Researching, exploring, and seeking to understand other cultures are essential to anthropology—and a key part of a Notre Dame liberal arts education. Junior Greg Yungtum had the opportunity to do all of these things during a trip to Africa this past summer.
The anthropology and pre-med student spent June and July gaining insight on the struggles and problems of rural Ugandan farmers and studying land development in the area.
“I’m from Iowa, and I have lived in a rural, farm setting my whole life,” Yungtum says, “so this project was an opportunity for me to connect my home life with my academic life at Notre Dame.”
Farming and Food Security
Yungtum spent the first week of his trip at the Kyembogo Farmer’s Association, learning about rural Ugandan culture and distribution of aid to farmers. Then, with the help of a translator, he spent four weeks gathering statistics and interviewing and recording the stories and struggles of 40 local rural farmers, the vast majority of whom considered themselves “mostly” or “completely” subsistence farmers.
Food insecurity and poverty work together in a vicious cycle for many Ugandan farmers who rely on small subsistence farms, Yungtum says.
“They often are forced to choose between buying basic needs for their families or reinvesting in their farms,” he explains, adding that this makes it difficult to start growing the types of cash crops that can help raise their standard of living.
Yungtum’s research also found that a farmer’s education level was statistically unrelated to his farm’s success.
“Even with more knowledge of farming technology and techniques, farmers don’t have the resources to use that knowledge,” he says. “They lack fundamental things like infrastructure, cooperatives, and banks that farmers in the United States or other developed countries take for granted.”
Stories and Struggles
Yungtum’s primary goal for this trip was to explore which sociocultural and economic factors prevent these Ugandan families from further developing their farms and reaching their full potential as food suppliers for a growing nation. The experience taught him far more, he says.
“It really influenced my view of the world and my understanding of how the world works,” Yungtum says. “It taught me a lot about social structure and social capital—and how the world you’re born into can have lasting effects on you.
“But I would say the biggest thing was just seeing their attitude toward life. I was just blown away at how energetic and absolutely happy people were despite all the poverty.”
Looking to the Future
Following his interviews with farmers, the aspiring medical school student spent the last week of his trip volunteering at a local clinic—and this combination of experiences has fueled his growing interest in food security and nutrition issues, as well as his passion for anthropology, he says.
“I definitely want to continue doing more fieldwork and research like this, especially work related to medical anthropology,” he says. “It’s important to get a different worldview and learn to question how I see the world.”
He hopes to return to Uganda to do follow-up interviews and then work on ways to help farmers in the region.
“Part of Notre Dame’s mission is using education to focus our efforts on something other than what we, ourselves, benefit from,” Yungtum says. “That, to me, was what this project was all about.”
Yungtum’s research was supported by an Experience the World fellowship from Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies and an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) grant from the College of Arts and Letters’ Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.