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By Cortney Ahern, President, Slow Food Chicago

If you’ve been following Slow Food International lately, you may have noticed a theme in their events and announcements: Africa. In the last week, Slow Food has made their global priorities clear by relaunching the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, announcing the appointment of new Vice President Edie Mukiibi from Uganda, and hosting 450 leaders at the Slow Food for Africa conference in Milan.

Building awareness and promoting programs in Africa is “about jointly addressing problems that concern all of us: hunger, pollution and land grabbing,” according to Carlo Petrini, Slow Food President, who spoke at last week’s Slow Food for Africa conference.

To address these problems, Slow Food International’s primary project to date has been A Thousand Gardens in Africa. The project was launched in 2010 to build 1,000 sustainable food gardens in schools and villages across Africa. Not only do the gardens provide a source of nutritious food for communities, but they also empower family farmers, protect traditional knowledge, and enable people to positively contribute towards their own food security and food sovereignty.

Earlier this week, Slow Food International announced that they’ve not only reached their 1,000 garden benchmark, but that they are relaunching the project with the ambitious target of building 10,000 gardens in Africa.

To achieve that exponentially increased goal, the project will need draw upon Slow Food in Africa’s enormous network of 50,000 people, 354 food communities, 38 countries, and 100 convivia. Coordinating these pieces will require leadership, expertise, and collaboration on the ground.

Taking on that monumental task is Edie Mukiibi, newly nominated Vice President of Slow Food International. At 28 years old, Mukiibi already has an impressive track record of implementing Slow Food values through his work.  He has built 75 youth gardens in Africa by founding the Developing Innovations in School and Community Cultivation (DISCC) project, an accomplishment that earned him the honor of meeting First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in 2011.

Mukiibi is passionate about preserving African biodiversity, saying “This is our time in Africa to promote our own food and gastronomy, to strengthen our traditional food systems and communities, and to defend our African biodiversity.” He has created two Presidia in his home country of Uganda, and incorporates endangered foods from the Ark of Taste into his gardens.

At the Slow Food for Africa conference, Mukiibi spoke about the success of A Thousand Gardens in Africa, and it’s enormous potential. “Four years ago, in Africa, Slow Food embarked on a great challenge: to create a thousand food gardens across the continent. At the time, it seemed like an ambitious dream. But now we realize that we have done much more than simply create gardens: We have created an important network that is growing and working to change Africa, to offer our children a future of peace and justice, and to guarantee everyone access to good, clean and fair food.”

Both the announcement of re-launching A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, and the appointment of Edie Mukiibi as Vice President, occurred around the convening of Slow Food for Africa in Milan on February 17. The event brought together leaders from the Slow Food movement, African representatives, and international experts including José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.