While Uganda is considered as the food basket of East Africa, some families are still going hungry, many children are malnourished, and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise.
The World Day of Social Justice celebrated every year is an opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to social justice issues around adequate living. The Day should be drawn to issues of social justice in food, nutrition, health and agriculture in Uganda.
Before Covid-19 reduced incomes and disrupted supply chains, malnutrition, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise due to various factors, including feeding on unhealthy diets, consumption of contaminated food, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change and pests.
As health workers try to control the virus and protect their people’s health, the pandemic has put livelihoods under immense strain and created an environment of food insecurity affecting the mostly vulnerable in society leaving some people to go all day with one or no meal at all.
Research conducted by Integrated Food Security classification in August 2020, indicates that 23 per cent (2.6 million people) are facing high levels of acute food insecurity in Uganda and 40 per cent are in minimal acute food insecurity. These are employing crisis coping strategies due to increasing food consumption gaps and reduced dietary diversity resulting into malnutrition. The rising cases of food insecurity can be greatly attributed to the ignored need for food reserves in the country, which as a result when a crisis hits, the government has no way of ensuring that the citizens are free from hunger and have access to safe, nutritious food.
At the core of social are the key principles of participation, access, equity and fair distribution of opportunities. The Constitution of Uganda creates a legal obligation to establish national food reserves. Doing the social justice act of food reserves construction will save many lives from food insecurity and death.
More to that, unsafe chemical use in food systems is causing morbidity and mortality. The Annual Agricultural Survey 2018 conducted in Uganda indicates that about 21 per cent of farmers used hazardous agrochemicals and research has shown that 38 per cent of the fruits and vegetables on Ugandan market are contaminated with agro-chemicals, which are highly hazardous to human life.
It has also been reported by the World Health Organisations that 33 per cent of annual deaths in Uganda are caused by NCDs, which are majorly as a result of consuming unhealthy foods high in sugar, salt and fat. A report from Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) further indicates that 28 per cent of the food that is being sold and consumed by Ugandans is contaminated with aflatoxins that are highly dangerous to human life.
As a country, we should be worried by these figures and act towards protection, promotion and fulfilment of the right to adequate food for everyone. If the right to adequate food is not realised by individuals or in community with others, other human rights like the right to life, right to health, and right to dignity, among others, will be equally violated. This also causes a burden on the government and the economy in trying to treat cases of malnutrition and other food-related illnesses.
The 1995 Constitution recognises the right to adequate food and other economic, social and cultural rights, and has committed as a matter of directive principle of State policy to ensure food security and nutrition for all. A Food and Nutrition Policy that recognises the right to adequate food was also adopted in 2003 with a leading principle stipulating that a rights-based approach would be adopted in the implementation of food and nutrition programmes.
However, poor nutrition is still a concern and implementation of the human right to adequate food has fallen short of expectation and it is also facing perpetual threats.
Ms Janet Nkasiima is the programme manager, advocacy and partnerships at Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT).