Climate change, nutrition and agri-food systems are major – but often distinct – areas of work in countries, in institutions and for development and support programs. More climate-resilient agri-food systems will require transformative changes at different levels, such as at the production level – with a shift towards sustainable agricultural and land-use practices and at the consumption level – with reduced food waste and healthier diets. There is a need to rethink “value” in agrifood value chains.
To spark discussion on synergies and opportunities for improved coherence, FAO’s report on impact, resilience, sustainability and transformation of food and nutrition security (FIRST) programin collaboration with FAO-UNDP SCALA programbrought together stakeholders with different points of view on the situation Uganda. The conversation was grounded in the recognition that linking climate change, food systems and social transformation processes can lead to co-benefits and enable multi-stakeholder collaboration that brings together small-scale producers (including women, youth , indigenous peoples), government officials, research organizations. and the private sector.
It is important to recognize that we are all consumers. All production processes and other processes in agri-food value chains are undertaken on behalf of the consumer and therefore consumers play a major role in initiating change. It is easier to connect the dots of food systems at the consumer level (diets and personal choices) than at the policy level where entities operate in silos with their own funding, policy instruments and institutional arrangements.
Everyone has the right to access safe and nutritious food, but often to meet consumer demand, food production processes negatively affect ecosystems, as well as the soils and lands where it is produced. Sustainable production, in a sense, starts with a sustainable consumer.
With 81 percent of Uganda’s population engaged in subsistence rain-fed agriculture for food and cash income, climate change poses a major risk to economic growth, livelihoods, as well as export earnings, threatening to exacerbate inequality and poverty.
In addition, climate change affects men and women differently, especially in the agriculture and land use sectors. For example, when Uganda’s livestock corridor experiences drought, men and women react in different ways: men seek pasture for their livestock, while women seek water for household use. Therefore, Uganda places a strong emphasis on mainstreaming gender into its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and other climate policies that recognize the differences but equally important roles that men and women have in agriculture and food production.
Deforestation is another key stressor in Uganda. The country produces US$65 million of timber domestically and imports US$300 million of wood products each year. It also exported 5.3 tonnes of fruits and vegetables last year, with the potential to increase exports in this sector. This will require planting more trees, however, depending on the Global Forest Watch Report, Uganda lost approximately 900,000 hectares of forest cover between 2000 and 2020. This loss of forest cover is equivalent to 413 Mt of CO₂ emissions. Uganda has included forestry as a priority sector in its NAP and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) with a commitment to reduce its national GHG emissions by 22% by 2030.
Domestically, Uganda also produces several staple crops, including bananas, maize, tomatoes, onions, moringa, rice, coffee, and cocoa trees. There is a window of opportunity for Ugandan farmers to diversify their crops (and forest crops) to cope with seasonal droughts and minimize crop losses due to climate change. There are clear synergies between promoting crop diversification for domestic consumption that would help promote nutritious, locally sourced foods to the population and tapping into export markets.
Rice is another important staple in Uganda, and it is a cereal that stores well with minimal post-harvest losses. Rice and rice husks also have many other uses and are important for local markets in Uganda. Rice husks can be used for weaving baskets, making pulp for paper production, briquettes for cooking fuels and roofing material for houses. Rice husks are a more accessible household material and save time for women who previously ventured to collect grass and other raw materials for household use.
However, rice is often grown in humid areas which are highly vulnerable to increased climate variability (rising temperatures and seasonal droughts) and, at the same time, contribute to significant greenhouse gas emissions. To adapt rice production in Uganda, companies like Upland Rice Millers have promoted upland rice varieties that are not grown in swamps or wetlands.
Another private sector voice, Sunshine Agro Products Ltd-Uganda is encouraging its +11,000 farmers to plant fruit-bearing moringas. Moringa is not only a highly nutritious fruit that has the potential to contribute to food security, but it also thrives in local climatic conditions. The Moringa tree is fast growing, drought resistant and thrives in sun and heat. It can grow with rainwater but does not require expensive irrigation techniques.
Government organizations, private sector companies, farmers and consumers must work together to ensure vulnerable and food-insecure populations have access to healthy diets while building resilience to the risks and impacts of climate change . Traditional cereals, locally grown fruit trees and timber could very well contribute to the triple win story of adaptation to climate change through crop diversification, providing nutritious and healthy food to the population Uganda and creating a sustainable agrifood system that is both profitable nationally, as well as internationally.
Editor’s note: This story was developed from the interventions made during the joint FIRST-SCALA webinar »Transforming agri-food systems to achieve global climate and nutrition goals: what is the traction of implementation in countries?on March 22, 2022 by Henry Kimra, CEO of Consumer Education Trust; Pamela Anyoti, co-founder of Sunshine Agro Products Ltd-Uganda; Philip Idro, director of the Upland Rice Millers and current president of the Rice Council of Uganda; and Imelda Kanzomba, Senior Agriculture Officer, Gender and Climate Change Focal Point, Government of Uganda.