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Makerere University Hosts an International workshop on Urbanisation and its Impact on Peri-urban Water and Food Security in Africa under the Australia Africa Universities Network (AAUN)

Participants posing for a group photo after the opening

Rapidly increasing population and urban migration across Africa and other developing regions of the world are creating new and complex challenges. The current water and land-use changes in urban and peri-urban regions have serious consequences for water and food security, lifestyle, environment, health and the overall well-being of urban and peri-urban communities.

It is within this context that Makerere University brought  together Australian and African partners to understand complex issues of changing land use patterns from the view point of community, policy and physical environment and identify the knowledge gap for collaborative research and teaching to improve water and food security and liveability in African cities.

The two  day international  conference (4th-5th December, 2017 )  dubbed, “Urbanisation and its impacts on Peri urban Water and Food security: Developing research collaboration and capacity building”,  sponsored by Australia Africa Universities Network (AAUN) will help to develop a trans disciplinary research and capacity building program to address the issues identified.

Overall, the workshop will encourage an open dialogue on ways to strengthen institutional capacity and framework for effective management of peri-urban landscapes.

Prof. Johnny Mugisha, Prof. Bernard Bashasha and Prof.Basant Maheshwari during the workshop

The specific objectives of the workshop are: To share learning and experiences from Australia and Africa on peri-urban water management and food production; Identify areas for research collaboration, shared post-graduate teaching programs and capacity building ; and Develop a joint research proposal for a longer term research collaboration

The conference held at at the conference hall,  Makerere University School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio engineering was officially opened by Makerere University Vice Chancellor  represented Prof. Bernard Bashaasha who is also Principal College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

 Also present were the Director, Directorate of Graduate Research and Training Prof. Mukadasi Buyinza, Principal CAES represented by Prof. Johnny Mugisha who is also  Dean School of Agricultural Sciences.


Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi consulting one of the Australian experts

The workshop attracted experts and collaborators in urbanisation, food and water related issues from Australian universities mainly Western Sydney University, the University of Sydney and Queensland University of Technology. Experts included Professor Basant Maheshwari  from Western Sydney University, Assoc. Professor Willem Vervoort  fromThe University of Sydney, Assoc. Professor Inakwu Odeh  from Queensland University of Technology  and Professor Ashantha Goonetilleke

The workshop  is part of the operationalisation of the a Memorundum of Academic Cooperation  that was signed between Makerere University and  University of Western Sydney, Australia on 2nd February 2015. Prof. Elly N. Sabiiti,  the conference convener was appointed Co-ordinator.

Makerere University’s great interest in this cooperation is to  strengthen the research and training capacity in the CAES  in the fields of peri-urban water management, peri - urban food production, liveability of outer urban areas, sanitation and waste management.

This collaboration is the first of its kind Makerere University is sharing with several universities in Australia and it is now Africa Australia Research collaboration with  scientists from Adis Ababa Ethiopia and University of Nairobi Kenya and Uganda.

While officially opening the workshop on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha said the workshop could not have been convened at a better time than now, when the African continent is grappling with challenges created by the rapid population growth. 

He commended the level of participation which the workshop has attracted among them academics, researchers, industry practitioners, society, and key policy makers, expressing  hope that the knowledge and experiences shared will provide solutions to some of Africa’s underlying challenges.

The Vice Chancellor said urbanization is both promising and problematic for Africa. On the one hand, he noted that  it could boost the country’s sagging economy.  On the other hand, urbanization will put an immense burden on an already stressed labor market, and severely test the state’s ability to provide basic services in cities.

“Even today, Uganda struggles to provide housing, transport, education, jobs, healthcare, water, and energy to its urban population. Meeting these needs in 10, 15, and 20 years when the country’s urban population will be even greater will be an immense challenge.  Failure to address these privations, at the least, could make Africa’s urban masses including its rising middle class less productive contributors to society and the economy. And at worst, it could fuel the fires of radicalization”. The VC said

Prof. Bernard Bashaasha opening the workshop on behalf of the Vice Chancellor Makerere University

Describing Food security as an urban issue, the Vice Chancellor said Africa is the fastest urbanising continent in the world and that by 2050, 60% of all Africans will be living in cities. With more poor people living in African cities, he observed that support for both urban and rural agriculture programmes will be key to food security and nutrition.

