From community psychologist to agricultural change agent: Margaret Gumisiriza’s story
Studying community psychology nurtured my innate dream to become a change agent in the community. By the time I completed my undergraduate degree in 2009, this dream was strongly ingrained in my aspirations.
My resolve to make an impact on peoples’ livelihoods was strengthened when I worked with farmers in Masaka and Ngora districts in Uganda on projects implemented by the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI). Through interaction with these farmers, I realized that they faced grave challenges as a result of climate variability and change of which they had little knowledge, just like myself. I thus set out on a journey to search for ways of transforming their livelihoods through optimizing information and technology innovations. As a first step, I was going to enroll for a course to build my knowledge on the dynamics of climate change and set me on a new career path.
Financial challenges threatened this new path, but a scholarship for a Masters in Climate and Society from the Rockefeller Foundation, through the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), arrived at the opportune moment and I enrolled for the programme at Mekelle University in Ethiopia. The programme improved my understanding of climate change and how to transform society through innovation and community participation.
Energized by the master’s programme, the RUFORUM Field Attachment Programme Award (FAPA) provided me with my first opportunity to give back to society. I worked with the farmers and communities that had supported my research. Together we planted 180 fruit trees and introduced the practice of silage making. We also tackled the farmers’ challenge of access to credit by encouraging them to form groups and Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) to be able to mobilize finances and increase their prospects of accessing agricultural financing. Although this initiative has not been successful yet, as individual farmers continue to borrow from micro-finance institutions at high interest rates, I still have my eyes set on it as a game changer.
Opportunities to facilitate the change process in communities continue to emerge. For example, in 2015, I received the Africa Climate Change Adaptation Initiative Alumni Grant (ACCAI) award from the Open Society Foundation for a proposal on “Enhancing food and feed security among smallholder crop-livestock farmers in Uganda through improved sweet potato usage”. The project has enabled me to help livestock farmers facing the challenge of limited feed during dry seasons by training them to conserve sweet potato residues as animal feed in the form of silage. Together with Zainah Nampijja, a young lady pursuing a Masters in Animal Science at Makerere University whom I met at a conference and with whom I have since worked on several projects relating to climate science and climate change, we have been able to train 90 farmers and potentially impact 540 people in Central and Eastern Uganda.
Being a change agent requires one to be able identify and address the challenges facing the community. Through this process, Zaina and i realised the need to have an organisation to champion the change we desired, hence the birth of “Climate Change and Environment Associates (CCEA)”. CCEA trains youth and farmer groups on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Presently, we are training a small youth group ‘Bavubuka Twekembe’ to adopt climate-smart agricultural technologies as income-generating activities.
My skills have gained recognition and are extending beyond the boundaries of CCEA. Since 2014, I have been training farmers in various districts across Uganda on climate change and adaptation under the auspices of NaLIRRI.
I owe RUFORUM for all these achievements and wish to thank them for the opportunity to harness my background in psychology to create an impact in agriculture. My degree has made me the community transformation agent I am today. I also thank my mentors- Dr. Tewodros Taddessa from Mekelle University and Dr. Prossy Isubikala, Dr. Emmanuel Zziwa and Prof. Majaliwa Mwanjalolo from Makerere University, Uganda. They increased the fuel in the burning flame for community transformation.