Edward Mukiibi is the President of the Slow Food Foundation, a grassroots organization that has been mobilizing across 160 different countries since 1989 to ensure that everyone has access to clean, good, fair food.
Similar to how fast fashion has made a detrimental dent in the health of our planet and the people who make the fast-selling garments, our current fast food system is also laden with its own skeletons. An estimated 70% of the world’s freshwater supply is used for agriculture. Modern agriculture tactics- use of GMOs, pesticides, and over-farming have depleted topsoil of nutrients faster than it can be regenerated. All this is happening as the discrepancy between the rich and the food insecure increases. According to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 Report from FAO, “We are actually moving backward in our efforts to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. The number of people affected by hunger globally, in fact, rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million compared to 2020, and the projections are that nearly 670 million people (8% of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030.
So, what’s the solution? Similar to fast fashion, sustainable food systems need to be put into place. That’s the foundation of the slow food movement. It is a planet-first movement that focuses on solutions to regenerate soil, protect biodiversity, champion whole foods for better health, and solutions that combat food insecurity. For more than 30 years the Slow Food Foundation has advocated for sustainable food systems. Ugandanian farmer, and President of the organization, Edward Mukiibi, shares his insight on these systems, how to reduce waste, and the importance of slow food to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“If we want to ensure good, clean, and fair food for all, we must start from biodiversity and invert a production model that is continuing to generate environmental and social disasters and undermine food security both for the present generations and those of the future.”
In your words, what is the slow food movement?
I would not define the Slow Food Movement with “my” words, but with all the projects our international network carries on every day in more than 160 countries. Our global food movement is involved in many activities to protect local biodiversity, such as preserving products that are disappearing, promoting community gardens to ensure food sovereignty to local communities, and organizing regular Earth Markets to give consumers the possibility to buy good, clean, and fresh local food.
Moreover, we are involved in local, national, and international political processes to influence decision-makers on topics related to food, environment, health, and animal welfare, just to mention some of them. Finally, we closely work with children, schools, and families to promote healthy food education.
How did you become a part of the Slow Food organization?
As I am a farmer and an aspiring agronomist committed to my community, I was first invited to attend Terra Madre in 2008, a few kilometers from the capital Kampala. It was on that occasion that I received my first Slow Food membership card, signed by Carlo Petrini. It was a real experience of joy, learning, networking, inspiration, and regeneration that gave me the strength to return home to do more and develop a wider, more effective, and stronger network by joining the movement. Over the years, the commitment has grown and in 2014 I was appointed vice president of Slow Food.
What changed about your attitude towards farm and agriculture?
As an agricultural student, I had the opportunity to work on a hybrid maize seed promotion project in the Kyankwanzi district. The hybrid maize variety was considered drought-resistant, and in early 2007, drought caused losses to farmers who had grown it and allocated large tracts of land to it because it was better planted as a monoculture. When I returned to the community to meet with the farmers, I could sense their disappointment, frustration, and insecurity. This made me think about what production system really works for African communities. I started to think about working with farmers to rebuild a system based on local resources, knowledge, and different traditional farming systems, and not on hybrid seeds and monocultures.
Why is it important for the next generation to engage in local farming, caring for the land, and protecting biodiversity?
The food system today is broken. Hunger and food poverty are affecting millions of young people globally, while at the same time, a lot of young people who make up the next generation, are suffering from food-related health challenges. Now is the right time for us to think about our future and the future of the planet that we are inheriting from our elders but also a planet that we shall hand over to those who will come after us.
The most important thing in this struggle is to fix the food system by getting actively involved in practical and impactful ways and activities at different levels. It doesn’t matter where you are located, age, profession, or expertise, every little action and decision we make regarding our food has a lot to do with our future, our health, and the well-being of the only planet we live on. To overcome the current challenges we have like the climate emergency, poverty, food insecurity, deteriorating public health, and pollution of natural resources, we should:
- Actively engage in activities that protect local food cultures, traditions, and species.
- Choose to eat locally.
- Make good, clean, and fair food available and affordable for everyone.
- Stand up tall and raise our voices against the current system that makes all of us victims to its profit and power-oriented mechanisms.
In your opinion what needs to change in our current food systems to better protect the environment, our food supplies, and our health?
We need to strengthen our relationship with the environment. Our language, our culture, and our heritage are closely dependent on the environment around us. The more we destroy the environment, the more foreign we become within our community and society. And we have to respect our food, every day. It means respecting who produces the food, who sells it, and who eats it. Therefore it has to be grown naturally, without the use of pesticides, respecting nature and the environment.
You orchestrate a lot of youth agriculture programs. Can you share an inspiring story from one of your programs?
One of the youth agriculture programs I have worked on for a long time is the Slow Food Gardens in Africa program. It’s a program that not only supports schools and communities in creating educational biodiverse gardens but also uses the garden to bring out the importance of people growing their own food out of interest and using local resources. This is the real food sovereignty I have always envisioned for my continent. Young people being encouraged to grow their own food out of interest is key to sustaining a healthy food system in Africa. At a young age, I was a victim of a school system that always used farming as a punishment, something that drove so many young people away from farming because it was considered a punishment. To change this, we started to create educational gardens that are changing the image of local food production in the face of young people in schools and communities.
What inspires me is the passion, interest, and joy that school children show while taking care of their crops, cooking them, and eating. The joy they always have teaching their parents the value of biodiversity and showcasing the knowledge they have acquired by sharing experiences with their colleagues. This program has not only cultivated open-air classrooms of fresh food but has also cultivated leaders like me, and many other young Africans in more than 30 countries who drive the good governance debate towards a more resilient and sustainable system.
How can TWF readers become involved in the Slow Food movement?
Slow Food USA is very active with programs, projects, and events and everybody can join becoming a member and an active protagonist in their territory.
How do you minimize food waste in your everyday life?
As a farmer, I have always known what it takes to grow crops and raise animals from the start. I believe that wasting food is a very big sign of a lack of respect for those who invest all the effort and time to produce the food we all desire. On a daily basis, I make sure that I prepare just enough for the family.
On top of that, discussing food waste with schools, children, and youths in my community is always part of my agenda as well as talking to food venders in the local food market where on several occasions I get some groceries and food stuffs that I do not produce on my farm.