A two-day gathering in the town of Fort Portal, in Kabarole District in western Uganda, concluded with firm pledges from politicians, farmers, street vendors, technical experts, civil society, church leaders and youth, setting out how they will each tackle deepening problems in the region's food systems.
At the People's Summit on Food on 20-21 April 2016, hosted by the municipality of Fort Portal in partnership with Kabarole Research and Resource Centre (KRC), IIED and Hivos, local citizens were at the centre of lively discussion and debate on how the region's food system can bring available, affordable and nutritious food, create sustainable jobs and drive green and inclusive growth.
Growing pressures on farming households to sell produce for cash is leading to large flows of the region's nutritious staples bypassing rural towns such as Fort Portal and being shipped to the capital or neighbouring countries.
Despite its high agricultural production, this fertile western region is food insecure; diets are becoming less diverse and more than 40 per cent of its children are malnourished.
Meanwhile, increased cash cropping is exhausting the land, with few farmers replenishing the soil's nutrients, and the gap between actual and potential yields is widening.
Shifts in costs and availability of food coupled with pressures such as time constraints have brought a rapid rise in street food vending, creating tensions between vendors and local authorities on issues including health and hygiene, and the battle for space.
At the end of the summit, the different actors from policy and practice broadcast their commitments to address these issues live on KRC’s radio station, KRC 102 FM The Farmers' Voice. The list included the following:
- Elected officials committed to providing street vendors with suitable space and infrastructure – such as water points – to operate effectively. They also pledged to enact a byelaw to ensure that the 1935 Public Health Act – which outlaws street food vending – is amended to reflect the new realities of emerging food system
- The National Planning Authority committed to ensuring that the Nutrition Action Plan being developed by the NPA is adjusted to the local context and realities that the Peoples' Summit made visible. Kabarole District can provide a case study of how to integrate the food system within the planning system
- Street vendors pledged to improve hygiene when using plates, cutlery and other food handling equipment in efforts to improve consumer confidence and increase business
- Local authorities agreed to improve working conditions for street vendors such as the provision of lighting, water points and toilets
- Farmers agreed to work closely together to tackle problems of fluctuating market prices and low added-value to the region's agricultural production. They agreed to share information on prices and agricultural technologies and encourage the government to form farmer-friendly policies such as accessing credit and planting materials
- Civil society organisations committed to sharing best practices, lessons learnt and information on relevant technologies, while ensuring all stakeholder voices are included in the evolving debate around food, and
- Church leaders pledged to raise awareness around the importance of food and nutrition as part of their mission.
"The citizen-led People's Summit – the first of its kind – provided a vibrant and unique space for different groups to come together and create a vision for the food systems for Fort Portal and the surrounding region," said Christopher Busiinge, head of the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre's Information Unit.
"How we produce, consume and sell our food is changing rapidly and presenting many challenges along the way. With these commitments in place, we have clear next steps on how to move towards a food and farming system that will bring food and nutrition security, drive a more sustainable agriculture and create green growth for all our citizens," said Busiinge.
Teresa Corcoran (email@example.com) is communications content officer in IIED's Communications Group.
KRC Uganda has made a short film entitled Fort Portal Food Voices – watch it on YouTube.