From the print edition: Sept/ Oct.2017
The time bomb is ticking; this is not your usual Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda time bomb style. It is due to poor planning, an increasing population that is growing rapidly at 3.5% annually, coupled with a reducing life span, poor farming decisions and a changing climate that has brought about a change in farming seasons not forgetting the influx of refugees in the country.
The funding for the agricultural sector was among the major highlights of this financial year. Uganda’s agricultural sector was allocated just Ugx. 828.5 billion In the FY2017/18, equivalent to 3.8 per cent of the budget envelope. This highlighted a serious policy irony among government officials that repeatedly emphasize its huge contribution to labour force absorption but are reluctant to increase agricultural budget vote. The agricultural sector generally employs 80 per cent of the population in its value chain, but has consistently received less than Ugx. 1 trillion for several years in contrast to the works and transport and education sectors. The works and transport sector was allocated Ugx. 4.5 trillion In the FY 2017/18, representing 21 per cent of the total resource envelope while the education sector received Ugx. 2.5 trillion, equivalent to 11.4 per cent of the budget envelope, government documents indicated.
A modest funding allocation to the agricultural sector raises huge doubts about government’s commitments to revamp the sector after the long dry spell that destroyed many crops and animals, caused starvation and death in some areas and piled pressure on local food prices. This dry spell started around October 2015 and dragged on up to April 2016 with slight rain downpours in between.
After a few months of rain, the farmers who had sown their crops were shocked when the dry spell returned in June 2016 and dragged on up to December.
The intense dry spell also forced wildlife authorities to relocate about 150 kobs from Murchison Falls National Park to Kidepo National Park in 2016 due to substantial depletion of green pasture in the Murchison wildlife corridor, according to rangers at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). These kobs are a source of meat that offers proteins for the locals in this area whose crops were destroyed in the long drought. The hunters had to resort to smaller game like squirrels and wild rabbits which can cope with the drought as they don’t need a lot of water to survive.
On March 13th, 2017, Uganda was ranked amongst the top three refugee hosting nations in the world at the Global Workshop on forced Migration and Refugees management, an event that was held in Copenhagen Denmark. I listened as Hilary Onek the minister for disaster preparedness praised this recognition and stated what the country was planning to do, that is, increasing its refugee base to promote globalization and save livelihoods. Of course globally, this is seen as headway to protecting the lives of immigrants and providing them with shelter. However, in the host country, this strategy has already caused adverse effects and could further damage the livelihoods of the poor, especially those in rural areas.
Over the years, refugee numbers have augmented. At the end of last year, over 1,162,715 immigrants were reportedly registered by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda. This was a 67.5% increase in numbers of refugees in the country from the 694,158 recorded in 2015. By August this year, more than a million Sudanese refugees had entered the country due to the South Sudanese political mayhem. The numbers continue rising with accruing instability in the neighbouring countries. The explosion of refugees to the country from crisis stricken South Sudan does not help the state of affairs leaving over 11 million natives at risk of experiencing food insecurity.
Tens of thousands of people continue to flee South Sudan to Uganda every day, 64% of whom are children under 18, leaving behind them tales of horrific violence. New arrivals are provided with shelter, food, water and an environment where they can live in safety. However, the humanitarian response to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda continues to face significant challenges due to chronic and severe under funding. Currently, just 36% of the US$251 million needed for 2016 has been received. This is creating significant gaps in the response which threatens to compromise the abilities of humanitarian organizations to provide life-saving assistance and basic services.
In August 2016, a new settlement was opened in Bidi Bidi, Yumbe district to accommodate the thousands of new arrivals. In a space of few months, humanitarian organizations had transformed Bidi Bidi from empty bush land in to the largest refugee camp in the world right now. Uganda has maintained open borders to allow refugees to reach safety and, as part of its settlement approach, provides them with land to build new homes and grow crops. They enjoy a range of rights and freedoms that allow them to gain employment, start businesses and make positive economic contributions to their host communities.
Additionally, with the impending Kenyan re-election scheduled for October 2017, we could see the numbers rising especially from populations that are pessimistic about the outcome after the announcement of results. Many speculators believe the violence that occurred in the 2007 election when former Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki could image itself into this re-election. We have already seen signs from this cancelled election in August when violence had started breeding. The Kenyans in fear could displace themselves seeking asylum in neighbouring countries, Uganda inclusive. Thus bolstering the number of refugees in the country.
Ominously, the rising numbers are greatly affecting the rural population - that depends greatly on land as a resource for their livelihoods. A negligible 12% of these refugees are in urban areas while the rest are in rural areas. When these refugees come to the country, the government takes significant chunks of land from the natives to resettle them. This has already happened in Northern Uganda in districts of Adjumani and Moyo. Our generosity to accommodate refugees has greatly reduced the available arable land for subsistence agriculture for the citizens from which most of the rural population depends.
As I walked through Kyangwali in 2005, a small town that inhabits refugees in Hoima District, I noticed the mushrooming land pressure in the area. There were too many people on small pieces of land. One of the original inhabitants reported that they (refugees) kept increasing by the day. In the present day, the numbers in the Northern part of Uganda have more than doubled courtesy of these immigrant movements.
This comes at a time when Uganda has been tackling the effects of prolonged drought. Soroti, Karamoja, Masindi, and other parts of Western Uganda have been hit by persistent drought which will consequently result into famine. With almost more than 10 million Ugandans facing hunger of which 1.6 million are in serious need for food to survive death, Uganda’s food security situation is worrying.
Pressure on Humanitarian Agencies
United Nations World Food Program (WFP) with support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP), provides emergency food assistance to more than 1.3 million refugees and asylum-seekers in northern and southwestern Uganda. FFP’s contributions to WFP, which include both U.S in-kind food and locally and regionally purchased food, help increase food consumption and prevent acute malnutrition among the refugees and asylum-seekers.
FFP also supports approximately 234,000 food-insecure Ugandans in Karamoja through its two development programs with ACDI/VOCA and Mercy Corps. These programs aim to increase access to food, strengthen livelihoods, improve the nutritional status of children and pregnant and lactating women, and reduce the incidence of conflict through a variety of activities which address agriculture, markets and small businesses, infrastructure, maternal and child health, and water, sanitation, and hygiene.
WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have stepped up their efforts to help get on top of the refugee situation. In 2016, Uganda received 1,414,816 units in food assistance from WFP a 60.9% increment from the previous year. Although WFP has intensified its contribution to mitigation of this food insecurity, it can only do as much for the natives but not for the rising pressure from the immigrants. With over a million Sudanese penetrating the pearl, this aid is becoming insignificant as time matures.
In financial terms, it costs the WFP about $13 million per month to feed the refugees who depend on food assistance, a figure which the spokeswoman for WFP East Africa Challiss McDonough says is not being met. Approximately 200,000 of the refugees are receiving the reduced rations. It’s no wonder most of the refugees are thin and malnourished.
Globally, there is a shift in the spend of international aid. Biggest donor countries are focused on addressing catastrophes in their own regions. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is now pushing up the ranks of most active seasons on record, thanks to a frenetic stretch of long-lived, destructive hurricanes since mid-August. 13 named storms, seven hurricanes, and four major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricanes had formed in the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. These numbers were boosted by a stretch of eight named storms, all of which except for Lee became hurricanes, since Aug 6th. This has created a huge financing gap in the humanitarian budget in African countries
To make matters worse, our economic planners and policy administrators are encouraging the numbers. The planning authority of the country developed the National Development Plan which uniquely integrates refugees into the national development planning through the government strategy alias the Settlement Transformation Agenda. This is a sign that the number of immigrants is set to hit a sharp upsurge.
The higher the population and explosion of refugees, the lesser the food availability for disaster preparedness in line with prolonged drought. In a country that does not have food reserves, this catastrophe is set to project profusely. Further with this food shortage, the already high food prices (refer to SB food price index) are set to continue increasing making it even more complicated for the oppressed population to access food, even for survival.
Failed Operation Wealth Creation
In order to revamp agricultural activities, saw the coming up of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) which is operating in 18 zones, namely Acholi, Ankole, Bugisu, Busoga, Kampala, Karamoja, Kigezi, Lango, Madi, Masaka, Mengo, Mubende, Rwenzori, Sebei and West Nile. This initiative was led by General Salim Saleh the Senior Presidential Advisor on Defense and Security. He heads the team of directors at the headquarters in charge of inputs, low cost housing, value addition, pensions among others. They coordinate all activities of the operation such as planning, evaluation, supervision, monitoring and evaluation work with the oversight supervision of the Office of Prime Minister headed by Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda.
The 10th Parliament and its committee’s wrote a report about OWC but it didn’t have many kind words about the initiative. The report clearly stated the OWC as failed initiative, as the delivery is flawed, it is done without information sharing, without local knowledge or input into how they (the locals) want it. The leadership from top decides and gives the seeds and seedlings when they feel like it. Without any concern of the districts and their OWC administration, as they do not have facilities for the deliveries done by the OWC.
A close look into the activities OWC program adds credibility to such skepticism. Research findings show about 36 per cent of coffee seedlings supplied under the Ugx.1 trillion agricultural initiatives during 2015/16 turned out to be of poor quality, representing a loss of Ugx.12 billion, according to data compiled by Ameet Morjaria, an associate professor at the University NorthWestern located in Chicago, USA. The amount lost is equivalent to total funding required to facilitate investigation of 10,000 criminal cases handled by the Uganda Police Force at a unit cost of Ugx. 1.2 million Per case indicated in the Budget framework paper for 2017/18. Reports of poor quality goat breeds supplied to farmers, misallocation of farm inputs across agricultural zones and poor timing of seed distribution activities vis-à-vis weather cycles also made matters worse.
OWC has consistently failed on timing and distributes inputs late. Because of this, people do not pick them especially seedlings and they go to waste. For example, when the Parliamentary Committee undertook the field visit to Agago, Oyam and Nebbi, it was informed that the inputs had been delivered late in September/October and were also planted late. The crops planted could not withstand the long dry spell that run from late November till late March and ended up dying.
The report further highlighted the complaint of some people who said that OWC “dumps” agricultural inputs that are not required by the beneficiaries for example the people of Nakaseke complained that they are given too many mangoes and oranges yet they would prefer food crops like maize and beans instead. OWC uses the top bottom approach. People are not consulted before supplying therefore people are sometimes given what they do need for example people in Kubuku district complained that they were given the variety of mangoes that they not need. The above reasons highlight the failure of this initiative.
The impact of sugarcanes
As the impeding threat of hunger comes closer, farmers in areas like Amuru, Masindi and Jinja are resorting to growing sugarcanes to supply Sugar factories like Kinyara in their out grower’s programs. The locals are attracted by the ready market and forget that they will need food to survive.
In October 2016 the Government acquired 10,000 hectares of land in Lakani in Amuru district to grow sugarcanes. The development of a multi-million-dollar Sugar factory is underway in Atiak Sub County in Amuru district. The Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Betty Amongi said the government was negotiating with local leaders in Acholi region to formalize the acquisition of the said land which will be leased to a private investor to grow sugarcanes. The government promised to compensate people occupying the land, and the land would continue to be treated as a customary land as the Land Act states. However, on August 23, 2017 Amuru village was a no go area for local leaders for two weeks as the police force, led a police commissioner, and closed off the place to allow a group of government surveyors survey land of locals who were willing to offer it for sugarcane plantation.
Amuru has been in the spotlight recently for two un-related land conflicts of Apaa and Lakang. The first case comprises a 40 square kilometer land boundary dispute between neighbouring Adjumani district and Amuru at Apaa village in Amuru North constituency which has claimed thirteen lives so far since 2006 with no resolution in sight. The second conflict involved 10,000 hectares of land wanted by Madvhani Group of Companies for sugar cane plantation in Lakang village in Amuru South constituency. The request was contested in courts of law and has since drawn a lot of resistance from local leaders.
Amuru land is fertile and is heavily populated by locals who rushed to acquire it in 2006 after Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion led by Joseph Kony was defeated. Among the locals have emerged two types of land owners; those willing to offer their land for Madvhani to grow sugarcanes and the second group is those who do not want to lease their land. To injury and insult, Ms. Betty Amongi-Akena, announced that government would use force to survey this land, and many National Resistance Movement operatives and crime preventers were ferried into Lakang village to intimidate those who are not willing to offer their land. The operatives however as if on que started claiming the disputed land for themselves too.
At the start of 2017, Masindi district leaders rose up against the Masindi Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Godfrey Nyakahuma over stopping sugar cane buyers from buying cane from Masindi district. Nyakahuma launched an operation of impounding trucks of all sugar cane buyers who buy sugar cane from Kinyara sugar limited out growers and over five trucks loaded with cane were impounded by police. Nyakahuma said that he was doing this to implement the presidential directive which was issued on 31st/may/2016 while giving out the state of the nation address warning the people involved in cane poaching to stop.
Sugarcane was being hauled from Masindi all the way to sugar mills in Buganda and Busoga. The millers exploiting Kakira, Lugazi and Kinyara factories’ out-grower system were reportedly paying more for sugar cane hauled from Masindi. Local businessmen later secured a court injunction restraining police and other security agencies from impounding their sugarcane trucks thus rendering the RDC’s directive null.
Sugarcane growers later got a boost on as Kinyara Sugar Factory has bowed to pressure from farmers and increased the sugarcane price by Ugx. 27,500 per ton of cane supplied to the factory this financial year. The price was agreed after lengthy negotiations between Kinyara Sugar Limited managers and the board of Masindi Sugarcane Growers Association Limited (MSGAL).
In a small village of Kiswaza, Kiziramfumbi sub county, Hoima District lies one of East Africa’s largest sugar factories under Hoima Sugar Limited (HSL). This factory was established in 2016 with a projected capacity of over 1,500 metric tons daily with a planned investment of over US$42 million. In that 2016 alone, roughly 450 sugarcane out-growers were commissioned. This number is expected to accrue to about 2,000 by the end of 2017. The vision is to grow this number by more than 5,000 people. But is this projection economically sustainable to these out growers and other affected parties?
Sources recently reported that the factory was growing its own sugarcanes within its 8,000- acre estate on top of the sugarcanes they are procuring from out growers. This is an initiative to drive down the prices of sugarcane when out growers supply the factory. Many out growers have cited their issues but most of them have been turned a deaf ear.
With this pressure on sugarcane prices, most if not all out growers might fail to raise enough money to purchase food supplies. Recall, when the factory was established, so many economic benefits had been stated including those derived from selling the produce. The sugarcane price was mouth watering. Most of the locals used all their arable land to plant sugarcane expecting high returns. But with this development, it seems they could be ripped off and this is set to be a double loss. Without arable land, there is no food being grown in the vicinity. Without sufficient food reserves, food prices will soon skyrocket. It will become too expensive for the locals to eat.
To make matters worse, the management of this factory is playing dirty. A while ago, the commission of inquiry summoned top level management of the sugarcane factory, investigating on how it allegedly evicted thousands of locals from areas of Kijayo, Muziranduru village and Buhaguzi County. These actions have forced the locals to live in internally displaced camps breeding adverse impact in the region. In these camps, there is excessive shortage of food. This further stresses the humanitarian agencies. What seemed to be a fruitful opportunity for the locals has turned into one sour nightmare.
The recent discovery of oil in the Albertine region was a reason for joy for many a Ugandan but those in these regions, were ecstatic. Uganda’s oil reserves are expected to yield US$2 billion a year for 30 years, according to the country’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Department. The Bank of Uganda estimates that the country could save up to US$630 million every year on oil imports once production starts. Successful oil exploitation, enhanced through fiscal responsibility, could elevate Uganda to a middle-income country, pulling millions of people out of poverty.
Many have already benefited from the oil in terms of compensation while others are moving to occupy the areas around in anticipation of the economic development that oil will have on the region.
Those that were compensated however have been faced with new challenges that they didn’t anticipate. After being compensated many locals took off with the money to buy new areas for settlement and others tried to invest this new wealth by purchasing commuter motorcycles commonly called boda-boda. The Government didn’t bother to educate these mostly illiterate locals about how to manage this newly acquired wealth and thus a new class of people; the urban poor have cropped up. These are people who were relocated, left their crops behind, and moved on to town to start afresh.
The increasing prices for consumer goods and the fact that many gardens of food crops were lost to oil exploration calls for alarm in these changing seasons. Very soon there will be little or nothing for people to eat and with all the money wasted in unprofitable investments.
The Ugandan education system focuses mainly on theory rather than emphasizing a practical approach to life. This has had an adverse effect in almost all sectors of the country. Uganda has many universities both private and public, and new universities are being opened every year, and they all claim to provide a holistic education, but is this the case? Every year, about 4000 students graduate from universities country wide, but do these students do not have the necessary skills to be absorbed into the economic and employment structure of the country.
Complaints about unemployment in Uganda are on the rise, and this is mainly from the graduates who pay a lot of money at the universities, only to graduate and realize they will not be able to find the jobs matching their qualifications and skills. These graduates have a big ego and find it shameful to engage in manual labor. This has led to a high rate of youth unemployment over the country and thus high dependence, crime, gambling and all the dangers that come with unemployment.
