Author: Bwambale Bernard
The Toro Region where the Fort Portal Food System Lab operates has the highest rates of stunting (40.6%) in Uganda. The statistics present a big contradiction because the same region is considered a food basket, exporting food to the neighbouring cities and countries. The increased malnutrition rates have been attributed to people’s overconsumption of monotonous diets, consisting primarily of bananas as a leading staple food.
This Food System Lab also serves the newly gazetted Fort Portal Tourism City in which many of the city dwellers depend on informal food markets on the street for their food needs. Young people, travellers and many other people in the informal sector find street food affordable and indulging.
The main goal of our Food System Lab is to influence sustainable, resilient and equitable production and consumption of diverse, nutritious and safe food for all. We employ the Coalition of the willing approach to reach out to community members with sensitization messages on nutritional behavioural change in order to increase the understanding about better functioning food systems leading to better nutritional outcomes.
Our Food System Lab intends to contribute to the reduction of stunting by influencing communities to produce, access and consume diverse, nutritious and safe food. We also intend to influence local policy development and implementation revolving on food and nutrition security and safety for all.
The Fort Portal Food System Lab vision is to have a sustainable, resilient and equitable production and consumption of diverse, nutritious and safe indigenous food for all.
In 10 years, each individual in a household will have access to diverse, nutritious and safe food either through household domestic production or from the local market at an affordable cost.
Driving change with local food system actors
For realization and sustainability of the Fort Portal Food System Lab vision, we have brought on board local actors in the food system. These actors include the local government, Coalition of the Willing, food ambassadors, farmers, small scale food processors, street food vendors, formal chefs, academia, researchers, media, artists and civil society organisations.
The Coalition of the Willing is a consumer advocacy group that promotes consumption of safe, nutritious indigenous food. It is comprised of farmers, artists, food processors, food vendors, chefs, nutritionists and local and opinion leaders. Food ambassadors are influential leaders who promote healthy diets for all in their respective constituencies.
We have ensured that the actors are engaged in operational groups such as the Coalition of the Willing, Orugali groups (a Toro tradition in which families sit together around a meal served on a flat traditional tray known as Orugali), vendors association, chef alliance, artists’ hub and journalist associations to have a bigger influencing voice.
We have engaged the actors in the food systems workshops to discuss the challenges in the Fort Portal City food system and generate ideas on its improvement. We have also engaged them in participatory research through food diaries to understand food diversity at household level. In the previous phases of the food lab, local food actors were involved in experiential learning of the different food recipes. The actors played a leading role in influencing changes in the Kabarole production and environment ordinance to address issues of food and nutrition security. KRC again collaborated with the food system actors in the development of the District and Sub County Nutrition Action Plans 2020-2025 and is now following up on its implementation.
Innovations in the pipeline
In Fort Portal Food System Lab we intend to establish a multiplication farm for indigenous crops to provide indigenous seeds to farmers.
We also plan to advocate for safe food vending spaces to ensure food safety and, in the same regard, innovate biodegradable packaging materials made of locally available materials for the foods sold on streets other than the synthetic plastic bags that are currently and commonly used.