Dr Amos Kasibante asked me to write an article on “Why do many Ugandans go hungry?” Since I am one of the many who go hungry in Uganda, I readily accepted to write the article. It is painful when you are a senior citizen retired from public service to go hungry. But when you advance in age and you are unable to feed yourself because you cannot work in the garden, and you have not been paid all your pension so that you can buy adequate food when you need it, the temptation to write such an article is high. Let me, however, change Amos Kasibante’s suggested topic to “Why are Ugandans Food Insecure and Hungry?”.
A topic like this demands having a closer look at the history of the country in agricultural production and poverty. The country was once the food basket of East Africa. It still exports food especially to Kenya. But those days it was agriculture that fueled its economy and erased the need for massive foreign aid infusions, to sustain the economy. Most Ugandans did not suffer hunger and poverty was not a serious problem. People could feed themselves by growing food or buying food because they had enough money to buy the food. Those that did not have the capacity to grow food or buy food were fed by their families and benefited from the extended family system, which was integrated and very strong and secure within secure communities.
Today, however, especially since 1986, families, extended family systems and communities have been made weak and insecure through government policies and political strategies of individualisation of society and divide and rule to maximise political and monetary capital of the rulers at the centre while disintegrating the social, ethical and moral fabrics and capital of people and communities, have led to more poverty and lower agricultural production and more hunger, in the rural areas.
Individualisation of society is being pursued through political schemes being cast as “eradication of poverty”.
The schemes include: Entandikwa, Operation Wealth Creation, Emyooga, and Parish Model of growth. The schemes are based on cash bonanza’s to select partisan individuals picked from communities and touted as the foci of development. Unfortunately, they have compounded the poverty and falling food production situation in the country. No financial capital is invested in the vast majority of farmers in the communities. And the finacial capital invested in individuals has ended up embezzled by the beneficiaries many of whom have claimed that a big portion of what they get is shared between them and the government officials.
So, no real value has been added to the food production capacity of the communities by the money bonanzas. Even the enormous financial capital channeled through the Operation Wealth Creation – the brainchild of the President of Uganda – has had minimal impact on the fight against poverty and hunger because little of its financial outlay reaches the bottom of society. Its money, like in all other cases, and even its cows and goats from Western Uganda, have not transformed Uganda significantly. The country remains a low income one. Although the poverty rate was 41.6% in 2019 down from 60% in 1990s, recent reports indicate it has risen by over 20% over the last 2 years due to Covid 19. None of the huge Covid 19 funds were invested in agriculture to boost production. This means more hunger as farmers have no money to buy food or even seeds.
The GDP per capital in 2017 was just US$ 606, much less than $1574, which is the average for Africa South of Sahara. If Uganda was hit by a sustained hunger wave, it would not have the financial capacity to buy food to feed the people. This also challenges the belief that the longer a political regime stays in power the better off is the country or a people. It is true Uganda has 6.5 billion barrels of oil, but the President calls this his oil, and he has not made the oil agreements public. Therefore, it is unlikely a resource, which is not a public good can be relied on to help alleviate poverty and erase the continuous poverty and hunger situation in the country. In Nigeria massive corruption and individualisation of the oil resource since the late 1950s has denied the people and communities an escape pathway from poverty and hunger. Besides, it is responsible for 1000 oil related deaths every year in conflicts between the people on the one hand and government and Shell on the other. Where oil is mined and refined, agricultural production is occluded and poverty and hunger consumate the people and communities. Meanwhile the people and communities are displaced from their land. This is likely to happen in the Bunyoro oil region.
The introduction of terminal seeds (genetically modified seeds), which farmers are compelled to cultivate in place of their time-tested eco-culturelly acceptable seeds, have disorganised food production and, therefore, rendered communities unproductive, poorer and more hungry. Terminal seeds cannot be cultivated twice or reproduced on the farm seasonally. The seeds have to be bought from the shops, but people have no money to buy the seeds. Besides they have to buy herbicides to fight the pests that are common on GMOs. They don’t have that money. Even if they abandon growing the imposed seeds, by the time they remove the crops the soil has deteriorated in fertility. They have no money to buy fertilizers. So they are trapped in a vicious circle of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation.
Environmental degradation has meant disorientation of the seasons and also climate change. Farmers are confused as to when to plant. The result is the unreliable food production, poverty and hunger. Even then, they have been told every crop is a cash crop. Because of biting poverty, they tend to sell most of their food crop harvest, leaving little for themselves and families to eat. Hunger is the constant threat.
Lack of à clear fisheries and agricultural policy, and the tendency to follow a “Let Nature Take its Own Course” approach to agriculture, have ensured that poverty and hunger do not go away. As if by design, Agricultural Extension Services were collapsed. Farmers receive no guidance from agricultural experts in the field Quacks have taken over. Operation Wealth Creation, run by military men, has assumed the role of agricultural extension services. The same is true for Fisheries. Agricultural ànd Fisheries experts have been rendered secondary to the soldiers. This cannot be the pathway to sustainable agricultural and fisheries production and to containing poverty and hunger. Even if Chinese come, the marginalisation of our farmers and their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) will continue to be eroded.
The issue of food storage to cover periods when food harvests are low, is no longer taken seriously at the centre and at the periphery. Every county, Subcounty , Parish, village and family should have a good storage facility, as should every urban and pri-urban area. Government should reinstate the food storage facility in Jinja. Otherwise, as the environment continues to deteriorate and climate change hits us more, hunger will get worse.
Last but not least, the cancer of land grabbing – some official, other individual – is worsening the poverty and hunger situation in Uganda. Grasses – Sugarcane and Oil Palm – are being planted on land previously used for food production. Sometimes forests, which briñg rain, are cut for sugarcane and oil palm and also for Eucalyptus and Cypress tree plantations. They are all good at displacing people and turning them into refugees not engaged in any production. Also the increasing number of crossborder refugees from neighbouring counties and as far as Ethiopia, Somali and Eritrea, is claiming a lot of lànd previously used for food production.
Therefore , poverty and hunger seem to be made in Uganda these days. The mindset of leaders needs to change for effective assault on poverty and hunger to be achieved. Change of mindset must be in the direction of accepting that poverty and hunger can best be fought from the bottom of society, not from the top as has been the case for over three decades.
I hope you now know why Ugandans are increasingly food insecure and hungry. we need new and different leadership to get out of the quagmire.
For God and My Country.
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