• Fyodor Ovchinnikov

Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Cleofash Alinaitwe and Ignatius Ahumuza

Colluctive Narrative Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov

On Wednesday, May 19, 2021 a group of participants from Brazil, Greece, India, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, and the United States gathered for the sixth virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Cleofash (Cleo) Alinaitwe and Ignatius Ahumuza.


Cleo and Ignatius are using permaculture to transform Agricultural practices in Africa through Agri Planet Uganda. By focusing primarily on youth, children, women, and smallholder farmers, Agri Planet Uganda seeks to improve the whole community access and application of permaculture to bolster food production and other life’s basic essentials. Cleo is also a member of the Evolutionary Leadership Community, a finalist of the Evolutionary Future challenge 2017, and an Evolutionary Leadership Fellow (pending until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted)


This session with Cleo and Ignatius was among 11 sessions confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study the materials on the work of Cleo and Ignatius before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Cleo and Ignatius to help them prepare for a live session with the group. The recording of the live session based on this narrative will be published here soon.

Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Christiana Gardikioti, Devapragassen Armoogum, Flora Moon, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Julius Kuya, Ken Homer, Kennan Salinero, Klaus Mager, Manuel Manga, Naveen Vasudevan, Rafael Calcada, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and contributed to this narrative.


We want to thank both Cleofash and Ignatius for their brilliance and remarkable leadership. We are totally astounded by their vision and by the energy, grace, and intelligence they are bringing to the effort. We were inspired and touched by the integrity and the sincerity of their story that they shared with so much humility, and it was very humbling to listen to them. We were impressed, touched, and very inspired.

It is especially inspiring to see an example of systemic change work and such a level of systems thinking in young people. We truly appreciate the work that Cleo and Ignatius are doing with their local communities in Uganda and we think that a lot of communities around the world can learn from what they are doing. We talked about how their work is essentially a living example of models that Dr. Krzysztof Dembek discussed with us earlier in this program, and we really appreciate this connection.

Imagining and Achieving the Scale that Meets the Goal

Some questions that came up in our conversations are related to the scale of their work. We talked about the scale that Cleo and Ignatius are operating in right now and we wonder what they see for themselves in the future. If they had a wish for them to go wherever they want to go, what would that wish be? How does that future look like and what scale does it involve?

Based on what we have already learned about Cleo and Ignatius, it would be fantastic to see small farmers cooperate, pull out sufficient volumes of produce, and feed Africa rather than having larger companies like Monsanto (Bayer) coming in and using chemicals in African agriculture.

Thinking about that, it seems like there is a jump that Cleo and Ignatius need to make from where they are right now to their goal of feeding Uganda and significant portions of African population with produce made in Uganda. What exactly needs to happen for them to grow into that? Where are they in this process? What are the roadblocks that they experience and how are they overcoming those? We are curious about what they are thinking their journey is going to be as they are scaling. Questions about brokerage, communication, and aggregation came up in that context and we would love to see them explore these topics with us.

Navigating Power Dynamics and Competing Interests

Some of us brought up the point that the success that Cleo and Ignatius have had so far has mostly been on a person to person level. As they stand in the communities where they are distributing and sharing their knowledge, it seems like their success is based on having a very good understanding of the people they are dealing with and an environment where trust is conferred. Once they scale up, there is a concern around how they will be able to navigate an environment where there will be many more conflicting and maybe aggressively non-supportive efforts.

We talked about Cleo and Ignatius actually putting people and planet before money and we all are very aware that commercial interest and often governmental interest put money before people and planet. So on the political level we are curious how Cleo and Ignatius are navigating the different dances they have to do with the different stakeholders, because the contexts and the interests are very different.

So how are they preparing for the enlargement of the scale that they are currently operating in? Is their messaging and engagement strictly going to stay on a person to person level or they will have to develop some sort of institutionalized message because they probably are going to be up against interests of other African countries and Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea, and also because authorities at all levels can feel challenged by a grassroots initiative?

Leveraging Innovation for More Effective Aggregation and Distribution

When we think with this lens we also have questions about how small farmers compete with large companies that are moving into Africa. We discussed how the farmers that Cleo and Ignatius work with at the moment may not necessarily generate surplus, but they may need to think about that. How do they generate it and what do they do with it when they have it? Do Cleo and Ignatius assign targets to individual farmers or not? How are they handling aggregation and logistics? Then also comes the question of plugging into the system: how might they end up doing that? There are innovative things happening in the world of aggregation and distribution so we wonder if they are aware of them and whether they are exploring them.

Specifically, we discussed some examples from China of how farmers used software that helped a major retailer split a large order between smallholder farmers and how smallholder farmers can work together to compete on a larger market by using such software, forming co-ops, etc.. There is knowledge like that out there and we would love to discuss a little bit the future scope of the work that Cleo and Ignatius are doing and how they plan to go there.

Sharing Knowledge, Developing Change Agents, and Expanding the Reach

We also noticed that Cleo and Ignatius use numbers of people that they trained as an indicator of their impact, but some of us pointed out that they actually have a much larger sphere of influence. We wonder how they might be thinking about using that influence at scale and whether they have a deliberate plan or allow their impact to grow organically.

