By Enoth Mbeine
You’ve probably been told many times that you should buy locally grown food. You’ve been hearing the campaign “Buy local, buy Ugandan” many times! And, you’ve also probably seen local farmers markets sprout up around your neighborhood or even the local produce being sold in the supermarkets.
Uganda currently is witnessing an unprecedented growth of supermarkets, and this can be partly attributed to the country’s favorable investment climate. Another key factor for this growth is the rise in urbanization and a growing middle-class.
However, these big supermarket chains are marginalizing many of our local farmers by importing food products from outside countries i.e. Europe, South Africa, Kenya among other others. But why should you buy local? What’s the benefit to you, your community and the environment?
Local food tends to taste better. By buying local, you are receiving the freshest possible produce, picked just hours before delivery to your local market or store. Produce that travels long distances is days older. Sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality and flavor. When you buy locally, you know you are buying the freshest possible food for yourself and family.
Local food is more nutritious. Once harvested, produce quickly loses nutrients. Since local produce is sold right after it’s picked, it retains more nutrients. A good example is of the fresh fruits and vegetables which have a high nutritious level when still fresh.
Many of the local foods preserve genetic diversity. Large commercial farms that tend to export food, grow a relatively small number of hybrid foods e.g. fruits and vegetables because they can tolerate the rigors of harvesting, packing, shipping and storage.
This leaves little genetic diversity in the food supply. Small holder farms or local farms, on the other hand, grow a huge number of varieties to extend their growing season, provide eye-catching colors and great flavor.
Local food normally uses less packaging material. Buying produce from a farmers market or from a farm itself is a usually less costly process that involves less packaging.
Buying local food helps in supporting our local farmers. By buying locally, the middleman disappears and the farmer gets full retail price, in turn helping farmers continue to farm. Buying the local food also makes a lot of economic sense. When you buy fresh produce at your local market, your food shillings go directly to the pockets of the community. The money stays in the local economy, helping to keep our communities stay vibrant and strong. Keeping the money also in turn means greater job security for everyone as the money circulate among the community.
By buying local food, it helps in building the community around you. By getting to know the farmers who grow your food, you build understanding, trust and a connection to your neighbors & your environment. The weather, the seasons and the science of growing food offer great lessons in nature and agriculture. When you buy from the farm, the visiting of the local farms with your friends and your family brings that education and appreciation.
Local food is in most cases GMO-free. Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could.
Local food in a way also supports the environment and benefits wildlife. Many smallholder farmers in Uganda tend to be good stewards of the land – they respect and value fertile soil and clean water.
And their farms provide the fields, meadows, forests, ponds and buildings that are the habitat for many our beloved and important species of wildlife. In addition, buying local also reduces the use of fossil fuels and in turn helps to protect the environment from harmful exhaust fumes.
So let us go out there and support our local farmers by buying their produce. The government should also come out to put restrictive policies on some market outlets so that they can reduce on the importation of foreign foodstuffs into the country.
The writer is a senior consultant-BDS FIT Uganda Ltd