“Urbanisation in Africa is not going hand-in-hand with widespread economic growth: many cities are in fact seeing a proliferation of urban poverty. Food insecurity and under nutrition is therefore also increasingly an urban issue, and with urban people more dependent than rural populations on whatever food they can afford to buy, it's tied closely to livelihoods.

Young people in cities are not necessarily finding employment opportunities, and that is potentially increasing future food security issues in these regions. In addition, existing peri-urban producers may have proximity to cities but don't necessarily have market access to sell to buyers there.

Some farmers in peri-urban areas use waste water for their crops. And there is pesticide misuse, with farmers getting frustrated and spraying anything to kill pests. These are some of the things I do hope this workshop is going to deliberate on”, Part of the VC‘s speech read.

Speaking on water as an urban issue, the Vice Chancellor said it is estimated that at least 70 % of the 250 million people in Sub Saharan Africa rely on groundwater as their primary source of water supply. He however noted that unmeasured use of the resource by competing sectors has posed a threat to all those that rely on it, sometimes leaving all of them vulnerable.

A cross section of participants

In Uganda, the VC said, the expanding industry is drawing down groundwater levels; pollution of aquifers through large-scale irrigation agriculture, mining and other sectors contributes to the growing water problem. Over contamination from rapid urbanisation as well as climate change, are also posing a threat to groundwater resources. Yet, in our attempts to attain our vision 2040, it is these same sectors that the country is pursuing.

“For us to fully enjoy our natural resources, we must appreciate the interdependence between water, energy and food security in relation to climate change. This calls for a careful balancing act between the exploitation and preservation of these resources.

I am therefore delighted to note that Makerere University and  partners are taking a lead  and trying to address the aforementioned challenges  by pulling together the issues of urban growth, migration, livelihoods and under nutrition, and drawing specific attention to the role of peri-urban 'corridors' of production outside cities”. The Professor said.

As a higher education institution, Prof. Bashaasha said Makerere University has contributed to the generation of solutions to avert these development challenges by supplying knowledgeable and multi-skilled graduates, providing evidence-based options and solutions to support formulation of interventions and appropriate policies for accelerating national and regional development.

 He expressed confidence that the university can perform even better, so as to nurture the requisite capacity to transform Uganda’s agricultural sector from a peasant to a modern one as envisioned in Uganda Vision 2040.

On behalf of Management the Vice Chancellor  extended gratitude to the teams from Western Sydney University, The University of Sydney and Queensland University of Technology and their collaborators for bringing together experts in urbanisation, food and water related issues from across the globe to share cutting-edge knowledge in these very important fields of economic development.

He also paid tribute to all the devoted scientists, industry practitioners and policy makers who are participating to share knowledge and best practices. I wish to equally applaud the workshop organisers for rendering their support towards the hosting of this workshop.

“And to all the participants, time has come for you to change the way business is done in the development, exploitation and management of Africa’s agriculture and water resources, if this continent is to attain economic development and emancipation”

Speaking on behalf of the Principal CAES, Prof. Johnny Mugisha welcomed all participants to Uganda, Makerere and CAES in particular.

He said the college is one of the biggest in terms of diversity bringing together agriculturalists, environmentalists, food scientists, foresters, agricultural economists, agricultural engineers and extensionists among others.

L- Prof. Johnny Mugisha speaking on behalf of the Principal CAES

“ We do the work together because you cannot look at Agriculture without water.  We are very mindful of the environment and the related aspects like food security.  Therefore, this workshop  is timely and in a right place because  it addresses issues of urbanisation in a holistic way.”, The Principal noted.

Prof. Mugisha said, the creation of this collaboration led to the creation of the Centre of Excellence for Waste management at Makerere University which is very instrumental in addressing urbanisation threats.

Prof. Mugisha noted that  everybody is yearning  to be part of the urban population. He observed that most young people have come to town with a rural baggage.

“ It is  an urban area constituting  rural population raising questions  of urban facilities causing stress on water, food security and  this calls for urgent intervention to make sure that facilities serve the needs  of urban dwellers”, The Principal said.

Prof. Mugisha said the challenge of urbanisation require multidisciplinary approach bringing together environmentalists, agriculturalists and water analysists to come together and find solutions.

He said the College cherishes collaboration adding that  MoU  has also seen an output where a PhD student was being sponsored fully.

