The best way to feed the world is to let communities feed themselves
During her visit to the Netherlands, Edie Mukiibi, recently President of Slow Food International, shared her thoughts, crucial to our journey towards creating a good, clean and fair food system.
Edie Mukiibi traveled to the Netherlands at the beginning of June, at the invitation of Slow Food Netherlands. With experience working in 32 African countries, Edie has a clear understanding of the impact of the global food system on local African communities, in a variety of contexts. According to Edie, it is clear that we need to rethink our food systems at all levels. We need to regenerate communities and empower them to claim food sovereignty. Being the 2nd largest agricultural exporter in the world (1), there is an idea in the Netherlands that it has a responsibility to feed the world. Edie Mukiibi’s response to this notion is simple: “The best way to feed the world is to let communities feed themselves. They’re pretty good at it, actually.
Thoughts: How did we get here?
During the visit last June, Edie met with a diverse group of people committed to the transition to a good, clean and fair food system. The different people he met operate at the local, national or even global level; he spoke with local producers, Dutch Slow Food communities, participants of the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) Academy and representatives of various international organizations at the Voedsel Anders conference in Wageningen. The red thread of these meetings: how to advance our food systems*? Edie shared countless situations he has witnessed, in which the devastating effect of the food system on communities across the African continent is very clear. Edie: “The global food system was designed in such a way that it is now cheaper for Ghanaian communities to buy chicken imported from Germany than to raise their own. This is one of the results of subsidized factory farms with overproduction that sell their products on the world market at such low prices that local farmers cannot earn a living and maintain their agricultural activities. Another striking example: EU-funded European trawlers are fishing off the coast of West Africa (1). Large quantities of the small fish they catch are turned into fishmeal, which is then exported to Europe for use in fish farms, threatening the food security of many West African communities that depend on these small fish. .
The current global food system is very complex, and to be able to understand and improve it, we need to think. Edie explains, “In order to make improvements, we first have to think about how we got here. How did we get into the undemocratic mess we call a food system? Many structures of our current global food system were put in place to facilitate colonial trade and resource extraction. Plantation agriculture is a crucial part of this system.
Today’s youth are the future of our food system. Edie shared her vision for the global food system with a group of passionate young people from the SFYN Academy: “The best way to feed the world is to let communities feed themselves. This is particularly relevant for vulnerable communities in the Global South. “The currently dominant approach is to impose top-down models of industrial agriculture on communities in the South, as is the case in many countries in Africa. This approach stems from the deeply condescending idea that these communities are incapable of feeding themselves and should therefore adopt the post-Green Revolution industrial food production mode. Over millennia, people around the world have created food systems in relative balance with their environment. We must let these people claim their food sovereignty. We need to empower communities to feed themselves. This is particularly relevant with regard to pressing issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss; in Edie’s home country of Uganda and many other African countries, highly diversified agroecological farming systems are the norm. Edie: “This way of farming is threatened by large land acquisitions by foreign investors for the cultivation of tea or sugar cane plantations and even woodlots for carbon trading.”
Throughout Edie’s journey along Dutch farmland, towns and seaside, there was a recurring question: “What can we do here, from the Netherlands?” First and foremost, Edie argues that “we need to rethink the relationship between the Global North and the Global South. Initiatives like the partnership between Slow Food Uganda and Slow Food Netherlands are a perfect example of this. These partnerships are based on the sharing of experiences, knowledge and practices, while leaving the implementation of said knowledge and practices to local organizations and communities. “Second,” continues Edie, “we need to challenge our institutions. Whatever investments they make outside your country is also your money. Ask yourself: what are my leaders doing in the rest of the world? Where does my money go in the rest of the world? Challenge your leaders and make your voice heard. A final very practical way to help is simply to support the Slow Food Gardens in Africa project. Since the project began, more than 10,000 gardens have been created in schools across the African continent, empowering communities to move towards food sovereignty.
There is still a lot of work to do. Yet, with Edie Mukiibi as the new president of Slow Food International, surrounded by a strong team of activists from around the world, the movement is stronger and more hopeful than ever. As for Edie, now is the time for Slow Food to step in and reach out. To get in touch with those who are not yet part of our “family”.
*Food systems plural: referring to food systems at different levels (local, regional, national, etc.). Singular food system: referring to the combination of all these food systems that make up the global food system.
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