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Two faces of hunger

By Rukiya Makuma

Ignoring the urban poor who take water for lunch

Clad in a dark blue blazer and grey trousers, Ali Kayombo of Kataka Parish in Kibuku District of eastern Uganda may appear like those lazy youths one expects not to transform their livelihood unless a miracle happened or they won a lottery.

But while most of his age mates struggled to make it to Kampala to secure petty jobs like riding bodaboda bicycle taxis and others resignedly loafed around the village, he believed his future success would come from a different path; agriculture.

He started as a casual laborer doing all sorts of petty jobs to earn a living. Mornings always found him on people’s farms, while afternoons found him engaged elsewhere.

“I used to transport produce for the rich and I would earn between Shs 300 to Shs 500. Sometimes I would not even be paid,” he says. Though he knew it would take him a long time to achieve his dream, he never gave up.

He told the story of his transformation with fervor during a training of Mwanyangiri village farmers in Mukono by the best Poverty Alleviation (PAD) field officers in Uganda. Kayombo was one of the trainers.

He is very hardworking man and when Poverty Alleviation Department (PAD) was initiated in his village four years ago, he embraced it with both hands and has never looked back. Though he is not the richest man in the area, he considers himself rich, today he is given audience when he gets up to stand or say anything concerning farming. With PAD he has been able to own a home, a farm and cattle to boost of. He is one of the most recognised farmers in the village, and a field officer of PAD from Kataka Model Parish in Kibuuku district. He is also in charge of training farmers in the district.

A few kilometers from where Kayombo told his story in Kampala, Agnes was busy at her work at a public relations company. She earns Shs 300,000 a month and is supposed to pay rent, transport and other necessities on that very money. Her office is located in the posh Nakasero Road area where the cheapest plate of food goes for Shs 5,000. If she ate it, she would fork out over Shs 120,000 per month on lunch alone. She opts to forgo lunch.

In the same neighbourhood, Maria Nabuuma was busy at her work in a consultancy firm in the upscale Kololo area of the city. She recalled how, during her first days at work, her office colleagues would dash out for lunch leaving her acting busy in the office. She could barely afford the food. She started packing lunch but later abandoned the idea because it was hectic waking up early to prepare a meal, by the time it approached lunchtime, the food was cold. She now prepares juice when she can and buys herself a snack for lunch. Other times she takes a soda or water for lunch. That has been her lunch for the last three years.

In workplaces around Uganda, there are many young people like Agnes and Maria. They are not your ordinary emaciated children roaming the streets of urban centres begging for food or money. They exist even among the so-called corporate circles; they dress nattily, earn a monthly salary but still go hungry.

Most of them live on the outskirts of the cities and towns. They come into the city work as lowly paid cleaners, office aides, sales people, construction site workers, and odd-jobbers. Unlike Kayombo, there is no government programme to improve the livelihood of the urban poor.

In 2000, President Yoweri Museveni established the PAD in his office to specifically address wealth creation at the household level to generate adequate incomes. The department receives an annual funding of Shs 1.5 billion.

Joan Kakwenzire, the Senior Presidential Advisor heads PAD. She says the program’s grassroots interventions include training farmers, agro-input distribution, demonstrations farms development, value addition, production and export village promotion.

The interventions have focused on increasing household incomes and ensuring food security especially for the rural poor. The project works together with leaders and farmers at the local levels in the district.

Kayombo’s Kataka model Parish initially received 20 cows from the project which multiplied to 50 cows. In the July, the model village was given another 20 cows on the president’s directive.

Kayombo says the initiative has helped improve the conditions of the people from the village. Since the criteria for giving out cows, considers the best and most hardworking farmers from all Parishes in the district, farmers have embarked on improving their farming techniques in order to benefit from the programme. Farmers have been able to produce enough food for their consumption, though not all families have benefited, there is hope that in future, the trend will change.

Such projects demonstrate that one can earn a living from improved agricultural practices and growth of high value crops even on small plots of land.

PAD is one of the initiatives that were put in place to eradicate poverty in addition to the NAADS project and Bonaggagawale or the Prosperity for All programmes. The US$120m NAADS programme was started in 2001 to boost farmers’ production and household income. It has a checkered reputation and the President has criticized its official for either incompetence or corruption.

The initiative, formally launched in January 2004 in Ruharo village in Mbarara District where, Kakwenzire says, it has benefitted over 650 homesteads out of the 933 homesteads. Ruharo farmers were poor with barely enough food to feed their families but now, they boast of too much to eat and enough for the market. PAD is gradually spreading to other districts. To date more than 10,000 direct households and 50,000 secondary households (nearly 300,000 people) are beneficiaries of the initiative. It operates in 19 model villages throughout the country.

The efforts Uganda has put in to fight hunger have begun to be recognised on the global scene. In a report released by Action Aid on “Who is really fighting hunger”; Uganda was ranked the eighth best out of the 28 countries measured in the report. In the East African region, Rwanda was in position 11, Tanzania at 15, Kenya at 16 and Burundi is ranked number 27 out of the 28 countries measured. The Democratic Republic of Congo was ranked worst at number 28. Developing countries were graded on their performance on hunger and child nutrition and on three areas of public action: legal commitment to food as a right, investment in agriculture and social protection.

The 23 rich nations were evaluated on the amount of aid and support they offer to the developing countries and among them Luxembourg, France and Spain were ranked as the first three Nations.Â

Though the country is progressing, the report points out that the country needs more effort if it is to achieve the millennium development goal.

Previously, projects like NAADS, Prosperity for All (PFA), and PAD have focused on the rural poor and ignored urban dwellers that are equally food insecure. The PFA was only launched in Kampala in March this year and the Savings and Credit Co-operative Societies (SACCOS) in Kampala have also not caught on as well as in rural areas.

Addressing the question of the urban hungry and passing legislation like the Seed Bill, the Food and Nutrition Bill (F&N), the National Agricultural Policy, and raising the national budget allocation to agriculture to the desired 10 percent will further help the country in its efforts to fight hunger.

The F&N bill recognises the right to food as a fundament al right and ensures that food is treated as a national strategic resource; its implementation would enable impartiality in physical and economic access to food.

Uganda suffers food insecurity as a result of climate change, armed conflict, lack of agricultural support especially in the north and north-East of the country, weak governance or public administration, scarce resources, unsustainable livelihoods systems and breakdown of local institutions. Ending hunger is one of the Millennium Development Goal One that must be achieved by 2015.Â

Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark World Food Day on Oct. 16 under the theme “United Against Hunger”. The main celebrations were at the Zonal Agriculture Research Institute (ZARDI) in Mukono district.

During the Policy Dialogue on Hunger and Malnutrition in Kampala on Oct. 13 Specioza Kiwanuka, the Action Aids Acting Country Director, recommended that the government increases investment to smallholder and subsistence farmers and other stakeholders and  concentrate on producing enough food for consumption before exporting .

Percy Misika the Food and Agriculture Organisation country representative in Uganda said uniting against hunger becomes real when state and civil society organizations and the private sector work in partnership at all levels.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Henry Bagire said the government will increase agricultural funding to the desired 10 percent from the current 5.4 percent.

Agriculture employs 73 percent of the population, 83 percent of these women, but it gets only 4.6 to 6.6 percent of the national budget allocation.

 As a result, output has declined. If Uganda was to achieve the 6 percent growth target set by Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), an additional 2.9 million people would be lifted above the poverty line by 2015. To achieve that, Uganda needs to triple its present agricultural growth rate

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