Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The cost of living is increasingly threatening the livelihoods of many Ugandans whose incomes have remained static, a new report by Twaweza has revealed. The cost of living crisis refers to the fall in ‘real’ disposable incomes resulting from high inflation.
According to the latest report by Twaweza’s Sauti za Wanainchi, market prices for staple foods have risen sharply approaching levels of 2017 when the East Africa region expressed widespread stress.
Millions of Ugandans are now struggling as prices soar, made worse by rising fuel costs. Marie Hilda Nanyanzi, the Senior Program Officer in charge of Sauti za Wananchi quoting data by the World Food Programme, said that market prices for staple food crops have risen sharply and therefore squeezing households.
A kilogram of maize flour in most parts of the country is being retailed at Shillings 2500. Sorghum prices used to be lower in the past but a kilogram of Sorghum now costs Shillings 2500 while a kilo of cassava flour is Shillings 1700.
These prices according to the survey are between 30-50% higher than they were twelve months ago. Nanyanzi says across all these food types, the prices in April were higher than at any time in the past decade, except for 2017 when East Africa, including Uganda, experienced a drought-related food crisis.
“We have seen that in Uganda four out of ten households in May 2020 said that their households had run out of food. The situation slightly got better in December. And then things got worse again in October 2021 with forty-eight percent of Ugandans saying they had run out of food” said Nanyanzi.
The findings show that the 2022 experience is different from 2017 because prices for other commodities have also risen sharply. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, cement prices have risen by 28% while cooking oil prices have risen by 57%.
The price of diesel has risen by 37%, maize flour has risen by 25% and the price of matooke has risen by 24%. Laundry soap increased by 82%. In 2017, food stress was experienced by both producers and consumers whereas in 2022, food producers may benefit slightly from increased food prices. 2022 has seen a number of strikes by teachers and health workers demanding a pay rise.
The impact of the high cost of living is being felt across the income spectrum but Marie Nanyanzi says the poorest are the most affected. “Because the livelihood challenges are real. And at any time when we hear that a specific group has been given a stimulus package or some relief, just know that the rest of the people are going to get upset hence the industrial action by some groups like the teachers,” she said.
President Museveni and finance Minister Matia Kasaijja have refused to intervene, saying the trend is driven by forces beyond Uganda. In April, the government said the headline inflation of 3.7% was moderate compared to other countries in the region.
Food insecurity across the country
The price increases came at a time when Ugandans were already facing food insecurity in large numbers. In the survey, four out of ten households (37%) had members who went for a day without eating in the previous 12 months compared to 23% in December 2020.
“And these experiences of food insecurity are very unequal, as poor households are hit much harder than wealthier ones. In October 2021, 24% of wealthier households and 55% of poorer households went without eating for a day, 37% of wealthier households and 66% of poorer households ran out of food,” says the survey
Makerere University Associate Professor, Julius Kiiza while responding to the findings, said there is a need to investigate why 70% of Ugandans interviewed were worried about their food security.
“And the food insecurity remember we have not unpacked to say is it a heap on your plate or the nutritional quality. And the two are different. So where is the data on nutritional value?” asked Julius Kiiza, a specialist in political economy and development.
In a related development, Kole North MP Opio Samuel Acuti said food insecurity is bound to increase in the country unless the government equally focuses on food production.
“One of the biggest causes of food insecurity is actually cash crop farming. Because what has happened is that they are focused so much on growing cash crops that they forget about the food crops” said Opio.