In an era of shrinking civic space across the globe, avenues for citizens to participate in key decision making are few. Slow Food Uganda, one of the implementing partners of Hivos under the Sustainable Diets for All programme is using a legislative model as an avenue through which citizens can voice pertinent issues around the food system in Buikwe District, Uganda.
Dubbed the ‘food parliament’, sessions are held in an open field or a hall at sub-County level. The topics of discussion are informed by topical issues affecting the community and range from hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and dietary diversity among others. A figurative speaker chairs the session along side a clerk who takes notes.
Both men and women are given an equal opportunity to speak and active participation is notable from both genders. Individual after individual, they rise and speak and for those who raise issues that resonate with the majority, a thunderous applause is given. “Our leaders are only interested in matters that relate to purchase of property such as land but are never involved in campaigns to sensitise commmunities on the importance of eating a balanced diet,” voices Rukia Nassazi, a participant at a session I attended that was deliberating on the roles local leaders should play to improve household nutrition. Once community members have exhausted their concerns the leaders are given an opportunity to respond. Some accept that they have fallen short of their responsibilities while others defend their failures.
The highlight of the session is the suggestions and proposals made by both the leaders and community members of the actions they all need to undertake to change their own situation. At this particular forum, citizens committed to changing practices that perpetuate stunting and diet related illnesses in their homes while the leaders, (although initially unknown to them as one of their responsibilities) committed to undertaking campaigns to solve the nutrition and food security challenge including diet related illnesses .
Typical to the food parliament is a commitee comprised of community members responsible for pushing the agenda as agreed and following up on all commitments made including reporting on progress the next time the parliament assembles to discuss food! It is evident from the enthusiasm by the community members to go on and on with the discussions that they appreciate the space made available to be heard and to know their opinion matters.
Hivos is implementing the Sustainable Diets for All programme in Uganda in partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The programme works to influence policy and practices of markets, government actors and international institutions through citizen action for the promotion of sustainable diets for all. Slow Food is one of the two partners Hivos has collaborated with in its work in Uganda.