Mixing more voices into food policy is important. Policy runs a serious risk of failure when it doesn’t reflect the lives of people it targets. Food policy targets those with most at stake in the food system, from small scale farmers to low income consumers who spend a high proportion of their income on food.
The food systems are changing, driven by urbanization, trade, climate change and shifts in consumption. Most of the times, policies are imposed in ways that do not consider the everyday issues facing low-income citizens ; nor the solutions that the same local communities can suggest. These are the people who are most familiar with what food insecurity looks like in their communities but are still left out of the debate.
Over the last decade, the importance of having a greater diversity of voices being brought into policy and planning are being addressed by building ‘civic labs’ or ‘social change labs’. This is a force for addressing social and public needs in Uganda. The Change Labs, is a social innovation by the partnership of two organizations – Hivos and IIED. The Change Labs are safe social spaces with facilitated interactions between various actors, where innovations emerge and interventions are tested on the ground. Hivos and IIED are convinced that if citizen-driven processes and locally formulated new approaches are being integrated in global food policies, this would radically improve inclusive and sustainable solutions. It explicitly focuses beyond policy, our service outcomes and gear interventions towards less tangible outcomes such as knowledge and skills, network building and increased trust between the actors involved, which ensures that the platform is sustainable and the solutions have strong roots. The Change Lab approach was applied to bring a much greater diversity of voices into a process of building a food system for all, driving local economic development, rural development, food security and ecological health. The Food Change Lab convened a group of diverse actors to explore the issues, review the evidence, and commit to action of the rates of malnutrition. The Lab process has already made an impact, including a move from confrontation to coexistence between local government and informal food vendors. Opening up policy making and planning is not the end of the story as the Lab continues to invest in citizen’s capacity to generate evidence, allowing their voices to shape food systems of the future.
In April 2016 Uganda’s first People’s Summit on Food, opened the process to a wide group of voices from Fort Portal city, Kabarole district and national institutions. Commitments from all stakeholder groups paved the way for a coalition of the willing that will take the process in 2017. The coalition – bringing together individual farmers and small – scale processors, local NGOs, municipal government, elders, SMEs and the Uganda Small Scale Industries Association is pushing ahead with its goal to bring more voices into policy and planning around food safety, food availability, agro processing and balanced diets based on traditional knowledge. The National Planning Authority (city government office in Uganda) Director pledge to integrate the food system as a cross cutting issue in their planning system, and urged the Change Labs to continue their work and be a leading example for other regions.
Hopefully innovations like the Change Lab will raise awareness of why it is important to mix more voices into food policy and will be considered worldwide.