Mitigating Food Loss and Waste Amidst COVID-19 in Uganda
With over 2.5 million food producers country-wide, Government stringent COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures like; transport and mass gathering restrictions; curfew; closure of airports and border crossing points within the EAC region as well as partial lockdowns in certain hot spots of the country led to a surge in food losses and waste amidst growing numbers of household food insecurity.
With the number of many in the hospitality sector like restaurants shut for business during the lockdown, many small-scale farmers in the country felt the pinch as they were stuck with their farm produces. Worse still was a sharp decline in farmer’s incomes as many resorted to selling their produce at giveaway prices. For instance, many looked on as bunches of matooke in areas like Ankole where going for as little as 1000 shillings. This situation was similarly witnessed by eggs, fruits, and poultry farmers in the country.
“Every year around the globe, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted, that is 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption” (FAO of the Untied Nations)
As Uganda joins the world in celebrating the first ever observance of the International day of food loss and waste, we recognize the fundamental need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and consumed. There might not be quick fixes for this problem, but there are approaches that could point toward a more equitable and efficient direction starting with the governance of our food. Lini Wollenberg, of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), emphasizes that storage at this time is critical, as lockdowns globally have limited access to food, making it important to stretch what is available to communities in need. The revitalization of silos in Uganda is a conversation that should be re-tabled to safe guard country food losses and secure farmer’s livelihoods.
Within the EAC, the Kenyan Government begun buying up surplus food from across the country to distribute to areas where people are struggling with acute food-insecurity. Alongside the establishment of storage facilities like silos across the country, Uganda should pick a leaf from other Government policy efforts that secure farmer produces in an effort to reduce food loss and waste.
Uniquely, information management for food demand and supply through smart marketing and data platforms, can help to facilitate the exchange of food produce in various contexts within the country. In turn, such setups can help to overcome breakdowns in food distribution that have led to producers dumping food while Ugandans go hungry. Case in point is ESAFF-Uganda’s KilimoMart app, a digitalized organic outlet that connects organic farmers from all over Uganda and other EAC countries to various consumers. The KilimoMart Application is playing an important role in addressing the challenges that small scale farmers have been facing for so long by creating market opportunities for them where their agricultural products and services are accessed by consumers in all East African countries.
Plagued by increasing food waste from farm to plate, other exceptional approaches are needed. According to Food Tank, a US based think tank for food security, linear food systems need to become a thing of the past, and instead all “waste” should be entered back as inputs to the food system—in the form of compost—to create more rounded food systems. All food excess needs to be redistributed, especially at this time of food crisis. Public awareness campaigns by Governmental institutions and NGOs, can help teach concepts of agroecology and organic farming systems that look into the utilization of organic mature from this “unwanted food” to curb food waste in the country.
It is unthinkable that food is lost and wasted when continentally, we are in a food crisis that is aggravated by this pandemic. To give us a fighting chance, ending food loss and waste must become an everyday practice. It should start with you and me.