Managing safety of food-chain is a big issue for Uganda’s health

Thursday March 21 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

As we wound up a long day, with my nephew Adrian, a nurse from Texas, he rested himself offering a recollection of his visit to his father’s vast agricultural establishment in the southwest where Adrian was born and was chasing livestock as soon as he could walk.
“I think agriculture has potential in Uganda.” “But the chemicals in the sector are going to kill it, and are already killing so many people.”

I commend my father for growing fresh food for the largest restaurant chain in Uganda without chemicals. The offerings of gonja (sweet plantain) are chemical-free. “When my dad and his partners went into milling flour, they found they had to buy grain from Kenya and start growing their own corn as Uganda’s maize was contaminated with chemical residue from over-application of fertilisers.”

“Uncle, don’t even consider applying synthetic fertilisers”. Workers will think they are a panacea to low yields, a product of poor management, frustration with failing rains (in 2019, rain yields have fallen drastically to levels last seen in 2016 and 2017, which were officially drought years with record temperatures). The farm hands will over-apply them, harming themselves and others in the food chain.

Ugandan farmers are already over applying herbicides dominated by glyphosate, which creates air pockets around plants, especially where application is to tall weeds. Farmers continuously inhale this polluted air. Products like roundup that are banned globally are still on sale in Uganda. Uganda’s pesky insects are another big expenditure with a number of dudu products on sale. Some pesticides rely on smell, which means exhalation of fumes. With global warming, insects are more robust and take longer to die because of the dryer climate.

Put in perspective, Kalangala the rainiest district (220 days of rain in 1989) has now shed about 40 of these days challenging agricultural production, including production of oil palm. Gulu, the other rainiest district with more than 1900mm of rainfall, is recording regularly temperatures upward of 40 Centigrade.

In the short spells of rain (when the rain is not destroying everything), farmers grapple with fighting weeds, pests and diseases. In the harvest season that follows they struggle to offload produce. It is a national security threat that we have failed to moderate the use of chemicals. For farmers contamination runs from application, harvesting and storage as poorer farmers sleep with their produce in their dwellings. Products like maize, shelled groundnuts, coffee are very much at home with human beings.

Five star hotels like the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, in order to pass rigorous inspections, have cut back on buying fresh produce. The level of chemical contamination can cause them serious problems. Our cancer specialists, the gatekeepers to the 20,000 annual deaths from cancer, are still grappling with near epidemic rise in all sorts of aggressive cancers. Cancers of the reproductive system are rife. Men are suffering more prostate cancer associated with high sugar diets (beer is a high sugar drink), multiple sexual partners and masturbation (a lifestyle problem).

Women are suffering traditional cancers (breast cancer, which spreads fast due to weakness in early detection, failure to breastfeed), uterine, ovarine, cervical cancer linked to use of contraceptives, sexual habits and for some women, higher fertility rates. In 2005, the fertility rate of the Ankole woman reached a record seven children per woman.

In 2019, the story is slowly shifting to food. In food, we have the most formidable population. Political stability in Uganda, Tanzania, for example, is predicated on stable food supply. Destitute children here are still better nourished than children on welfare in the United States, for example, who are fed on the same toxic food, augmented meats, sweetened beans where corn syrup is added indiscriminately to meat, vegetables and confectionery.
It is important to correct this state of affairs. As things are Dr Obuku’s cancer cenre freshly refurbished, can’t handle this surge of patients.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate. [email protected]