A pathway to hunger-free nation

Maurice Bukeya

What you need to know:

  • Consequently, comprehensive measures are needed to durably rein in the food insecurity problem.  What follows below are measures, which if properly applied could drive us closer to a hunger-free nation.

The severe drought and subsequent famine that beset Karamoja is cause for serious concern. While this region deserves much attention now, the fact that this problem is prevalent nationwide cannot be overlooked, millions across the country face life threatening food shortages.

Low agricultural productivity, the primary source of food insecurity in Uganda, stems from an intricate web of factors which include unsustainable environmental practices, uncontrolled population growth, low-tech farming, inadequate food supply monitoring, and massive labour shortage.

Consequently, comprehensive measures are needed to durably rein in the food insecurity problem.  What follows below are measures, which if properly applied could drive us closer to a hunger-free nation.

Firstly, to reinvigorate agricultural productivity, environmentally safe practices need to be reinforced urgently. The increased frequency of droughts unequivocally points to the reality of climate change, which is overwhelmingly a result of human activity. Such activities as stripping land of its vegetation cover have not only caused shortages of rain but have also led to severe degradation of soil quality, as soil without cover suffers the direct impacts of harsh weather. Combined with the constant tillage of land, the overall effect is soils that are unable to support crop growth.

Now is propitious time for renewal of tree-planting campaigns and policies limiting clearance of vegetation for establishment of urban projects and farms. Burgeoning urban neighbourhoods should be encouraged to plant as many trees within homesteads as possible and shade trees should be planted within farmlands. 

Regulation of population growth is another vital measure to address food insecurity. Uganda’s population is growing at a whopping 3.02 percent rate (UN data), placing it seventh in global population growth rankings. This enormous population growth imposes tremendous constraints on food demand, yet agricultural growth has not paced fast enough to meet this demand. Instead, the large population has directly hindered agricultural growth by causing, among other problems, inheritance-driven land fragmentation and environmental degradation, which have in turn worsened land use efficiency and upset microclimate. Unless population growth is regulated, the nation risks recurring and worsening food shortages. 

Further, Uganda’s reliance on low technology agricultural methods has inevitably facilitated its agriculture decline. Scientific innovation is the only tool we have at our disposal to beat the inevitable agriculture productivity ceilings imposed by nature. Thus, to address technology inadequacies, the country ought to adopt cheap-to-implement but more advanced farming technologies ranging from system-level technologies such as the use of permaculture to the embrace of biotechnologically enhanced foods.

The critical labour shortage in the agricultural sector due to a changing economy and massive rural-urban migration plays an undeniable role in our agriculture woes. Attracting labour back to the agriculture is needed to fill this shortage. For instance, encouraging people, especially in cities to supplement their food supply by growing food in their backyards would dramatically increase the number of people involved in small-scale farming.

Finally, the Covid-19, and now the famine in Karamoja and around the country are evidence that the government is not aptly equipped to deal with food shortage emergencies. The absence of a national food supply monitoring system and emergency food reserves is partly to blame.  The Ministry of Agriculture needs to develop models that can predict fluctuations in food supply at least a couple of years in advance and implement “as-needed” food reserves.

Tackling food insecurity is a demanding but not impossible endeavour. To combat the problem, Uganda needs strategic policies that aim to revivify and protect the environment, regulate population growth, adopt cutting-edge agriculture technology, and implement food monitoring and reserve systems.

Mr Maurice Bukeya is a PhD student at Duke University, NC USA.