Government warns of a looming food crisis

The Ugandan government has warned its citizens of a major crop failure in August because a long dry spell of weather threatens to slash agricultural output by almost a half.

"We have warned farmers not to sell their food stocks or else they would be faced with food insecurity," Moses Ali, the disaster preparedness minister and deputy premier, said from Kampala.

"They should instead take advantage of the little available rains to plant alternative quick maturing crops to fill the food gap."

He said government feared farmers might be lured into selling their stocks due to good prevailing market prices. Projections were, he said, that the harvest of staples like millet, sorghum, maize, beans, and matooke (a banana used exclusively for cooking) would be reduced by 40 percent while livestock might die due to the lack of pasture. The Ministry of Agricultural said on Monday that crop samples taken from farms had indicated this percentage drop in production, and that the worst affected areas would be in the northeast and west of the country.

Food shortages would worsen the already bad situation in the war-ravaged north where up to two million people are dependent on relief aid from the UN World Food Programme (WFP). At least 1.6 million people in the north and east displaced by war are among this figure. The displaced live in 218 squalid camps where facilities are basic and insecurity makes it difficult for relief agencies to deliver food.

WFP had also warned that unless funds were committed to feed people in the north of the country, it would run out of stocks. But the WFP deputy country director, Edward Kalon, told IRIN from Kampala that donors had responded positively and that the May food deficit of 106,000 mt had dropped to 35,000 mt worth US $18 million.

"The drought the government is talking about is something new, therefore we have not made the assessment to determine how it will affect the food situation in the country and what will be its effect on our food distributions in the north of the country," Kalon said on phone adding however that what was happening in Uganda could not yet qualify as a "famine but a crop failure."