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How Latifah Nansubuga Of Climate Smart Urban Farming Is Helping to Promote Sustainability and…

How Latifah Nansubuga Of Climate Smart Urban Farming Is Helping to Promote Sustainability and Climate Justice

An Interview With Monica Sanders

Change has to start with you. Make sure that as you identify a problem, you think of the solution yourself, because it will always start with you. My problem of child marriage was my problem. The solution to escape it had to come from me and not from an outsider.

According to the University of Colorado, “Those who are most affected and have the fewest resources to adapt to climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions — both globally and within the United States.” Promoting climate justice is an incredibly important environmental responsibility that is slowly becoming more and more recognized. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to promote sustainability and climate justice. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Latifah Nansubuga.

Latifah Nansubuga is a Ugandan climate activist, teacher, and speaker who at the age of 13 initiated the Climate Smart Urban Farming project in Kampala, transforming plastic containers into planting pots, using discarded seeds, and implementing innovative irrigation systems.

Latifah’s Climate Smart Urban Farming helped her escape forced child marriage, feed her family and community, and opened a path for her to receive education. Despite backlash and betrayal she encountered from organizations claiming to protect girls, Latifah raises awareness of fraudulent claims and to create safe opportunities for girls globally. Latifah teaches Climate Smart Urban Farming to address food security issues and has spoken at various international events, including the United Nations General Assembly, TEDxKampala, and Power Shift 23.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Kampala, Uganda, in Africa, in a family of five children where I was the only girl and the last born. It was a Muslim family that depended on agriculture products, crops and produce. However, with us being hit by climate change and its impacts, we ended up experiencing a drought. We needed food, and that wasn’t available.

They looked at what alternatives there were for them as a family, and coming from a continent that prioritizes child marriages, they knew that by getting me married at a young age they could get a better bride price, which is comprised of food and money.

My family was forcing me into marrying an old man so that they could get a good bride price and would be able to survive the famine and starvation that they were experiencing because of the climate changing.

I looked at the crisis and the situation that I was to face, and asked myself as an advocate, how could I be the change I wanted to see in the world? How will I have the guts to face my fellow girls and or even the crowd to say don’t marry your children, invest in their education, and yet I would be a wife at 13, and a mother maybe at 14? So I wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world.

Then I started analyzing the situation that was facing my family, which was hunger, starvation, climate change and its impacts. If it’s hunger my family is facing that is making them want to marry me off, then the solution to that problem would be providing them food.

Looking at the community I come from, which is a slum in Kampala on the outskirts of the city, I found that what I have most is plastics. Coming from a slum, where there is no land, I had to create space to grow food. I got plastic containers and remodeled them, cut them, cleaned them, and decided to use them to grow food. I did not have money, I did not have anything like support, because my family was working against me, not for me. I had to look for seeds. I went into the neighborhoods of people who were well off and could afford a decent meal, and I was able to go into their garbage bins. From there I collected seeds. As the seeds were drying, I prepared the soil and used animal droppings, kitchen poo, and even food remains from other people’s garbage bins as manure and fertilizer.

Since I wasn’t someone who was allowed to move freely, I had to find a way of watering these plants even when I wasn’t there. So I used water bottles and created holes in the bottle tops. This way I could add water into the bottles, turn them upside down, and water would drip through the holes in the lids into the soil to bring about drip irrigation, and even in my absence the plants would still grow.

I was lucky enough that my first attempt at this had good harvests. We ended up harvesting more than what we could complete in terms of eating. With food now that we could not eat completely, we talked to the neighbors and started trading food and they gave us money. This became a business that now my family owns, which is selling groceries. We grow and then sell and then eat some, and that is how I was able to escape the problem of forced marriage that had resulted from climate change that had caused hunger and starvation to my family. That is how I grew up, that is where I grew up, and that is how I was able to escape marriage at 13.

Everyone has a cataclysmic moment or marker in their life which propels them to take certain actions, a “why”. What is your why?

