KAMPALA, [SHIFTMEDIA] Uganda is open to a ticking time bomb of increasing malnutrition and starvation rates due to the rising food prices and food shortage. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, 518,000 people (over 40 percent of the population) in Karamoja sub-region are facing high levels of food insecurity.
In some regions like Karamoja, local media (Daily Monitor) reported that hundreds of people have starved to death. The government’s response to food crisis has been through food relief packages and the most recent being the allocation of UGX 135 billion Uganda shillings (Parliament) and food such as beans and maize flour.
With this emergency response, many families have been bailed out of hunger, however, a change in strategy is what is needed now. The IPC report states that in Karamoja region alone, about 91,600 and 9,500 pregnant or breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished which is a great threat to human development and a violation of the right to food for everyone.
Urgent Need for Food Reserves
As a sustainable response to starvation and malnutrition, a well-functioning food reserves system is the most efficient and effective strategy that requires government’s urgent attention. Food reserves ensure food safety as regards to storage facilities. Beneficiaries of food relief have been reported to succumb to illnesses and many have ported to have died due to food poisoning.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 38% of food supplied as relief was tested and found to be contaminated according to UNBS. Strategic national food reserves guarantee a timely response to food crisis in any region of the country which encounters the lengthy in government procurement procedures that make it difficult to meet a timely response.
A sustainable food reserve system ensures the availability of market for small scale farmers even in times of bumper harvests. For instance, in 2020, Zambia Food Reserves Agency set itself to procure 1 million metric tons of maize from farmers as a measure of ensuring a reliable supply of food in event of an emergency. This, however, was a different case in Uganda were the price of maize, in 2017/18 dropped from UgSh. 1000 to UgSh. 200 yet agriculture is the back-borne of the country’s economy. A well-established food reserve system would act as a shock absorber to the sharp decline in prices.
On the same note, the establishment and maintenance of strategic national food reserves is aimed at responding to the realization of the human right to food. Every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1945 and The International and Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are all to the effect that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, adequate food and being free from hunger. Uganda committed to Sustainable Development Goals squarely to end hunger and malnutrition. The Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community to which Uganda is a party, implores state parties under article 110 to establish strategic food reserves.
Similarly, Objective XXII(b) (22)(b) of the Constitution of Uganda 1995 is clear on taking appropriate steps to establish national food reserves. The target under the Parish Development model of lifting 39% of Ugandans from the subsistence money economy shall be realised if food and nutrition security is guaranteed through establishing a well-functioning food reserve system.
It is my opinion that establishing strategic national food reserves should be considered urgently if Uganda is to meet the international, regional and national commitments of achieving an adequate standard of living for everyone.
Learning from the previous food crisis, there is also an urgent need to gazette food aid collection centers under the control of the local governments. On top of the above, the government should issue weekly updates on food status in Uganda given the changing climatic and prices.
With the above in consideration, the right to food and the right to feed oneself in dignity will be achieved in Uganda and Karamoja in particular as a sure enabler to the availability, accessibility and adequacy of food. Realizing the right to food will also ensure equal power relations for the present and future generations.
Efforts towards honouring the legal obligation of establishing the national food reserves will reverse the ongoing food crisis in Karamoja region.
The author is a Legal Officer with Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT)