While some members of parliament who earn over 15 millions monthly casually, shamelessly and rather egoistically beg the President to help offset their individual debt obligations, somewhere within their constituencies, people are grappling with severe hunger which has caused deaths and many are suffering from acute malnutrition.
On 18th June 2013, findings of a wider study titled “The Cost of Hunger in Africa”, conducted by the Uganda government with the support of the UN World Food Programme, African Union Commission, and other partners revealed very disturbing indicators that all is not well as far as food security and a healthy population is concerned.
The cost of this on national development is devastating.
According to the report, an estimate of US$899 million annually which represents over 5% of the national GDP is what Malnutrition alone costs Uganda.
One out of every three children in Uganda is stunted and 82% of the cases of child under-nutrition are never addressed. This translates into an adult population of at least 54% which has suffered from stunting as children with signs of cognitive delays while growing-up. The ramification of this is obvious.
It is also a multi-sectoral challenge. In the educational sector, the report estimates that over 134,000 school year repetitions costing over US$9.5 million are associated with child under-nutrition. The situation is more pathetic when we talk about the school dropouts and those that study on hungry stomachs. In the labour market, it is estimated that it costs the country approximately US$317 through effects of an absent labourforce. In the health sector, malnutrition costs Uganda an estimated US$254 million in treatment of preventable diseases.
But again, we did not need this report to realize just how people are grappling with these life threatening problems. Families of malnourished children and evidently starving adults are noticeable in the outskirts of the mushrooming trading centers and dilapidated slums after losing over 90% of their farm produce or simply failing to meet the skyrocketing food prices.
This year specifically, due to long spells of drought and generally poor yields, harvest has been particularly very poor in most parts of the country. Inevitably, households are facing severe food shortages and are utterly helpless in the face of looming famine.
The real question then is why we find ourselves in such disturbing state despite the magnificent discoveries in agricultural research and development in a country which is blessed with both human and natural resources.
Apart from the changing patterns of weather and soil fertility which has not been pro-agriculture, we have continuously worked against ensuring food security in this country.
In our parliament, very rare will you find a bill or debate about how to comprehensively address food security and malnutrition in the country through empowerment rather than random handouts and food rations.
Only after people start losing lives do we see sporadic interventions of a common pattern in the names of supplementary budgets and summoning of ministers.
We need to get past this and demand that government does it’s part in ensuring food security and a healthy productive population.
Organisations such as Oxfam, ActionAid Uganda, UNFPA-Uganda and many other such like minded organisations continue to work with local communities to encourage food security and a healthy productive population.
It is time for government to deliberately develop systems that encourage private sector to invest in agriculture and more specifically, food crops to tackle the challenges of poor weather and exhausted soils. The drivers of success in an agricultural revolution are many and we need to start implementing them.
We then need to encourage a stable food storage chain by immediately embarking on construction of silos at regional levels to tackle price volatility which has discouraged many farmers and availability of food mostly, cereals.
We can no longer afford to tread this dangerous path of grave social injustice. It’s time to engage in purposed activities aimed at executing an agricultural revolution with full support of top political leadership.
This articles was also published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper of 02/08/2013 and can be viewed HERE