Farmer’s Diary: Wrong political decisions are leading to famine

Left, a farmer working in a garden. PHOTO BY MICHAEL J. SSALI

There are some people who blame the current food shortage crisis in Somalia solely on the long drought that has apparently hit the entire country. Most press reports also hardly give a different picture of the actual cause of the despicable tragedy - images of emaciated dead animals lying on bare dry ground with no vegetation left, fleeing malnourished communities, and humanitarian organisation staff giving out portions of food to people in utter destitution.

But how many of us actually relate such suffering to the wrong political decisions taken by leaders, usually in times of plenty and political tranquillity? At the time when a country still enjoys relative peace, out of the blue, some people come up with such perverse decisions as tampering with its constitution, or illegally taking over government, resulting in dictatorial regimes that end up causing political conflicts and bloodletting.

Civil unrest and agriculture are never compatible bed fellows. It is difficult to rear animals and to grow crops in times of political conflict. For decades, Somalia has been a hot bed of instability and the drought is just an opportunistic infection in the deadly political cancer that is eating up that country. A politically stable Somalia could have suffered much less from the natural disaster it is facing today.

Until recently, there was very little agricultural production in much of northern Uganda. This was not because the people there were not ready to practice agriculture, or that there was any weather disaster, but because the region was bedeviled by conflict and civil unrest.

For years there was no food production in “Luweero Triangle,” also due to civil unrest. In such situations the farmers cannot access their land to carry out successful farming. And it is all the result of political leaders taking decisions that end up creating instability.
Some of our leaders hold a one-sided view of national security. They think that our lives are at risk only when there is a terrorist threat, or a likelihood of rebel activity or an imagined foreign invasion. They therefore take decisions to shop around for the most sophisticated weapons and to allocate more money to the military and other “security” organs, forgetting that malnutrition and starvation due to food scarcity also cause death to people in their thousands.
To them, a man in military uniform is more important to the country’s security than an agriculture extension service provider or an agriculture research scientist. The agriculture researcher’s budget demands can wait as “we deal with matters of national security by securing the badly needed weapons.”

But isn’t food security also national security? It would be interesting to compare the amount of money so far spent on weapons in the Somali conflict, the amount devoted to agricultural development in that unfortunate country and the amount needed to provide food and other forms of aid to the victims of the yet ongoing conflict.

Press reports abound in this country, including one in the Daily Monitor last Thursday by Daniel Kalinaki, and another by Timothy Kalyegira in an earlier issue of the Sunday Monitor, pointing to the emptying of our national coffers to secure the election wins and the recent purchase of fighter jets as some of the major factors behind the escalating cost of living today.
Yet if such an amount of money had been spent on the purchase of affordable irrigation equipment, organic fertilisers, climate change mitigation measures, improved seeds, fighting new crop diseases and population control programmes, our food worries and other economic hardships would most probably be less severe today.

Unlike teachers, shopkeepers, lawyers, women activists, taxi drivers and Action-for-Change agitators, farmers cannot easily organise a general strike to express their dissatisfaction. But this is not to suggest that all is well for them. In the words of the Roman philosopher, Cicero, “They are silent but they are shouting.”

The farming sector continues to get much less budget allocation than the World Bank recommended 10 per cent. We ignore the sector as if its current poor performance has nothing to do with our current food shortage and other economic woes.
In his McDougall Memorial Lecture in Rome last June, Kofi Annan warned: “Food has become the hidden driver of world politics, with the potential to fuel conflict within countries and also between them. The inability of families to feed themselves has been a major factor in the political instability seen in some regions of the world.” In the same lecture, the former UN boss made mention of an escalating population growth as another factor promoting food insecurity.

Uganda is notorious for having the second or third fastest growing population figures in the whole wide world. If food shortage continues to be the big issue that it is today then we could be headed for serious trouble.

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