The catalytic reaction that made me reach where I am today was the realization that change starts with me and change had to start with me.

The fear of not living what I want to see, not being able to be the change I’m talking about, not being able to walk the talk I’m talking about, made me want to fight and overcome the problem and overcome that challenge that I was being faced with at that moment in time.

I had nothing to lose. If I didn’t come out with a solution to this problem, then I knew I was going to be married off. And then how would I stand tomorrow in front of my brothers and sisters or even my fellow women or even my fellow girls and tell them that you should not say yes to marriage, you should fight for education?

I needed to lead by example because if they needed to get inspiration, it had to be from me, to show them that yes, I have faced what you are fearing, and this is how I’ve overcome it. It is possible because I made it happen.

That is my why today because as the saying goes, “A journey of 1000 miles starts with one step.” We are just taking the first step. We still have miles to cover. I’m only one of the 1000s and millions of girls that are facing this problem on a daily basis that has been able to overcome it, meaning the struggle still continues.

We have not yet accomplished the goal that we have to set, or we have set, which is making sure that no girl is left behind in the agendas that are made for the world; no girl is still exposed to child marriages; no girls are experiencing gender based violence; no women are experiencing trauma and even violence at all. So that is my why, and we are still seeing that these issues are still happening. Until we accomplish that, then my why stays the same.

You are currently leading an organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change?

My initiative Climate Smart Urban Farming is a no-cost do-it-yourself farming method through which we people from low income urban settings are able to grow healthy food safely. It uses food scrapped seeds, homemade compost, and found used old plastic containers for pots and planters.

The main goal for why we are doing this is to recycle as much as we can, to reduce and reuse plastics because where I come from is a slum that doesn’t have space.

It’s an urban slum, so what we have a lot of is plastics. What we want to see is a reduction in plastics, reusing plastic so that we are able to save our waterways so that we are able to save our landfills and be able to use them as planting areas or as farming areas rather than dumping areas.

Since now we are facing a drought, it’s through farming that we’ll be able to bring about change. We do that to empower communities, empower families, empower people to keep fighting this good fight to reduce plastic pollution and the impacts of climate change.

Coming from Africa, life and society are intertwined. If a community is empowered, if one person in the community is empowered with a skill, then they are good to go.

An example is my family. I developed the skill of Climate Smart Urban Farming. I practiced it, and right now as I speak, my community survives on that. And if I may say, my community is now less affected by climate change because they have the solution to the problem. Hunger and starvation has been solved because food is being grown and people are eating, We have reduced the poverty rates because people have been able to now create an income generating source, which is selling the food they grow. And we are reducing plastic pollution in our community because we are able to recycle as much as we can from an urban slum where land is scarce. We are becoming innovative and that is the goal: to empower people with ideas, empower people with innovative skills that are environmentally friendly, and also human rights friendly.

With such ideas, we are seeing that the number of girls that are enrolling in schools has increased because now families can afford the tuition and they are seeing that girls are taking the lead in the change they want to see in the world. Now families are seeing the reason why educating a girl is educating a nation because change has happened through the influence of girls and girls being educated.

And that is my goal: that the world sees the purpose of why girls need to be educated and why women and children need to be empowered. That is the change my organization is trying to change and that is why I am still fighting.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

At the age of 15, gaining notice as a climate leader, I was chosen as one of two Ugandan delegates to participate in a United Nations girls’ “takeover” of important UN offices, to demonstrate and showcase girl empowerment, inclusion, and equity. The 2018 event was overwhelming, and I absorbed the faces and expressions of all the girls there. I listened to the promises made by delegates, representatives from NGOs, the business community, and religious and cultural institutions to support and protect girls.

Unfortunately, I later realized that many of these organizations were putting on a good show, and their claims to protect, educate, and nurture girls like me were false. I discovered that the organization claimed to protect and save girls and women from abuse, but it was not standing up for us when we were being abused. After questioning the status of promises that had been made during my UN experience, I was subjected to more forced child labor, starvation, beatings, and sexual harassment. I was accused of turning against the school when I spoke up against the violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which were being ignored by the heads of the community l was in.

