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Meet Gerald Barekye, Farmer and Researcher Mobilizing Youth to Advocate for Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy

Meet Gerald Barekye, Farmer and Researcher Mobilizing Youth to Advocate for Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy

Mr. Gerald Barekye is a farmer, researcher and youth mobilizer in Uganda. After completing his studies, he started a youth-led policy advocacy organization, the Centre for Environmental Research and Agriculture innovations (CERAI), to organize and push the agenda for sustainability in agriculture and life while working as research associate at the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO). He also engages various stakeholders by informing, sensitizing and organizing them for the critical agenda in the fields of environment, energy, agriculture, development and peace.

Thank you for your time today. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about what you’re doing?

Thank you, I’m happy to be here. My name is Gerald Barekye, born in a peasant family in western part of Uganda. I graduated from Makerere University in Uganda with a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Rural Innovation in 2021, and currently I work as a research associate at AFIEGO.

Agriculture and environmental work have been my focus in the past years. I started to engage in these areaa both at a personal and organization level while I was attending university. I also had an experience as agriculture field extension worker with the Wakiso District Farmers Association (WADFA) where I did my internship in the second year of my university. Specifically, I dealt with local schools and youth farmers, sensitizing them to environment conservation and protection measures.

After realizing and understanding the work of the civil society organization, I thought about initiating a youth-led environmental organization called the Centre for Environmental Research and Agriculture Innovation (CERAI). It’s a youth-led movement that targets education institutions, empowering youth and women to be climate change champions and environmental defenders in their communities. Four of us young men started this movement in January this year, and currently we’re in the process of growing and bringing more people on board. The organization is still in process of being officially registered with Government of Uganda as a non-governmental organization. Due to limited finance, the process is not yet complete. We hope to work on the registration process and launch our website where all of our work will be uploaded for the public to have access.

I see, so it is a very new initiative that you and your peers just started this year. What are the agendas that you are trying to advocate for through the organization? What are your motivations?

We think that we need to restore the environment and the green economy and one thing we are particularly advocating for is green energy/clean energy. The increasing climate change impacts being experienced worldwide are eye openers for everyone to give their contribution towards conserving and restoring the green economy. Climate changes have resulted in prolonged droughts that have affected production levels of farmers both in Uganda and across the world and this has resulted in food insecurity .For example in the northern part of Uganda, people are dying because of hunger due to prolonged drought which is a result of environmental destruction that includes deforestation and encroachment of river banks for farming activities. This wouldn’t have happened if there were more investment in clean energy, like solar, to have cheap power for running irrigation for production throughout the year. Energy is a driver for all economic development in any country and it determines prices of all commodities. Climate change, energy and agriculture are closely connected. You need power for irrigation systems and to run agricultural machines. I all goes hand in hand.

What motivates us as youth and me as a person is to represent the voices of voiceless people because if we don’t all step up and speak our reality, we are likely all to perish since climate changes doesn’t discriminate. With increasing food insecurity in Uganda, it calls upon my profession as a young innovative farmer to come up with new innovations on how to solve increasing food insecurity both at the country and regional levels. This informed my decision to begin this organization (CERAI).

Finally, it should be noted that we cannot live without nature, but nature can live without us. We can destroy all the rivers and all the forests but the effects turn against us. So, this is the message that we are trying to put out and involve as many stakeholders as possible to achieve success.

You are doing this advocacy work in different ways, in the field, on media and with the government. Would you please tell us more about how you involve people and influence policy making?

As a research associate, I do research by involving the affected people on the ground. To write about the oil extractive activities, I first go to the area and gather information. I have facilitated the formation of youth environmental clubs, as well as trained and sensitized them on environmental conservation and agriculture. This is to demand as a group rather as an individual so that our voice can go further. We involve government leaders, religious leaders, the private sector and other authorities in charge of the environment in the country by talking to them about what is happening and what could be done.

On the individual level, I do my advocacy work by writing and sensitizing through various media channels. My opinion articles are published in national and regional media platforms. I also run social media campaigns to mobilize youth and spread awareness. All of these are for the information to reach the right people and a wider population. In another way, I help people in rural communities to write letters, for instance about where people’s land was being grabbed. There was a lack information about land rights in Albertine Graben. I went there and discovered the issue, so I helped them write letters and petitions to the ministries and agencies to seek justice. Moreover, I also work on different policies as a youth representative by giving comments to decision makers.

Our target is to make sure that we attract attention to the agenda and influence policies based on research. I mobilize youth and many people in this movement and ensure this organization serve the whole country, all of Africa and even the world, so we can create the change we would like to see at the country level, regional level and worldwide.

I saw your writing on the extractive activity, which is one of the issues brought up for discussion in the country. Could you share with us what’s happening in your country and your approach to the issue?

One of the issues that is taking place in Uganda is the East Africa oil pipeline, which has caused a log of danger in the oil affected communities. As the pipeline is passing through ecosystems forests, lakes and rivers, it destroys the environment and displaces many people from their ancestral land. Affected people are crying and suffering due to compulsory land acquisition by oil companies before compensating affected people.

Yes, the country must develop and so it needs energy. But I disagree with the strategy. We need to follow the right steps instead of causing more harm than development. If we destroy the national parks and our forests, what will happen to our tourism industry and its employment? Who will benefit if oil spills happen and pollute the water and the environment? Because these human activities are encroaching the ecosystem, wild animals are coming out to attack humans, like one case where the kid in the community was killed by a chimpanzee.

You know, for the oil extraction that is taking place, Uganda owns only 15% of the investment. We bring partners from other countries to extract the oil because we don’t have enough money. I do not buy the argument that the country is going to grow by the oil. Why can’t we withdraw that money and invest more in green economy alternatives like sustainable agriculture, tourism and clean energy, so that our people can get the energy at affordable price without the huge cost on our wildlife and ourselves?

As we see the heat waves in London and Paris today, and as we all see what fossil fuels have done in the world, people and the government should appreciate the idea that it’s high time to transit from fossil fuels to clean energy.

You have been mobilizing young people in the country on various fronts. How can youth movements help accelerate the changes we need? Also, how do you think such networking could work beyond borders?

Young people in the country have a lot of potential. About 78% of the population in Uganda are below 25 years old and they are energetic and intelligent. At the same time, we have lots of real challenges, including poverty, unemployment, the education system, lack of career guidance, and the mental health issue which has been on rise since COVID-19.

How do we bring them towards the end we want? First, we have to inform them. Information is key. You cannot advocate for something that you don’t know about. It all goes back to us who have some degree of education to inform other colleagues about the status quo.

Second, we must mobilize. If you’re not organized, you can’t achieve anything. The government will not fail to hear if a thousand of youth have signed the petition challenging some decisions. Third, we need to close the intergenerational gap. Until the elderly appreciate that young people will be the ones willing to take up the challenges, we will not succeed.

Considering all of this, networking beyond borders is very key and this is what we should advocate for. Through networks, connection and joining brains we can achieve more. I have some friends in East Africa or in other countries who I sometimes have discussions with and it has given me a wider picture and encouraged me, knowing that we are not alone. Interacting with you for the first time, it connects me with a very big network. I really appreciate it.

Youth are no longer the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today, and it begins with us. If we don't do it, that means that the coming generation will be blaming us for that.

* This article is part of the WFF African Agrifood Changemakers web story series. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the WFF.