Co-creating a Strategic Plan for Regenerative Agriculture and Improved Livelihoods

A group of people sit outside a brick building on wooden chairs participating in a discussion while two facilitators stand and take notes on a chalkboard, one laughing.

Uganda is a country with a rich history currently facing rampant environmental degradation, deforestation, food insecurity and poverty disproportionately impacting rural areas. In light of these hardships, a mass exodus of young people out of rural areas is occurring. This creates an urgent need to support young people at the ground-level to more effectively break the cycle of poverty. Bethany Land Institute (BLI or the Institute) aims to redirect this trend and provide rural young people an alternate path to prosperity through sustainable regenerative agriculture and innovative entrepreneurship. 

In spring 2024, the Regenerating Ecologies and Economies for Livelihoods (REEL) team from the University of Notre Dame partnered with BLI to perform a mixed-methods study, centered on the voices of BLI’s key stakeholders and intended to gather data to inform BLI’s 2024 strategic plan. REEL is a hands-on course that challenges students to implement classroom teaching of sustainability, business, and regenerative livelihood development in real-world business scenarios. Additionally, the study sought to set the groundwork for the continued partnership between BLI and the REEL course. 

A total of sixteen surveys, three participatory activities, and eighteen key informant interviews (KIIs) were conducted to provide both individual and collectively negotiated insights. In addition, a comprehensive spatial data initiative and soil testing spanning 320 acres was completed. A key finding to be highlighted is that caretakers, staff, BLI Uganda, and BLI USA have different views about how to achieve BLI’s vision, supporting the need for open communication amongst all BLI stakeholders as part of the 2024 strategic plan. The study also revealed that heads of departments (Mary’s, Martha’s, Lazarus’, and Outreach) hold significant knowledge about their respective divisions. While this expertise is important for BLI’s continued success, it often causes each head of department to have limited bandwidth making it more difficult to efficiently accomplish necessary tasks. In relation to barriers and strengths, the data revealed that finances, climate change and mindset change are key barriers, while BLI’s leaders and staff, curriculum, and foundation in Laudato Si’ are key strengths.

Based on these findings, the REEL team provides recommendations to inform BLI’s 2024 strategic plan, along with associated risks and considerations. The REEL team recommends the following: (1) diversify income sources, (2) bolster community outreach, (3) seek additional partnerships, (4) optimize current resources, including infrastructure and personnel, and (5) maintain integrity of programming and support of Caretakers during and post-formation.

Main areas for further study include: (1) the feasibility and development of eco-tourism, (2) collection and storage of data, and (3) impact of the Caretaker program on the individual, community, and transfer of integral ecology.