My experience is an example and proof of how institutions that claim to protect girls can often do more harm than good. My story highlights the importance of ensuring that the voices of girls are heard and acted upon, and that organizations that claim to support girls are held accountable for their actions.

I have found support and care in Heirs to Our Oceans, an organization that is dedicated to spreading empathetic leadership and bringing social and environmental justice issues to more corners of the world. Together with my new family, I am gaining skills to become a committed leader of the future.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I really did not have support but I had mentors. I had role models. I looked up to the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament who was a woman. I knew that being her, you had the power to demand change and make change happen and the right and correct change for the right cause.

I thought, if I become the next speaker, then I’ll be able to make decisions that are environmentally and human rights friendly so that girls have an opportunity to thrive. Given that I had nothing to lose and I wasn’t supported, I worked towards that vision.

Right now, the person that has inspired me most has been April Peebler, the executive director of an organization I work with, which is called Heirs to Our Oceans. She is a woman who has made it possible for me to believe that empathetic people exist. This is a woman who is not shaken by anything. This is a person who is a real life example of walking the talk and being the change you want to see. It’s through this organization that I’ve seen what happens when you empower youth, support youth, and give us the opportunity to tell our own stories and thrive. Right now I’m living a safe life and being educated and being exposed to opportunities, all thanks to this one person. She is a true living example of empathy.

Thank you for that. Let’s now move to the central part of our discussion. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms so that everyone is on the same page. What does climate justice mean to you? How do we operationalize it?

To me climate justice means taking care of the planet, living off the planet, feeding off the planet, and understanding that the planet is us and we are the planet. As someone who comes from Africa, who was dependent on land to survive all my life, I’ve grown a relationship with the land. I know that I have to protect the land. I have to secure the land. If I don’t protect the land, there will be no food. Without food, I’ll be married off. Without food, I’ll be sold off. Without food, it will be me getting hurt. So I have learned to do all that I need to do, all that there is to be done, to protect the land because the land is me and I’m the land.

That relationship with the land has made me understand climate justice as something that is a part of me. And I know that this is the same feeling with people that are next to the ocean. From the ocean, they live, from the ocean they get food, and without the ocean, they will die.

That makes them want to make sure that the ocean is safe, because that is their life source.

What I mean by climate justice is an understanding that we have a relationship with this planet, and if it is destroyed, then we are destroyed. If we protect it, we can all survive.

Science is telling us that we have 7–10 years to make critical decisions about climate change. What are three things you or your organization are doing to help?

  1. The first thing we are doing to help is practicing what we say. We talk about Climate Smart Urban Farming, and we practice it because change has to start with us. That is why we are practicing environmentally friendly activities such as urban farming, regenerative agriculture, reducing the use of plastics, and opposing the production of plastics, a petrochemical product led by big oil companies.
  2. The second thing we are doing is involving ourselves in policy advocacy, talking about what policies are best for climate justice. For example, in April, we went to Capitol Hill to talk to US lawmakers about what policies we want to see in place. The one policy I talked about that resonates with my heart is the Farmers Fighting Climate Change Act bill. That is a bill which is looking towards amending the Food Security Act of 1985, to provide incentives for climate change mitigation, supporting small scale farmers to help us achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and improve soil health.
  3. The third thing we are doing is creating awareness around the fact that big oil companies and industries are creating a lot of pollution and the need for people to stop supporting big oil companies that are producing plastics that are creating a problem for the environment. If people are aware that plastics are bad, and if they can also stop manufacturing plastics, then we will only need to use what we have and no more plastic will be coming into our communities.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you in your mission?

