The paradox of hunger and food abundance in Uganda

There is a general consensus that the diversion of food stuffs from direct consumption to other uses – bio-fuels and conversion of grain to meat etc – will cause food prices to rise and stay high in the foreseeable future beyond the means of poor households. There is also an agreement that while trade or barter in food should not be constrained, governments should ensure that their citizens get enough to eat for an active and healthy life first. 

In order to match food demand with supply, governments are urged to support smallholder farmers who are more productive and more efficient than large-scale farmers besides being more labor-intensive.

The Madrid International Conference on Food Security for All (February 2009) concluded that smallholders should be facilitated to increase food productivity to meet the rising demand. Uganda should therefore increase budget allocation to agriculture to 10 percent – with a focus on small-scale farmers – as agreed at the AU Summit in Maputo.

Reports on Uganda’s food situation are paradoxical. On the one hand, Uganda has surplus food to sell to neighboring countries and beyond and to the World Food Program. On the other hand, Uganda is among countries with a large proportion of the population under-nourished.  Thirty percent of Uganda’s total population go to bed hungry, 33 percent are mentally sick in large part because they eat food dominated by non-nutritious cassava, maize and plantains – nutritious fish and beans are exported –, 12 percent of infants are born underweight because their mothers are under-nourished, over 30 percent of children under five are under-nourished and up to 80 percent of children drop out of school largely for lack of school lunch. These are frightening statistics to say the least.

It is important to underscore that brain development takes place during the first three years of human life. Therefore this is the time when child nutrition should be at its best. But this is not happening in Uganda. If this trend continues, Uganda will lag behind in human capital development for the 21st century when knowledge – not muscles or raw materials – will be the key development factor.

So what do we do?

First, government must muster the political will and commitment to ensure that hunger is eradicated from Uganda because we are endowed to do so. Promises to end hunger and developing food and nutrition policies and strategies while necessary are not sufficient. Real and genuine implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these strategies must take place – and soon.

Second, our leaders must decide and implement the decision that Uganda’s food must feed Uganda’s people first – in line with the right to food.

Third, when World Food Program purchases food from Uganda’s surplus farmers, it must ensure and monitor together with national and local authorities that these farmers are left with enough for their family needs.

Fourth, when WFP purchases food from surplus regions of Uganda it should ensure that some of it goes to school feeding programs in the same regions as recommended by NEPAD.

Fifth, when WFP purchases food from surplus regions, it must ensure that it goes to deficit regions of Uganda. The surplus over school feeding and over deficit regions can then be shipped outside Uganda.

Sixth, school feeding in all parts of Uganda should be a government policy to reduce school drop out especially of girls – who then delay early marriage and reduce the number of children – and improve student performance. There is overwhelming evidence in developed and developing countries that school lunches improve attendance and performance. This is also the case in Uganda schools where school lunches are provided.

Seventh, meeting school lunches can be done through parent contribution – those who can afford – and donor support such as WFP, UNICEF, UNDP and World Bank. Parents who are unable to contribute food or cash can contribute labor. Local communities and NGOs such as churches could play a significant role in this worthwhile endeavor.

Eighth, government intervention to create jobs through public works and development of skills for self-employment or work in the private sector would improve the incomes of many Ugandans to access enough food and end hunger in the Pearl of Africa.

Ninth, land tenure system should be designed to enable smallholder farmers to contribute to food production.

Tenth, these are not easy matters, but with sufficient political will and commitment they can be solved.