Covid-19: Returning to our indigenous foods has never been more imperative

Regina Kabasomi

Every crisis presents an opportunity, a wake-up call, a reawakening, or a rebirth. This might come in the form of a social, economic, spiritual or political renewal. This is the Covid-19 reality we live in today.

Every crisis presents an opportunity, a wake-up call, a reawakening, or a rebirth. This might come in the form of a social, economic, spiritual or political renewal. This is the Covid-19 reality we live in today.

With governments across the world seeking new ways of reviving their economies, families seeking ways to stay safe and businesses pursuing ways to keep afloat, the Covid-19 pandemic will provide lessons for every one of us.

So, like a moth to a flame, for the last couple of weeks, my mind has been drawn toward cultivating lessons that will nourish our minds and bodies. It’s an age old tale that good healthy food fixes everything.

And as the world grapples with finding answers to the Covid-19 pandemic, this crisis has illuminated more than ever before the centrality of good nutritious diets toward fighting diseases.

In a bid to fend off the full brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda joined global attempts to contain the situation through establishing national quarantine measures and other commendable actions.

Amid these efforts, food and quarantine have been synonymous as more and more preventative measures have been directed toward boosting individual immunity through eating healthy nutritious foods.

For instance, there were calls for people to eat more foods rich in vitamins, especially Vitamin C, to boost their immunity against the coronavirus infection. Slowly but surely, there are undercurrents of a shift in consumption patterns from highly processed foods, high in fats, sugars and salt to more ‘earthy foods’ (fruits, vegetables) as the lockdown keeps many to eat within their means.

Contextually, over the years, the global debate on food security has veered toward sustainable food systems, where ‘indigenous food systems’ have gained international recognition.

Like many African countries, Uganda is famous around the world for its wealth of indigenous and local nutritious foods and biological diversity.

However, in the last 100 years, more than 90 per cent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields and half of all locally-varied food production systems are under threat, including related indigenous, traditional and local knowledge. I don’t remember the last time I heard of any one or myself eating foods like entutunu (goose berries), jambula (java plum), starfruit (manu), tamarind, among other rare fruit delicacies only common to Uganda.

Yet a quick search on Google shows enormous food nutrients contained in these foods. This staggering decline in biodiversity has over the years led to a change in food consumption patterns, which has ultimately led to reduced diversity of food on our plates and the homogenisation of diets.

From the malnutrition statistics, rising obesity and other non-communicable diseases in the country, this has evidently taken a negative toll on the nutritional status of vulnerable populations, besides the loss of access to wild biodiversity in times of scarcity.

Nevertheless, amid this crisis, our food diversity as a country could have been an indispensable armour against this predicament. In a more integral manner, diversity in our food systems could provide solutions in terms of sustainability, resilience and nutrition.

In the context of sustainability, the country needs to reflect on a forward-looking approach to address sustainability of our food system. Indigenous food systems are sustainable and produce more nutritious foods than modern intensive farming and Western food systems.

It is imperative, therefore, for properly implemented policies that can ensure access to highly nutritious traditional, indigenous and local foods and reduce incentives for purchasing poor-quality market foods – especially those with high sugar and saturated and trans-fat contents – and other processed foods.

During these unforgiving times, the revival of our indigenous food systems for sustainable diets should be a wake-up call to the country for a healthier population.