The Key for the Future: A Revolution for Food Security, Building on Agroecological Farming Systems

Between October 6-8, Slow Food is taking part in Mediterraneo Slow in Taranto, Italy, an event that celebrates the uniqueness of Mediterranean culture and cuisine. Slow Food President Edward Mukiibi is visiting Taranto for the Slow Food International Council, which gathers 47 leaders from 27 countries. Below are his reflections, shared at the opening conference of Mediterraneo Slow.

Over the next three days, we will be working to define the key points of our movement’s strategy for the coming year – and I am very happy to be able to do this here in Taranto, a city that is a symbol of environmental and cultural regeneration in the heart of the Mediterranean, and a place that has borne witness to a civilization that has left its mark on all humanity.

Looking back is only useful, however, if we can learn from the past to solve today’s problems, and face the challenges of the future.

Today’s problems loom large, in clear view of everyone. The climate crisis now strikes everywhere and with ever greater frequency. According to climatologists, the Mediterranean Sea is paying a particularly heavy price as its waters heat up at an excessively fast rate, causing extreme phenomena. Less visible, but equally impactful, are the consequent upheavals for the fish and organisms that have their habitat there.

Scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change state that industrial global food production is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity, and is the primary driver of biodiversity loss on the planet.

There are 7.9 billion people living on our planet, and 828 million of them worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

Soils are turning infertile, and water sources are drying up. As the IPCC continues to warn us, we need to act now.

The coming years are crucial for the future of our planet. We must heed this final warning and put our solutions into practice by radically changing our food systems. This means adopting practices that empower farmers, that nourish communities, and, most importantly, that respect the planet.

I was born and raised in a village not far from Lake Victoria, in Uganda. I am an agronomist, and my family runs a farm that grows coffee, bananas, pulses and vegetables, a combination of different crops. I am part of a network of farmers who use agroecology. And we recognize that this is the solution.

Many people think African agriculture, the traditional systems, are backward and primitive, but these are the systems that are feeding people in Africa.  And not only that. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, small family farms produce 80% of all food worldwide.

We all need food that nourishes us. But we can only continue to produce it if the ecosystems of the soil and the seas are healthy. Slow Food understands that the only way to overturn the injustice of a food system based on the plundering of natural resources is by transitioning to agroecology. This approach puts farmers front and center by drawing on their knowledge, and their relationships with nature and their surrounding communities.

This set of agricultural practices also represents a vision, a science that focuses on the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystems, and the needs of communities. This is our model to ensure long-term food security for everyone on this planet.

What we grow, how we grow it, and how we eat it has an enormous impact on public health and the health of the planet.

In an era plagued by malnutrition, it is crucial that we remember the complex relationships between soils, oceans, plants, animals and humankind. Agroecology takes all these elements together, combining a holistic view with the specificity of different ecosystems. It is respectful, resourceful agriculture; it is the agriculture of the future.

From left, Edward Mukiibi (Slow Food President), Barbara Nappini (Slow Food Italy President) and Marcello Longo (Slow Food Puglia President)

Building on the complex, biodiverse, agroecological farming systems practiced in Africa is the key to food security, better livelihoods and being able to tackle climate change.

As a farmer in Uganda, I have seen first hand how the intensive sugar industry has destroyed forests and oil palm plantations, polluted lakes and islands, and undone the work of local communities that have sought to regenerate the environment. Where communities depend on animal husbandry, prolonged drought causes the destruction of pastures and fires. This creates conflicts between the various pastoral communities, the consequences of which are catastrophic.

The effects are especially evident where the environment has been exposed to intensive cultivation, which makes the soil more fragile and therefore the risk of famine higher.

Land grabbing is another calamity affecting African farmers. Foreign investments promise governments more employment opportunities and increased GDP, but the outturn is often the destruction of the environment and rural communities. These foreign investments in large-scale monoculture farms are leading to the direct loss of land for rural communities.

But ending hunger requires much more than pulling more food from the ground; it involves taking on the entrenched hierarchies of power.

Over the last decade, food production has generally outstripped demand—there is more food per person than there ever was.

But because of global and regional inequalities, levels of hunger are higher now than they were in 2010.

More food has accompanied more hunger. And so people are deprived not because food is scarce, but because they lack the power to access it.

In this scenario, migration is often a forced choice for many young Africans, who have no other prospects for survival.

And I feel compelled to say here—in this city in the extreme south of Italy—that the Mediterranean, this sea that unites and at the same time separates Europe from Africa, cannot continue to be a graveyard of African youth. My continent has the resources to feed itself, but the perspective must be changed.

A revolution on this scale can only happen by completely transforming the food system. It requires the dismantling of the current industrial model and its worldwide replacement with community-led production.

Over the course of the coming days, in this beautiful and ancient city of yours, Slow Food councilors will discuss how our movement can implement the most effective strategies and projects to defend agrifood biodiversity, educate and inspire citizens, and influence policymakers and institutions at all levels.

Taranto has an emblematic history. It has been a victim of an unsustainable and corrupt industrial system. But it is following a new path, embracing projects that restore the environment and create new, more sustainable perspectives. We are sure that being here will be a source of inspiration for us.

Mediterraneo Slow in Taranto – Organized by the Municipality of Taranto in collaboration with Slow Food Italy and Slow Food Puglia, Mediterraneo Slow 2023 marks the first edition of an event that celebrates and unites a great diversity of countries and cultures. It brings together producers, chefs and others from the Apulian coast, as well as a number of participants from the rest of Southern Italy and abroad. Its aim is simple: to become cultural and culinary event of reference for the Mediterranean community.
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