There is also some curiosity about the banks of knowledge that they mentioned. What are they? Could they expand on it more? How do they make it work? How do they create these banks? Are they only present in universities?

Another question that came up is about the leadership academy. That activity implies looking at leadership and entrepreneurship, not just teaching farming techniques. Clearly Cleo and Ignatius are building soils of many kinds: they are not just building the physical soil in their community, they are also gardeners of people, in a sense. What is their understanding of a change agent? It is clearly not just farmers, so who are they trying to create through these academies or through these centers?

Helping Communities Across the World Find Pride and Artistry in Agriculture

We also talked about some similarities that we saw in our local communities and about some of the differences that we noticed. For example, people from several different countries shared an experience of how in their local communities agriculture is still used as a punishment or was used as a punishment in the past. Some of us live in societies where people think that before the green revolution agriculture was only about manual labor and that you are not free when you are engaged in it. In many places like North America, Africa, India, Greece, etc. agriculture is not seen as a career of pride and the example of how Cleo and Ignatius are able to work with that in Africa is very inspiring.

We discussed the idea that for a lot of things that are considered lower-level jobs, there is actually artistry to them, so some of us wonder how Cleo and Ignatius help people find pride and artistry in low-status jobs, in manual labor. How difficult is it to make people understand the pride and freedom behind agriculture in Uganda? We think that the use of songs is brilliant and it really taps on multiple storytelling and cultural vibes and we wonder how other media might be used in the future.

Accessing Ancestral Knowledge and Dealing with Hard Manual Labor in Traditional Farming Practices

In our discussions some of us wondered whether there are aspects of farming that are still backbreaking. Do Cleo and Ignatius see an evolution of that in terms of the more indigenous, traditional methodologies that they use? Where do they see manual labor still being an issue in their own approaches? Is it at all? This comes from the idea that “Big Agriculture” was actually an evolution from peasant-based, slave-based, or sharecropper-based farming methods where the person was a lot like an ox doing very manual, difficult labor, to suddenly having tractors and being able to spade a really large acreage of land and that the whole green revolution was to free ourselves from that manual labor aspect.

Talking about ancestral knowledge and what it means, we discussed how local communities connect with ancestral knowledge, build their agricultural practices based on that, how it looks differently in various regions of the world, and how we can learn from different examples that we see. This made some of us wonder where Cleo and Ignatius got their permaculture knowledge and their ancient farming wisdom from. Was it just that their family was in the hold of it or had access to it? This does not look like it was culturally prevalent, so how did they become so wise in their farming practices? Where did they learn them from to be able to share them?

That was not very clear in their story and some of us expressed a lot of curiosity around that. Ignatius seems to feel that what he had learned at home really gave him a leg up in the classroom and it looks like Cleo found at the university level that it gave him a leg down when he was doing the innovation startup work, and he did not see that it was a good match. So did the two of them have different experiences with their own agricultural education?

Bringing Farming and Education Together

We also discussed the idea of moving from the country to the city and that the city has a lot of capability, especially for higher-level, university-level learning. How can people be good farmers using permaculture but with as much freedom as possible to educate themselves to get away from the dichotomy of going to school and being educated vs. working the land and being uneducated; having a thriving life vs. being tied to the soil? In that context, some of us also wonder what other careers, ideas, and learnings Cleo and Ignatius have considered as individuals and what wishes they would like to have outside of the immediate goals in their current careers.

Breaking Away from the Cultural Monopoly of Global Capitalism

For some of us, it was astonishing to see how even in our international group that includes quite a few people who are closely connected to agriculture, sometimes our conversations struggled to transcend the unconscious bias against farming as if the narratives imposed on us by Colonialism and Global Capitalism somehow had the authority to determine what we should value. The power of these global narratives is especially puzzling given that in many cultures farming was traditionally connected to the sacred domain and in some cases even involved royalty through rituals such as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony.

It feels like the cultural issues that Cleo and Ignatius are working with are part of a global problem and that we have a lot to learn from their work and a long way to go. One key area we discussed in this context is trust. Cleo and Ignatius clearly have a lot of trust in their community and specifically a lot of trust that they have built with other members of the community, so one of the questions we had for ourselves is how we build trust in our own communities.

Articulating Strategies for Building Trust in Local Communities

Everything that Cleo and Ignatius have been doing seems to work, at least this is how it appears from how they narrated it: they talked to different people and it seems like a lot of things just fell in place. If that is true, it means that there is a lot of trust in their community so we wonder how they built that trust. It is probably not as easy as it sounds, but even then, a lot of trust is needed to do what they have done, so how did they go about building the trust?

It looks like they had a harder time getting farmers together. What challenges did they face in getting the farmers together and why? One would assume that it is easier to get the farmers together on something like this but how is it that they were actually disconnected from each other and children became bridges for bringing them all together?

Inspiring and Informing Transformation of Communities Across Africa and Around the World

In our conversations, we acknowledged the fact that Cleo and Ignatius are so deeply rooted in their place and their culture which came through very beautifully in their story. Celebrating their desire to feed Africa using permaculture, we really want to see them succeed and expect that they will be very successful down the road. We are also really happy to learn from what they are doing and we would love to take this inspiration and bring it to our communities.

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