Approximately 80 percent of Uganda’s 31 million inhabitants are involved in agricultural activities for both cash and food production. Uganda is abundantly blessed with fertile soils, ample rainfall and a number of vital natural resources which have helped its economy to remain relatively stable.
Despite this, a majority of Ugandans still cannot afford to have the required food rations of at least two meals a day a situation that causes fear and worry among local leaders as to whether Uganda has the capacity to avert the looming famine threat that has come on board in the recent times.
Last month, media reports indicated that once more, the people of eastern Uganda are crying of famine due to recurrent rain failure leading to prolonged drought that left most crops stunted with no hope of ever registering any harvests at the end of the season.
The outcry is loudest in the districts of Bulambuli, Mbale, Sironko, Iganga, Namutumba, Bugiri, Busia, Tororo and parts of Teso sub-region where Members of Parliament (MPs) there allege seven people have died of famine since May 2011.
Following these media reports, state minister for relief and disaster preparedness Mr. Musa Ecweru rushed in with a donation of food items with at least each of the 400 most affected households in Bulambuli district receiving 10kg to ensure there is continuity for the next few days.
While delivering these food rations, Mr. Ecweru said, “this is the little we can afford as of now, accept it so it pushes you for a while as government plans to provide a solution to emergent calamities of this nature.”
But the real question is can government enforce an appropriate measure to ensure food security and avoid leapfrogging into a famine threat that is looming at the moment as trucks with Kenyan number plates ferry bags of maize across the border barely a month of media reports that people are dying of famine in some parts of the country?
In Nabikhaso village in Bungokho sub-county in Mbale district its harvest season, trucks with Kenyan number plates have camped here and are daily being loaded with bags of maize to the embracement of a few local leaders who think, government would have taken up the initiative to buy this maize for storage as a means of averting the looming famine in case its outbreak impacted heavily on the communities involved in the sale of maize to Kenyan traders.
Mr. Robert Mabonga the area LCI chairperson said that at least five trucks carrying 700 tons of maize each are loaded meaning 3,500 tons of maize cross to Kenya daily and that for the past three weeks the Kenyan traders have camped in the village, they have been able to export 73,500 tons.
“Its harvest time and a kilogram of maize is being sold at Shs. 900 barely a month when a kilogramme went for Shs. 1,500 and Mize flour cost Shs. 2,500 before harvest time. Posho is now costing Shs. 1,800 and we have forgotten the suffering we went through before harvest and we are just selling off the produce like there is no tomorrow,” Mr. Mabonga said.
While addressing Mbale main Market venders at police children primary school recently, state minister for trade Mr. David Wakikona revealed that the government is in advanced stages of constructing silos to ensure food security in times of scarcity.
Mr. Wakikona explained that although the eastern region serves as a food basket to parts of Kenya, South Sudan and DR. Congo, there was need for government to set up measures to avoid excessive sale of food items across borders despite a free market economy Uganda operates.
“We have started building Silos for food security in the country and we are already setting up one in Ambachi in Gulu and another in Kabale municipality after which we intend to build one in Bugisu sub region,” Mr. Wakikona said.
Mr. Wakikona’s revelation is a positive move towards food security in the country but not in a liberalized economy of Uganda’s context where business transactions are determined by forces of demand and supply.
According to Mr. Charles Namansa, manager FINCA bank Mbale branch, the majority of Uganda’s population lives below the poverty line feeding on less than a dollar daily. This means they can only be bailed out from their poverty conditions through the sale of the produce at harvest time.
He says it is difficult to stop these farmers from selling their produce especially that Uganda is operating a free market economy but that putting across a regulation that prohibits them from selling food items to foreign traders without government approval could help control the extent at which the food.
“But despite a free market economy, government should design measures that will ensure food security in order to avert the looming famine threat. If the minister says plans are under way to build silos, then the budget estimates should include a close that caters for money meant to buy food stocks for storage. A strong regulatory system on indiscriminate of food sale can help Uganda avert the looming famine threat,” Mr. Namansa said.
Famine is currently a major concern especially that the inflation rates have more than doubled and the cost of living has gone high. There is fear that if famine broke out country wide, the government will not be in position to protect the population given its failure to handle the rising cost of living that has seen commodity prices hiked.