Food rights activist David Kabanda has threatened to take the government to court over its failure to solve the problem of food insecurity. Kabanda, the Executive Director of the NGO Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), said that he is compiling evidence and will soon challenge the issue of continued food contamination in court.
Food security involves having reliable access to a sufficient quantity and quality of affordable nutritious food. Kabanda says that the government has not expressed the will to solve the challenge, even as bodies like the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) have sounded the alarm that people are eating contaminated food with metal and other impurities.
Over 40% of the food, including maize flour and beans, that the body tested was found to be impure, but no audit has been done to establish how widespread the problem is, according to Kabanda.
Kabanda suggests that a law is needed to abolish millers that are not food-grade. He adds that the entire food chain is contaminated and sick, considering the fact that families, regardless of social status, are feeding on things like posho, flour, beans, and groundnuts.
While Kabanda is waging a legal fight against poor-quality food, he says that this is not the only issue being battled. More than 10% of Ugandans still struggle to find adequate food of whatever quality daily with the rising cost of food.
His view resonates with recent data by NGO Twaweza, which found in their recent Sauti za Wananchi, a nationally representative, high-frequency mobile phone panel survey that market prices for staple foods have risen sharply.
According to the report, respondents attributed the high prices to global matters, particularly the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Data shows cooking oil prices had risen by 57%, maize flour by 25%, and matooke by 24%.
When respondents were asked about how much food they had, 62% of the households were worried that they could run out of food, whereas about half, at 48%, had run out of food at some point a month before the Twaweza researchers collected this data.
Although this data is from the previous year, a visit to a household in Namere, on the outskirts of Kampala, reveals that not much has changed, even as the country is recovering from COVID-19. Rhona Kaitesi, a breadwinner of five family members, says her expenditure on food has doubled. On many occasions when she gets food for the day, she is always uncertain about what she will have the next day.
A small boutique owner explains that by August 2021, when the government of Uganda started easing the second COVID-19 lockdown, she would spend at most Shs20,000 on food daily. To maintain the same meals now, she says she would need to spend up to Shs40,000. Experts say her experience is the reality of many average Ugandans.
Brian Sserunjogi, a Research Fellow at the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), explains that the instabilities caused by the pandemic were only short-term, as food availability in the country is largely determined by the vagaries of weather. He says the Russia-Ukraine war only affected a few foods, such as wheat and cooking oil, which are mostly relied on by urban Ugandans and not the rural poor.
He says people in areas like Karamoja have continuously suffered from acute hunger, yet Uganda is a food basket, and often some regions experience acute hunger when others are grappling with food waste. For him, the food insecurity problems in Uganda are way beyond just food availability.
Joel Sebikaali a Member of the Parliamentary Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security says that in December they resolved to start an awareness campaign on food security and saw that the impact of poor feeding is now affecting the rural and urbanites equally. He says that as part of this campaign, legislators visited the most food-insecure regions where they found people living in deplorable conditions that some are resolving to kill themselves to survive the hunger.
According to Sserujongi, such hunger that goes to the extent of killing people should not be happening even in regions like Karamoja since parts of those areas can be made productive if the government invested in modern agriculture.
He says most of the solutions to food insecurity in the country such as offering food aid and free agro-inputs are not sustainable and yet millions of people continue sliding into food stress as the country goes through various crises including climate–change–related challenges.
According to the UN global report on food crises (GRFC) released last week, acute food insecurity in Uganda is affecting 2.5 million people this year. At parliament, Sebikaali says they have tasked the government to come up with a comprehensive plan on how they will curb hunger once and for all but according to Fred Muhumuza, an Economist projects to boost food availability have come over the years but recommendations are never adopted as implementers resort to doing awareness campaigns and designing brochures and Tshirts.
Currently, according to data from the Ministry of Health, only 35% of Ugandans are feeding right. Dr Sarah Ngalombi a Senior Nutritionist in the Ministry says this is concerning as the phenomenon of food insecurity is now evolving from having people living in acute hunger to people relying on poor quality low in nutritional value food. As a result of this, she says they are already seeing almost half of the women in Kampala not to be going into obesity.