Unemployed graduates have a dream that someday they will acquire money, start a business, and automatically be successful without putting in the hard work. Agriculture and farming in general has been abandoned to the illiterate in rural areas, the elderly and the commercial farmers. Many graduates thus roam the streets in search of desk jobs despite the fact that some of them have parents with large chunks of land in rural areas just waiting for cultivation.
Demand for consumer goods keeps rising daily, and as such so do the prices for these commodities as unemployed graduates prowl the streets in search for jobs. The fact that the people with energy to do farming are just in their parent’s homes sleeping is a recipe for disaster.
SB Food security policy recommendations
If we do not act accordingly, the country will be hit by persistent famine. Already, United Nations forecasted severe famine outbreak in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Uganda too could be part of that statistic if prompt economic policy is not implemented
Currently, the government of Uganda in trying to find a solution for hunger is revolving around providing relief food aid, promoting crop agriculture and alternative livelihoods. The root of the problem however is not being addressed. Places like Karamoja have always had chronic food insecurity which has been attributed to unreliable rainfall, regular droughts, poor soils, inappropriate policy framework and poor governance and despite all this, no lasting solution has been found.
As regards the Sugarcane growing upsurge, the Government needs to set up a policy like the one in Brazil where for every acre of sugarcane planted a farmer has to plant three acres of food crops. This policy ensures that the locals don’t get drawn into commercial agriculture and forget their own livelihoods. The people need to be sensitized about the dangers of sugarcane growing which include soil erosion, soil compaction, tillage, soil salinization, surface sealing and soil acidification among others. Sugarcane has such adverse effects on soil to the extent that soil used for sugarcane growing after a long time cannot be used for other crop growing.
With Uganda, being one of the highest refugee countries and with East Africa’s highest population growth rate with over 3.3% annual change by 2016, one would think there would be ample food reserves. In a report from the Agency for Cooperation and Research in development (ACORD), Kenya and Tanzania have sizable gain reserves to combat food security and CPI inflation. On the other hand, Uganda is reluctant to hold any. Can you believe it? Uganda holds no food reserves. I also couldn’t believe this. A country with the highest growth rate, highest refugee rate, and reluctant border controls. Really? And the reason they give is ridiculous. I hear the food reserves are too expensive and require careful management. The stems from the budget of Uganda that continues to undermine agriculture. In a budget where the military is favoured over agricultural initiative, those are the types of responses you would expect. Prioritizing on food security policies starting from the national budget would be a stepping stone into mitigating these inadequacies. For once, Uganda’s government should make a pro-agricultural budget.
The Government should take up an initiative to provide financial training to locals before huge sums of money are handed out in compensation. Locals should be taught about saving and viable investments so that they don’t spend the money extravagantly after the government compensates them.
At the outset, Uganda’s development policy is not economically driven. We are focused on globalization ignoring the internal outcry of the natives. Uganda is known for being a very hospitable country, but like everything that isn’t controlled, this hospitality will soon lead to disaster. Welcoming refugees is good, but there’s not a single policy to manage them. A refugee can acquire land of any size without being stopped or asked for any verification as long as they have the money. In addition, these refugees after some time settle in and take up jobs the locals would have benefited from. Refugees are a big problem worldwide. For crying out loud the US wants to construct a wall to stop immigrants. Our national development plan already accommodates pro-refugee strategies forgetting the fact that globalization depletes finite resources rampantly. The commission of inquiry is evidence of our internal economic outcry. Too many unresolved land disputes. There is too much pressure on the land yet we are busy welcoming new competitors into the pearl. Enforcing a refugee-quota clause wouldn’t be a bad idea. The national planning authority should not only look at the global perspective but also, the common man’s version. With our country’s limited resources, we could at least cut the immigration numbers and only commission about 1,000,000 crisis stricken refugees for a limited period of time, say five months, until their conflicts are resolved instead of relocating them, facilitating their accommodation and instilling in them the spirit of staying in this country.
We need to take a moment and ask ourselves; if we had a security situation would the Sudanese be as welcoming? Stories have always been circulating about how Ugandans especially businessmen are treated like hell in Juba yet we are here giving them a seat at the high table and straining our resources to accommodate them. Is there any guarantee that once the horrible tales in South Sudan are over these people will be sent back to their country to start afresh?