top of page
  • Andrew Adem

Ensuring Food Safety: Tackling Chemical Contamination with Agroecological Approaches in Commemoration of World Food Safety Day

World Food Safety Day, celebrated annually on June 7th, serves as a critical reminder of the importance of food safety in ensuring the health and well-being of populations worldwide. This year, as we reflect on the theme that underlines the importance of being prepared for food safety incidents, no matter how mild or severe they can be, we turn our attention to Uganda’s agriculture sector—a cornerstone of the country's economy and food security. With a focus on reducing chemical contamination, this article explores how agro-ecological approaches can enhance food safety and sustainability in Uganda.

A report by the Ministry of Health in 2023 revealed that the country registers about 1.3 million cases of food-borne illnesses annually, accounting for 14% of all cases treated in most health facilities. The availability and accessibility of safe food in Uganda are still issues. Preventive practices at every stage of food-related operations, including production, receiving, storing, processing, handling, and preparation, significantly contribute to this issue. In this article, we will focus on chemical hazards in food safety, which refers to any foreign material that is chemical in nature and causes health problems when ingested or inhaled. Customers can ingest chemical hazards that contaminate foods, leading to severe reactions like food poisoning.

Uganda's agriculture sector is the backbone of its economy, employing approximately 70% of the population and contributing significantly to the nation's GDP. However, the widespread use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers poses serious risks to food safety and public health. Chemical residues in food can lead to acute and chronic health issues, including cancer, hormone disruption, and neurological problems.

Some examples of dangerous chemicals include DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which is banned in many countries due to its persistence in the environment and potential to cause cancer. Some regions of Uganda continue to use DDT for agricultural purposes. Its residues can remain in the soil and water for years, entering the food chain and posing health risks to humans and wildlife. Researchers have linked the widely used herbicide glyphosate to cancer and other health issues. Its pervasive use in crop production can lead to contamination of food products, soil, and water sources. Atrazine, which is known to disrupt endocrine function and has been associated with reproductive issues, can affect both surface water and groundwater, impacting human health and aquatic ecosystems.

Despite the many hindrances to the dangers of chemicals in the agriculture sector, there are still many challenges related to the use of some chemicals. Many farmers lack adequate training on the safe and effective use of agricultural chemicals. This often results in overuse or misuse, increasing the risk of chemical residues in food. The regulatory framework for monitoring and controlling chemical usage in Uganda is often insufficient. Weak enforcement of safety standards means that hazardous chemicals can easily enter the food supply. Chemical run-off from farms can contaminate water bodies, harming aquatic life and reducing the quality of water resources. Soil degradation due to chemical overuse can lead to decreased agricultural productivity over time.

All hope isn’t lost. Despite the widespread advertising and promotion of chemicals by certain entities, various organisations are striving to find the most effective solution to mitigate this issue. Agroecology offers a viable and sustainable alternative to conventional chemical-intensive farming. This holistic approach integrates ecological principles into agricultural practices, promoting biodiversity, enhancing soil health, and reducing reliance on synthetic inputs. By adopting agroecological methods, Ugandan farmers can improve food safety while also protecting the environment and enhancing their resilience to climate change.

Some of the key approaches that are promoted by agroecology actors include integrated pest management (IPM), which involves using a combination of biological, cultural, and mechanical control methods to manage pests and diseases. For instance, introducing natural predators such as ladybirds to control aphid populations can reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Another practice is crop diversification, which involves growing a variety of crops, such as maize and legumes, which can help break pest cycles and improve soil fertility. This practice reduces the need for chemical inputs and increases the resilience of farming systems. Furthermore, organic farming avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, relying instead on natural substances and processes. This approach not only ensures the safety of food but also enhances soil health and biodiversity. For example, using compost and manure instead of chemical fertilisers enriches the soil naturally. Organic farming includes other practices, such as composting, mulching, and crop rotation, that improve soil fertility and structure, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Healthy soils are the foundation of safe and sustainable food production.

Different actors are also promoting agroforestry; this is not the one that is currently highly promoted on the carbon credit agenda. Agroforestry, which involves integrating trees and shrubs into agricultural landscapes, provides numerous benefits, including improved soil structure, enhanced water retention, and natural pest control. Trees can also act as windbreaks and provide habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife, thereby reducing the need for chemical inputs.

In our work at ESAFF Uganda, we have innovated several initiatives to demonstrate the effectiveness of agroecological approaches in enhancing food safety. Our initiatives, like the Community Agroecology Schools (CAS), have helped small-scale farmers reduce chemical use and improve food safety and quality. ESAFF Uganda has also supported organic farming by providing certification services through the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), market access through Kilimomart, and technical and financial support through the Agroecology Business Hub (ABH). These efforts have led to increased adoption of organic practices, benefiting both small-scale farmers and consumers.

To scale up agroecological practices and ensure food safety in Uganda, there is a need to strengthen the regulatory frameworks to enhance regulations and enforcement mechanisms to control the use of chemical inputs and ensure compliance with food safety standards. The government should support small-scale farmer training and education by providing extensive training programmes on agroecological practices and empowering farmers with the knowledge and resources to adopt sustainable farming methods. There is also a need for deliberate action to invest in agroecology research to develop and disseminate agroecological technologies and practices tailored to Uganda’s diverse agro-ecological zones. The government should also facilitate market access for organically produced and agroecologically grown products through certification schemes, subsidies, and public awareness campaigns. And lastly, there is a need to promote meaningful collaboration among government agencies, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, and farmers to create a supportive environment for agroecological transition.

As we commemorate World Food Safety Day, it is crucial to recognise the role of agroecological approaches in addressing the challenge of chemical contamination in Uganda's agriculture sector. By embracing these sustainable practices, Uganda can enhance food safety, protect public health, and ensure a resilient and thriving agricultural system for future generations. The journey towards safer food and a healthier environment begins with a commitment to agroecology—a path that promises sustainability, equity, and nourishment for all.



bottom of page