indigenous plant species, and on local farmers' knowledge and management of these varieties.
  • The concept of a demonstration site was defined.

A lot of thought was put into this last point. UNU/PLEC demonstration sites represent a unique set of ideas about how development specialists can work with techniques initiated by local farmers in managing land. For instance, one of the participants said that emphasis should be put on things like good characterization, inventory, sound monitoring, awareness generation, and maximum participation by farmers.

Discussions also centred on the need to ensure that the demonstration sites and the field projects belong to the people, through organized and self-managed local groups. It was agreed that the "godfather" syndrome - where excessive reliance is placed on scientists to initiate action - must be avoided.

As one participant remarked, "A good UNU/PLEC field project is an association of scientists and farmers, based on mutual respect and having a common purpose."

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