“In CAES we have staff with different backgrounds. We have graduate and undergraduate students but when it comes to research, we cannot run away from outreach. Our students do a lot of work and we want to thank Shamim the scholarship beneficiary for representing us.

Prof. Mugisha implored participants to bring  as many stakeholders as they can saying, the college is open to all kinds of collaborations.

In his welcome remarks the workshop convener, Prof. Elly Sabiiti said the conference was focussing on peri urban issues  such as  mushrooming slums,  limited  food   and water for  the increasing urban population among others.

Prof. Elly Sabiiti delivering his welcome remarks

“Today we are looking at research in urban and peri urban issues to do with food security, sanitation, rural migration and all challenges related to rapid urbanisation in Uganda and Africa in general.

So we have collaborations with several universities in Australia, the main one being the Western Sydney University which we started with in 2015 that led to one of our students awarded a PhD scholarship on Landfills for waste disposal”,  Professor Sabiiti said.

Using Uganda as an example, Prof. Sabiiti  observed that the population of Kampala City was ever increasing  with  over one million people posing challenges to the city authorities and government in terms of planning and ensuring peoples welfare.

He reported that Kampala was originally a rural setup where people practiced farming and this culture has remained. He however said, there is need to look at it a modern way to make sure that farming is not replaced by huge buildings because  there are people who are born here and they are still around but now they  have a challenge of a lot of infrastructure coming up and being displaced and pushed away from the city.

The Professor explained that urbanisation is unavoidable and unstoppable. He said cities, developed roads and good drainage are needed. He however noted that when it rains here in Kampala, water floods and these are caused by agricultural wastes and polythene thrown in drainage system.

“These challenges require scientific solutions, how do you keep many people in a small area . Kampala s is expanding but there is a limit of how much it will expand so, in the end you have to deal with that huge population in a limited space where you have farmers, industrialists business people, all these should d be put in context.

Some of the participants

We are here to contribute knowledge through research and these knowledge can be used by KCCA officials and government to make good policies for better planning. Also you also realise that we don’t have high capacity in urbanisation in terms of human resource and as University, it is our role to train people to become experts so that they can advise government on the best way to manage our cities that is why this workshop is here”. He said.

Prof. Sabiiti explained the continent was grappling  with the problem of  limited food which is too expensive for most of the population  not earning high income. He said, to address food the issue of food insecurity in the peri urban areas, research  and knowledge will be utilised to help urban dwellers   use a small area  to produce using high yielding varieties, good breeds of livestock and poultry, good methods of feeding so that on a small area ,one can get enough yield to  feed the family and generate income.

“Urbanisation is causing a lot of agricultural waste accumulation, food comes in markets, they dump the entire residue they don’t use and all those become disease breeding grounds. And when it rains we get cholera dysentery, they run into water systems and block the water ways. So, if we convert these agricultural waste into compost, and use it for increasing farm produce, we would have solved that problem”. The professor stated.

As university researchers, the professor said, they would provide policy briefs and if taken by policy makers will guide them to make good planning for our city.

“We need to work with policy makers so that they tell us their challenges and we use our research knowledge through this collaboration and be able to come up with solutions for our city”

Professor Basant Mahenshwari from the Western Sydney University said urbanisation is everywhere in developing countries  due to population increase and at the same time connecting to agriculture that is going to affect the whole hydrolaulic area and also the food production.

 “The major challenges of urbanisation are food production and water security. So when we develop the collaboration with Makerere, the idea  is  to share experiences from Australia and Africa, learn from each other and also identify what is important and what  we can do further in terms of capacity building and research projects and that way,  we can take on the work of urbanisation more effectively.

Prof. Basant Maheshwari speaking during the workshop

In Australia, we have a water scarcity urban design and we have started keeping some lines. For example in Sydney, we have designed a natural line for food production and if this can be done in Africa where a natural line is reserved for food production it has got benefit in keeping the environment cool and holding the ecosystem much more sustainable”. Professor Basant explained.

Other experience he said that can be copied from Australia is the production of solid waste and solid water to avoid polluting the soil, ground water, rivers and lakes which can have very devastating effects.

In Australia he said they are currently harvesting storm water, rain and rest water passed through wetlands and used to recharge ground water.

Report compiled by;

Jane Anyango

Communication Officer, CAES


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