Meet RLC Bonn PhD student Dorothy Birungi


What is your research topic and why did you choose it?

My PhD working title is “Agroecological Intensification of smallholder farming systems through perennial Pigeon pea/Sorghum husbandry in Northern Uganda”. It is linked to the larger project “Perennial polyculture farming in Uganda: Towards increased sustainability, resilience and livelihoods of smallholder farmers”.


What are your primary research objectives?

  1. To understand farmer’s knowledge, perceptions and management practices of the new perennial crops in Uganda
  2. To determine the economic costs and benefits of perennial pigeon pea/sorghum in Northern Uganda
  3. To determine the market demand opportunities and preferences for perennial crops in Northern Uganda
  4. Ecosystem services from perennial agriculture farming (map/value??)


How did you come across the RLC doctoral programme and why did you apply for it?

I was contacted in Uganda by a colleague when this position was advertised early this year. I worked on the application package, submitted and went through the interview process successfully. I applied for this position because it aims to address key agricultural development challenges that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently facing: issues of increasing food production ecologically without damaging the natural resources for future generations. The current agricultural methods are described as Modern Extractive Agriculture (MEA) which is environmentally and ecologically unsustainable. If farmers change their cropping methods from annual to perennial, they will have several social, economic and ecological benefits. In addition, my previous M.Sc. research focused on adoption of Conservation Agriculture Practices among smallholder farmers in Uganda and Kenya which is also related to this project. The aims of RLC for training changemakers inspired me to apply as its one of my long-term goals to carry out research that impacts rural livelihoods.


The RLC scholarship aims at connecting young researchers with Right Livelihood Award Laureates. Which are the partners you will be working with?

The RLC scholarship allows me to work in a team with Right Livelihood Laureates, experts at RLC Campuses and partners in Uganda. Some of the international partners include the Land Institute, Kansas, USA, who received the Right Livelihood Award in 2000 for their pioneering work on perennial crops. The institute has so far set up demonstration sites in Uganda and they are working with smallholder farmers in Uganda to evaluate the adaptability of these crops for the local environments. This provides the foundation and basis for this PhD.


Your doctoral programme started in August already. How have you experienced your first couple of months at ZEF/RLC?

I am currently participating in the BIGS-DR doctoral program where I have so far attended the German language course for the first two months, and an interdisciplinary course for the months of October and November. The highlight so far is the diversity of the courses which has broadened my thinking from disciplinary to an interdisciplinary thinking. Before joining ZEF/RLC, my discerning was basically around the social-economic viewpoints, however, I have now broadened to embrace ecological and natural resource perspectives which is also crucial to address part of the PhD objectives. I have also networked with several researchers at ZEF/RLC and round Bonn, which connections are crucial for academic and social aspects of the PhD journey.