Sustainability Challenge 17
Thursday, December 8, 2022

UL Sustainability Challenge – Sustainable Agriculture

Earlier this year, we launched the UL Sustainability Challenge to encourage our students to develop research projects to tackle the Climate Crisis.

The competition was open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, and offered up to €10,000 in funding to develop working pilot projects to show how their innovative ideas could be scaled up to make an impact on the biggest challenge of our time.

Having been overwhelmed with inventive entries, we have now announced the winners of the inaugural Sustainability Challenge, and are excited to showcase their ideas – and the research that they’ll be conducting over the coming months.

Harnessing Heterogeneous Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture

Led by Rebecca Tumwebaze (3rd year, Department of Management & Marketing, KBS), this project aims to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals of zero hunger (SDG 2), reduced inequality (SDG 10) and life on land (SDG 15).

The commercialisation of agricultural production in favour of economic growth has led to widespread environmental destruction, and has impacted on societal groups in a number of different ways.

Rebecca has identified that power and social inequalities in Uganda’s agriculture sector are hindering knowledge sharing, with the effect that the knowledge that smallholder farming communities have is being overlooked by researchers, thereby missing opportunities for harmonious farming in partnership with nature.

She aims to produce workshops involving smallholder farmers, commercial farmers, technical agriculture specialists, NGOs and the Ugandan Government to improve knowledge sharing and improve the sustainability of matook farming.

Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President of Research at University of Limerick said: “This is a very exciting international doctoral research project from the Kemmy Business School involving field research with farming communities in Uganda. I am impressed with Rebecca’s interdisciplinary approach in building links with agricultural and environmental researchers in Gulu University of Uganda, another example of UL research taking on grand challenges in sustainable agriculture.”

We spoke with Rebecca to understand what winning the Sustainability Challenge meant to her, and what she hopes to achieve:

Q: Congratulations on being a winner of the Sustainability Challenge. What does it mean to you to have your project chosen and funded?

Thank you. This is an amazing opportunity. When I joined the academia, I decided that I wanted to be the kind of scholar that is not just theoretical, but also very practical. I wanted to make practical contributions and see my work transforming societies. The sustainability challenge gives me that opportunity, as I will be working with agriculture stakeholders to develop solutions for them. When my project was chosen, I also felt that it was an endorsement for my research, and I know that this comes with a huge responsibility on my part.

Q: Why did you choose this particular project?

This project builds on my PhD research work. In my empirical studies in Uganda, I engaged different agriculture stakeholders, such as smallholder farmers, commercial farmers, technical agriculture specialists, development partners, private sector agri-business players and Government representatives.

My interest was to understand how these stakeholders could collectively develop contextual sustainable agriculture knowledge. In this process, I observed that due to the diversity of stakeholders in the sector, there was also diverse knowledge held by these stakeholders which was sometimes conflicting. This led to strained relations among the actors, which was further aggravated by the power disparities and social inequalities that exist amongst the actors

I learnt that the positioning of a stakeholder in the social structure of the agriculture sector determines the positioning and value of the knowledge they held. From a hierarchy of stakeholders, we also had a hierarchy of knowledge. For example, the voices and idiosyncrasies of rural smallholder farming communities were little consulted and accounted for in the policy making discussions because of their positioning at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Instead, they was considered by others, higher up in the hierarchy, as inefficient, outdated or merely based on mysticism. Contrariwise, stakeholders, who bore knowledge on agriculture commercialization and industrialization had their knowledge coveted by the system. So, while I started my study by observing a case of conflicting ways of ‘knowing’ among knowledge stakeholders in the agriculture sector, I ended up with a dilemma of power disparities, social inequalities and knowledge hierarchies.

Rather than diagnose the problem and suggest theoretical solutions, I sought to practically work with the agriculture stakeholders, demystify their disparities and engage them to collectively develop their contextual sustainable agriculture knowledge. My project will help me do exactly that.

Q: What do you hope to achieve over the coming months?

I have already started engaging some of my project collaborators, working around the logistics of how to ensure successful implementation. I will head to Uganda in January and start working with the agriculture stakeholders. We will be as practical as can be. We don’t want to just sit in conference rooms and talk. The collaborative workshops will be held in both formal and informal settings. On some days, we will conduct our workshops in the actual matooke gardens, do role plays and practical scenarios we define our process and practices, while on other days, we will also do round table discussions in conference rooms as we reflect on the important attributes of sustainability and evaluate our practices. It is going to be both busy and exciting.

Q: Do you have any advice for other students who want to become more engaged in climate action or sustainability research?

A: The sustainability discussion is complex because it includes economic, environmental, and social issues simultaneously. But this is also an opportunity because these aspects are in every aspect of our being.

I believe that in every area of study, there is an aspect of sustainability. From human medicine, nutrition, engineering, transportation, logistics, management and so on.

I encourage students to look at research more critically and think of ways to contribute to the sustainability debate because it is very important