Food crisis feared as subsistence farmers sell produce

Food shortages in parts of Uganda are approaching crisis level after subsistence farmers sold their produce for cash, officials said on 18 June.

The government has made immediate food relief distributions in the most affected areas.

"We are still assessing the situation, but initial indications point to an acute food shortage and [the] government has resorted to immediate food relief distribution, earmarking 10 billion shillings [US$5 million] to purchase food for those areas that are in bad shape,” Tarsis Kabwegyere, the disaster preparedness minister, said.

Kabwegyere, who toured the affected West Nile region, said the worst hit areas were: the districts of Adjuman and Koboko, bordering Sudan; Amuria, Pallisa, Kaberamaido, Bukedea, Katakwi and Soroti in the Teso area (northeastern Uganda); as well as areas in the north where there were mainly internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Patrick Amuriat, a member of parliament from Kumi County, one of the affected areas, told IRIN on 18 June that the farmers were attracted by high prices of food products in neighbouring Southern Sudan to sell whatever food they had produced.

"Food exports to Southern Sudan are having a big impact on the food security of the country," Amuriat said. "Peasants are attracted by the good prices in Sudan to sell off whatever food production there is and they remain with nothing to eat."

He said the farmers lacked options for income-generating activities, so "they resort to selling their food for cash”.

Local politicians in the Teso region said some of the residents had sold their produce even before the harvest period.

Unreliable weather

Martin Owor, the commissioner in charge of disaster management in the Prime Minister's Office, said recent unreliable weather patterns had also had a big impact on many farmers' production capacities.

Owor said: "Food levels in Teso are too low and we are resorting to supplementary distribution of food under a 10 billion shilling government emergency food fund. The Karamoja situation has reached famine levels. We are now distributing 12 kilograms of food per person per month, which we think can make a person survive for a month.

"In Karamoja, we are recording the fourth consecutive crop failure since 2006."

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Farmers in northern Uganda: Officials have expressed concern over increase in food shortages after subsistence farmers cold their produce for cash (file photo)

WFP funding shortfall

The UN World Food Programme country director, Stanlake Samkange, said shortages that were envisaged only in Karamoja region were also recurring in the IDP areas of the north as people returning to their homes had experienced crop failure.

"We have failed to persuade the donors that there is need but we need to help people produce more to be self sufficient," he added.

The WFP emergency operation for Karamoja has received US$32.1 million in resources against needs of $96.6 million, making a shortfall of 66.7 percent, Samkange said.

“The relief operation in support of the general food distribution to IDPs had received no new resources in 2009 - and the operation was suspended when the carryover resources from 2008 were exhausted (we estimate the current shortfall to be about $50 million for this general food distribution targeted to IDPs against original needs of $65 million),” Samkange told IRIN via email.

“The relief operation in support of extremely vulnerable individuals (among the IDPs), supplementary and therapeutic feeding, and refugees has a remaining estimated 2009 shortfall of $13 million, against needs of approximately $30 million,” he added.

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
The government has made immediate food relief distributions in areas affected by food shortages (file photo)

Poisonous wild cassava

In the northern Amuru District, some residents have resorted to eating poisonous wild cassava as a coping mechanism and, consequently, two people had died of food poisoning while four others were admitted to a health centre.

Other Amuru residents reported people feeding on wild vegetation after their crop had withered.

"Our problem has been the long [dry] spell that has burnt down crops planted this season,” Esther Oboma, a returnee at Bibia village, said. "It's worrying because most crops have dried up; all my groundnuts, maize, beans and millet are all stunted.”

Louis Opange, a legislator from Pallisa in eastern Uganda, said people had resorted to eating wild leaves, ants and mangoes as their main crop - sorghum - had been scorched.

Opange said it was close to three months since the region last had any rain “and this has caused serious suffering for the people of Teso”.

“[The] government should procure seeds for the people of Teso such that when the new season begins, the people will have what to plant since the first season has seen no rain in the region, therefore farmers have lost their crops and have no seeds for planting in the next season.”