Improving Nutrition in Rural Communities through Diversifying Kitchen Gardens.
The world is in the midst of a global nutrition transition with serious health and environmental consequences, such as loss of agrobiodiversity and high carbon and water footprints. Many communities are at risk of hunger and malnutrition as more people abandon indigenous foods with high nutritional content and medicinal properties.
In the Ugandan agricultural sector, the presentation of indigenous foods has been grossly ignored as many communities are increasingly being provided with improved crop varieties from various organisations, institutions, and governments in the name of ensuring food security. Many times, while ensuring food security, nutritional security is overlooked; the foods promoted have lower nutritional content than indigenous foods that are more sustainable, healthier, and delicious.
Indigenous foods are foods that are produced and consumed as traditional diets in various communities; they have the potential to contribute to food and nutrition security as well as economic empowerment because farmers use fewer agricultural inputs to see them to fruition.
Improved crops, on the other hand, necessitate a plethora of resources, including fertilizers and pesticides to support their growth and development in the face of ever-changing climatic conditions. Most of the improved crops have low nutritional content and cannot withstand the changing climatic conditions such as drought and this often leaves farmers without produce to meet the demands of the population. Communities need to embrace diversity since it not only comes with a wide range of benefits for the agricultural sector but also ensures nutritional and medicinal values thereby benefiting both the farmer and the consumer.
Indigenous crops are readily available, they have the ability to withstand changing climatic conditions, and are resistant to some pests and diseases compared to other crops. It should be noted that the agriculture system mainly benefits from the producers of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides among others. It is therefore not shocking that the system has ended up creating perennial dependence on nonorganic agricultural inputs to boost produce. In order to ensure food and nutrition security, there is need to create a dependent free agriculture system. This will guarantee that stakeholders benefit from their produce more.
"Many Karamajongs come to this community to provide temporary labour especially during weeding period however, they never know where to begin. I have been caring for them since 2007, but I am sometimes discouraged by the condition in which I find them. After joining the Abeko Farmer Field School, I realised there were a lot of vegetables that the population could feed on. I then had to expand my kitchen garden in order to provide for the people I look after. The majority of them especially the children arrive malnourished, but there is always a physical change after one month especially. Normally I use manure from the animals and birds at home to feed my gardens and the yield is always good. These people have also become helpful in preparing and managing the kitchen gardens and preparing some of the foods. I always wish they would stay at home, but it seems their way of life requires them to always be on the go."Anato Grace from the Abeko FFS Ogalai subcounty, Amuria district.
Indigenous foods grown using agroecological farming techniques have the potential to improve environmental sustainability. This is because they contribute to agro biodiversity, strengthen crop resilience against climate change due to the lesser resources required to sustain them compared to commercial and improved crops. It is important to protect the environment that favours the growth and development of our indigenous crops. Small-scale farmers need more knowledge on organic farming practices and its importance in ensuring the safety of the agroecosystem.
In order to support the local farmers in embracing these indigenous foods, more knowledge on the production, processing, preservation and marketing opportunities should be availed to the contributors to this niche who are the small-scale farmers. Policymakers should support the production of these foods since they play a big role in strengthening value chains that include poor, rural and female farmers and producers who aspire to bring these nutritious indigenous foods to a wider market. Support for farmers in the certification of indigenous foods and crops is paramount. Indigenous foods should be part of the biggest menus in the world considering their nutritional content.
Lastly, agricultural researchers should support farmers in understanding and appreciating the scientific stance on the nutritional value of indigenous foods, and effective processing and preserving technologies. This is the biggest impediment for farmers that want to upscale their production beyond household and informal markets. This could aid on reducing poverty levels in the communities while improving the nutrition status of these communities in the long run.