Sustaining agricultural production through land use management has become a challenge worldwide. There is a tendency to increase food production to meet the food needs of the increasing population without focusing on practices that conserve agricultural resources.
According to the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 report, food systems contribute approximately 80% of biodiversity loss. In Uganda, according to a World Bank report, the cost of unsustainable rate of soil erosion and land degradation is approximately 17% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). One of the approaches towards sustainable food systems that has gained much attention recently is agroecology. This focuses on the application of ecological practices and principles to food systems aimed at conserving biodiversity, resource management, stabilization of yields, strengthening resilience towards the impacts of climate change as well as promoting healthy and diverse food systems.
The Uganda National Agricultural Policy (NAP) is geared towards ensuring sustainable use and management of agricultural resources through promoting and supporting the dissemination of appropriate practices. Agroecology presents one of the pathways to transform food systems and achieve sustainable food production. Along the agricultural value chain, agroecology can promote entrepreneurship and job creation, especially for the youth and women in Uganda. Agroecological entrepreneurship focuses on the production, sales and distribution of inputs such as biopesticides and biofertilizers and food products that are produced agroecologically.
One clear form of agroecology is the practice of organic farming, and according to the National Organic Agriculture Policy (NOAP), Uganda has the highest number of certified organic farmers (210,352) on the African continent. Given the growing need to consume healthy and safe foods that put into consideration sustainability aspects, both locally and internationally, this presents an opportunity for the population to engage in the production, processing and marketing of these products. Sustainability of agricultural production systems is driven by food consumption habits and therefore innovations tailored towards agroecologically produced goods helps to transform the food system.
Agroecology promotes diversification in food systems, therefore, agroecological entrepreneurship initiatives can ensure the supply of diverse foods and also increase the availability of local and nutritious foods in the food chain. Consequently, sustainable local food production and consumption of healthy foods also increases. This contributes to environmental development that is sustainable as well as improvement in food security. Also, diversification of produce increases income for agroecological producers which can be used to invest in production or processing and also diversify their livelihood strategies.
The entrepreneurial initiatives also increase resilience of food systems to market shocks for instance, by creating shorter value chains for agricultural products. Producing and marketing diverse agroecological products reduces financial risks related to price and weather uncertainties.
Agroecological entrepreneurship fosters inclusive value chain development, subsequently contributing to improved livelihoods. The initiatives encourage the integration and participation of vulnerable populations like the women and youth in various agricultural value chains and thus promote empowerment of such marginalised groups, through the generation of employment opportunities in value addition processes. Even so, empowering women strengthens their capacities towards better food security outcomes.
On the other hand, the effort to upscale agroecological businesses has faced some challenges, that have hindered the transition towards sustainable food systems. Such challenges include; inadequate knowledge and skills on business development, limited financial support towards the promotion of agroecology and poor market structures.
Reaping the full benefits of agroecology requires support from the government through several interventions such as infrastructure development. This can include investments in agroecological markets intended to boost participation of both the agroecological entrepreneurs and consumers. Investments in other forms of infrastructure such as information technology, equipment for food processing also fosters participation in such markets. Additionally, promotion of collective marketing through formation of farmer and marketing organizations is necessary to meet the demands of the ever-growing agroecological market.
Furthermore, support in agroecological enterprise development is important for food system transformation. This may be in form of trainings that aim to develop products, trainings in processing, packaging, branding and marketing of agroecological products. Likewise, integrating agroecology in agricultural extension encourages the uptake of the practices and application of the principles, thereby supporting sustainable food systems. Similarly, increasing access to financial services directed towards the promotion of agroecology is a motivation for the population to engage in entrepreneurship.
In conclusion, agroecological entrepreneurship in the food system is important to tap into potential markets and it creates inclusive employment opportunities for women and youth in the agricultural sector. Besides, it builds resilience of food systems to market and weather shocks, thus promoting sustainable food systems.
Featured photos: The Independent and UN-FAO.