As the world marks the World Environment Day (WED) today under a Covid-19 infected world, it is evident how our food systems have been the saving grace for many communities.
This pandemic has also shown us the importance nutritious food systems for human well-being. As the theme of the WED stands: ‘Time for Nature’ – biodiverse agro-ecological food systems have been central to life in Buganda Kingdom and other parts of Uganda.
WED comes in the heels of the Global Nutrition Report 2020 that was launched online mid-May by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The importance of having a balanced and nutritious diet emanates from good food sources that come from landscapes with healthy soils and landscapes.
Uganda is blessed with agroclimatic conditions that make the landscape suitable for growing vegetables. Most of these are traditional vegetables that grow mostly during the rainy season and many communities have been dependent on them for hundreds of years.
These traditional vegetables have been credited for high nutritional value providing people with the much needed micronutrients, ascorbic acid and mostly vitamins A and C and dietary fiber. These traditional vegetables grow mostly around forests and wetland systems near cultivated areas.
Scientific findings have shown that Vitamin A, for example, is important for children’s development and as such, should be a part of their diet and that of lactating mothers.
Examples of these traditional vegetables that have formed part of the Luganda culture include Ensugga (Solarium nigrum), Ejjobyo (Gynandropsis gynandra), Ttimba (Colocasia esculenta) to mention but a few. The traditional vegetables have not only been sources of food, but also historically used to source products such as dyes, coffee substitutes, ornamentals and many others.
The Kingdom of Buganda and the rest of the country relies heavily on agroecological and agriculture most of which is subsistence. Covid-19 has also demonstrated how a compromised immunity could prove deadly.
We, as a kingdom, also strongly believe that biodiversity conservation is critical to maintaining ecosystem services that support agriculture. Practiced for hundreds of years, in Buganda, agroecological and traditional practices have left buffer zones or uncultivated sections that are adjacent to a forest or wetland ecosystem.
With this, we have seen increase in bees and other biodiversity necessary for pollination at the same time other wildlife that support pest control.
Buganda calls for recognition that our food systems are dependent mainly on family farms most of which are managed and tilled by women.
As the UN Decade on Family Farming comes into effect - it also coincides with the in-coming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) that calls for the conservation of the agroecological systems that we have. Unfortunately, many ecosystems – forests, wetlands and agroecological zones - have been degraded and as such compromising the very food systems we depend on. This is further compounded by climate change that impacts the most vulnerable, particularly women.
A loss of biodiversity, particularly the traditional vegetables, could not only result in the impairment of ecological, but also cultural functions. Cultural uses of these vegetables are associated to traditional ceremonies and beliefs such as weddings, births and receiving of visitors.
Our kingdom acknowledges the pivotal role women play in agroecological food systems. It also recognises the challenges and burden that climate change places women and children. Unfortunately, biodiversity loss has implications for local livelihoods, especially women whose lives are impacted the most.
Evidence points to effects such as land conversion, droughts, floods, disease have resulted in the loss of some of these traditional vegetables. The recent flooding dynamic around the Lake Victoria demonstrates how the impact of climate change continue to affect vulnerable communities.
As the Sustainable Development Goals clearly stipulate, we cannot afford to “Leave No One Behind”. There are research efforts in Uganda to revive the conservation of traditional food systems particularly vegetables. Covid-19 provides an opportunity of how we should treat nature differently.
Indeed, time for nature – is now.
Nagginda is the Nnabagereka of Buganda.