Working together with local Ugandan residents towards healthier and safer food

Research from Wageningen Economic Research has shown that if you want to improve the nutrition of the people of Kampala, it is best to start by asking them what they eat and how they get their food. This provides solutions to problems in the local food system that residents themselves believe in. Local shops and companies have begun to work with these ideas.

The streets of the Kanyanya parish in Kampala (the capital of Uganda) are teeming with food vendors, who can be found by the side of the road, or in small stalls or shops. Most people buy their food here. Some people also buy their food in supermarkets or restaurants. Much of the fresh food is not healthy because it is either past its best before consumption date or dishes are overcooked, says researcher Vincent Linderhof from Wageningen Economic Research.

Healthier food doesn’t have to be more expensive, but the food system must be organised accordingly.
Vincent Linderhof, Wageningen Economic Research

He has, together with fellow researchers and the local partners from the BoP Innovation Center and the Alliance between Bioversity International and CIAT, been studying the food system in Kanyanya. The question of the research was: How can the nutrition value of residents’ food consumption be improved? The researchers organised workshops in the parish together with local residents and food retailers, such as stall owners and street vendors selling chapatis. During the workshop, participants outlined what kind of food problems existed in the parish. The results of this workshop were discussed in another session with local administrators and NGOs, which consequently confirmed the problems and indicated that similar problems were also occurring in other parts of Kampala.

Food System Approach

Wageningen University & Research is using the Food System Approach to future-proof food systems. Our scientifically proven range of powerful tools and methodologies are being deployed to translate the complex world of food systems into practical and specific action plans for governments, investors, companies, and civil society organisations. WUR’s Food System Approach covers all aspects of the food system. The following objectives are key: sufficient food for everyone, provision of a healthy diet, equitable distribution of costs and revenue, and sustainability and conservation of biodiversity. The NOURICITY project focuses on healthy diets.

Rotten vegetables

“It takes so long for the bulk of the fruit and vegetables to reach the parish that they’re rotten by the time they arrive,” says Linderhof. The flour and water are often contaminated with dirt and dust, which may have come from the charcoal used for cooking, or they contain pesticide residue. On top of that, residents hardly know what safe and healthy food is. “Many residents in Kanyanya are just grateful if they can have one meal a day, and they don’t really pay attention to whether the food is healthy and safe.” Vegetables are often cooked for far too long, which ultimately destroys the vitamins.

Customised solutions

During the workshops, retailers and residents in the parish also talked about what kind of solutions they envisioned. These included urban farming like growing more vegetables in the city itself, and selling vegetables by bicycle, which would allow the vendors to move around the city a lot more quickly. Others mentioned selling biofortified foods, such as sachets of cornmeal that contain added vitamins. The main concern focused on how people can be better educated about food. Suggestions included distributing a flyer, as well as videos with local idols, in which well-known people from the parish talk about healthy food. Street vendors could also be trained to start selling healthier foods.

Promising interventions

During the remainder of the project, WUR researchers will get involved with the implementation of several promising interventions. In one experiment, they will measure the effects on people’s diets. One group of local residents will be surveyed twice: once before the interventions and once after. The survey will be split into two samples: individuals in one sample will undergo an intervention, while participants in the other sample will not. The results will then be compared with dietary trends from the analysis of the biennial household surveys, which are carried out jointly by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank.


The researchers will subsequently set up various partnerships with the parish residents, the local shops, supermarkets, restaurants, administrators, and NGOs, which will ensure the provision of healthier and safer food in the parish. Linderhof: “Healthier food doesn’t have to be more expensive, but the food system must be organised accordingly. The partnerships may be small, especially in the beginning, but they should be backed by a vision that outlines how they can be scaled up and how their impact can be increased.” This is something that we are working on together with the local partners, the BoP Innovation Center and the Alliance between Bioversity International and CIAT.

Validated ideas

‘The great thing about the research that has been conducted in Kanyanya is that our starting point has been the food system as seen through the eyes of consumers,” says Linderhof. “In the past, most research and many of the interventions focused on increasing food production, or food availability,” Linderhof continues. “Rather than looking at just one chain, we’re now looking at the entire diet.” The food that ends up on people’s plates doesn’t come from just one single chain, but from the entire food system. “In addition, we’ll be taking what the people themselves say about their food as our starting point. From there, we’ll look at which channels were used for getting the food to the people and the ways in which these can best be improved. Because the ideas were put forward by the residents themselves, they’re not only validated but they’re ultimately more likely to succeed.”

The great thing about the research that has been conducted in Kanyanya is that our starting point has been the food system as seen through the eyes of consumers.
Vincent Linderhof

The research being conducted by Wageningen Economic Research in Kampala is part of a larger research project – NOURICITY – which has involved similar research being carried out in Cape Town, South Africa and in Accra, Ghana. Part of the study also includes a comparison between the cities.