Local Governments Ought to Be at The Forefront of Building a Resilient Urban Food System

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By Francis Ntwatwa

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the urban food systems worldwide, to be specific in Uganda affecting the food security and nutrition of urban populations. With up to 70 percent of the food supply destined for urban consumption, the disruption of urban food systems has particularly affected the food distribution and the food retail sectors. The management of the crisis by the local government can therefore play a major role in preventing the spread of the virus and at the same time in mitigating the disruption in the food system.

With the country having at least 10million people living in the urban centers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an eye opener on the food systems in the urban centers especially how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, recovered and wasted and how local food systems complement rural agricultural production. Closely relate is urban planning, which can be either an opportunity to feed cities better or an obstacle to making food systems work sustainably.

The social, economic and environmental sustainability of Food systems and the evolution of urban diets is largely dependent on the management of Food systems in urban areas. Food shortages often associated with panic buying has led to increase in prices. This effect, coupled with losses in employment and disruptions in public food procurement and distribution of food to vulnerable groups, have directly and negatively affected access to food by existing vulnerable groups and have also created new vulnerabilities e.g. unemployed workers, those involved in small and medium enterprises along the food supply chain etc.

Food and Nutrition plays an important role in the human health and social economic development of any country. Uganda still faces numerous under feeding, under nutrition and over nutrition challenges with variation across the rural and urban regions of the country.

Majorly the policy makers have turned their attention to urban infrastructural policy development, ignoring the critical component of Food and nutrition security which has been given little to no attention in the policy frameworks of urban planning and development.

The effects of the COVID-19 on food systems, points to problems in the upstream of food supply chain (Processing, transport, distribution and retail). The restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services and other containment measures such as closing of schools among others affected both food distribution and food availability. The panic buying and hoarding were detected in high income concentrated urban areas of Uganda, and is related to the ability of urban residents in high income areas to buy and store large amounts of food, neglecting and excluding the urban poor, who are the majority.

Furthermore the COVID-19 pandemic revealed significant gaps and critical weakness in urban areas, but also national food systems, as well as their coordination. The current health crisis has by far been turned into a food security crisis in the Country in many part of the region, but more biting in the urban areas.

Going forwards, there is need to develop evidence-based and inclusive policy plans on food systems preparedness, and resilience to shocks. The  National Development Plan needs to clearly point out the preparedness of the Food systems in case of another emergency and pandemic in the country. Local Governments need to clearly map out the most vulnerable in the urban centers along with identifying modalities for reaching these vulnerable groups especially in the period of emergencies.

Furthermore, there is need to promote local food production, and short supply chains, which will lead to greater sufficiency in the urban areas. By promoting local production through urban and peri-urban agriculture, as well as preserving agricultural land in urban and peri-urban areas Governments need to establish and improve traditional markets so as to improve producer-consumer linkages in the market.

In essence, the Local Governments have to play a major role in ensuring that urban food systems are maintained, building their resilience, even throughout the period of emergencies, so that the urban vulnerable people, are not affected by the shocks of any given emergency, so that the population has enough and nutritious food to sustain them through emergencies.