Small scale farmers like me are on the front line of fighting to prevent a climate catastrophe. The small scale farmers are doing the most work and putting in the most labor to ensure they are taking care of the soil and ensuring that production of food increases so that people are able to have food. It is the small scale farmers that are fighting to make sure the world is a better place and to bring about climate justice. So the three things they need are: support, policies to protect them, and resources. They need funds. They need money. So if we are able to get the government to support them financially, let’s give them money or even loans. For example, if they need to hire more labor, then let them have the money to pay their workers, so they can increase the cultivation and the practices that are good for the environment.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

As I mentioned before, Climate Smart Urban Farming has profited and benefited me and my community. My community is now less affected by climate change because food is being grown and people are eating. We have reduced the poverty rates because people have been able to now generate an income by selling the food they grow. We are reducing plastic pollution because we are able to recycle. More girls are enrolling in schools because now families can afford the tuition. This is how we can become more profitable as a society by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious.

This is the signature question we ask in most of our interviews. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started promoting sustainability and climate justice” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . Be willing to stand alone. What made me learn that lesson is after finally being given the chance to attend a boarding school and to receive the education that I so cherished, I found myself in another environment that was harmful to girls. The organization affiliated with the school, and in the school itself, the picture portrayed to the outside world was not the picture that is inside the system. Me talking about it made me a rebel in my own community, and subjected me to violence and abuse when I spoke the truth. After speaking the truth about what really happens behind closed doors, I lost touch with that organization.

2 . Activism is a battlefield. To enter activism, for anything like climate justice or empowerment of women and girls, is a battlefield whereby you have to go in ready to fight and to be ready to be shaken because not everyone is going to agree with you. Most of the people pursue agendas that are not environment or human rights friendly. I wish I was told the hazards starting this journey.

3 . A journey of 1000 Miles will always start with one step. We have miles ahead of us to work to bring about a peaceful and just world where every girl can thrive, where families can live happily, and where we can coexist with everything that depends on this earth. I wish someone had told me that if I was going to move this many miles, I would need to first take the first step alone.

4 . Change doesn’t happen, it is a process. Even when you see that things are not working out, things may be working out behind closed doors, but they’re just not happening within a blink of an eye. There will also be backlash. That is something I wish I was told as I was starting this journey because I’m someone who really wants to see results happen. I had little time to provide a solution to my family’s problem of starvation, but I couldn’t force crops to grow as fast as l wanted. l had to develop patience.

5 . Change has to start with you. Make sure that as you identify a problem, you think of the solution yourself, because it will always start with you. My problem of child marriage was my problem. The solution to escape it had to come from me and not from an outsider.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That person is Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the most senior ranking Republican congressman and the Republicans control the House. He represents a group of people that think climate change doesn’t exist.

I would like to meet him, so that I am able to give him a piece of my mind, make him understand that due to their negligence and their not caring, and them being so selfish, a lot of people are suffering through their voting on the wrong policies that are not environmentally friendly just because they don’t believe in climate change or they don’t believe that women are special or in equal rights for all.

That is the one person with whom I would love to have a meeting or a dinner. In fact, I would love to give him an opportunity to travel down to Africa and see for himself and see with his own two eyes that what he and the Republican party does up there affects we who are down here.

It is until someone lives your life that they will know your pain. So it is until he comes down to Africa and experiences a life of a slum child, that he will know that indeed he and the Republicans in their decision making need to be empathetic as they make policies, as they vote on policies, as they say that they don’t believe climate change is a thing.

If he comes to Africa he will see what it is like to live in a slum, get that climate change is real, and understand the importance of initiatives like Climate Smart Urban Farming and protection for girls and women.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

Website —



Video link: 5 Things

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you!

About the Interviewer: Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities using good tech and the power of the Internet. She holds faculty roles at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. Professor Sanders also serves on several UN agency working groups. As an attorney, Monica has held senior roles in all three branches of government, private industry, and nonprofits. In her previous life, she was a journalist for seven years and the recipient of several awards, including an Emmy. Now the New Orleans native spends her time in solidarity with and championing change for those on the frontlines of climate change and digital divestment. Learn more about how to join her at:

How Latifah Nansubuga Of Climate Smart Urban Farming Is Helping to Promote Sustainability and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.