by John Muhimbise

How to plant potatoes in Uganda

John Muhimbise | 20 March 2013

The right approach to solve food insecurity is a holistic approach, because otherwise you are likely to end up with large quantities of food lying around and rotting in the villages. 

When you talk of food security, people tend to quickly conclude that you are food secure if you have large quantities of food. Going by the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition, however, food quantity is just one aspect of food security and has three facets namely: Food availability, food access, and food use. Food availability is having available adequate quantities of food on a consistent basis. Food access is having sufficient resources both economical and physical to obtain appropriate food for a nutritious diet. Food use is the appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care. For a country or individuals to be food secure, therefore, the stability of the three dimensions of food security must be maintained. They must not only have access to adequate quantities of food on a consistent basis, but must also consume a balanced diet.

More than 70% of the Worlds’ poor live in rural areas and make their living on the land in agriculture. In countries like Uganda, a cool 80% of the population derive their livelihoods, directly or indirectly, from agriculture and its related activities. Paradoxically, the rural areas that feed entire populations in these countries are the hungriest, the most malnourished or undernourished, the sickest, the most uneducated and the most food insecure!

Why is this case? The reasons are many and varied. The rural populations are illiterate mainly because of limited education facilities in these areas. They are sick because of lack of health facilities. They are undernourished because they have no idea about what a balanced diet should be. In times of poor harvests they go hungry even when there is alot of food in other parts of the country because they are too poor to afford it.

The case for Uganda

Over the last decade or so, substantial resources have been committed, by both donors and government towards addressing issues of food security through enhancing agricultural production and productivity etc. But there isn’t much to show for it on the ground. The moneys have either been stolen or spent in a half-hearted and haphazard manner. For instance, in a bid to improve household incomes, schemes were worked out to encourage animal husbandly. Chicks, rabbits, goats and cows were distributed to selected families in the rural areas. Unfortunately, no proper training was carried out on how to rear this new type of animals hence they slowly died out. The same applied to new food and cash crops that were introduced such as wheat, sunflower and pyrethrum in the highlands of western Uganda. The local people quickly and enthusiastically embraced the growing of these crops. To their dismay, however, they discovered there was no ready markets for these crops on harvest and appetite for growing these crops quickly waned.

Advice to EU and Dutch Government

Experience has shown that moneys channelled through government departments never reach the intended beneficiaries. It is largely stolen.  It is therefore important that donors forge a direct link to the rural farmer and ensure that money meant for seeds actually buys seeds. The training of the farmer should actually take place on the farm itself and not in hotels hundreds of kilometres away from the farm.  Talk to intended beneficiaries and involve them in the early planning stages of the project if it is to succeed. Borrow a leaf from USAID, TRIAS and to an extent SNV, who have a visible presence in rural areas, understand their real needs and value accountability. Avoid short-termism and focus on the long-term. Make sure that once you have started a project you are going to support it over the long-term and it will remain long after you have withdrawn support.

 A holistic Approach

If you want to solve the problem of food security you cannot commit resources to production of food alone because you are likely to end up with large quantities of food lying around and rotting in the villages. Food production must go hand in hand with improvements in transport infrastructure, storage facilities, improvements in education and health facilities, family planning and other poverty alleviation programmes. All these must be planned for long-term sustainability so that long after donors and governments have withdrawn their support, people will still be able to procure and plant high yielding seeds. People must continue to  irrigate their gardens. People should be able to have a balanced diet and be generally well informed about food nutrition and more receptive to new ideas.

The advances in information technology have been a blessing in disguise. They have revolutionised communication in this country. With FM radio stations reaching the remotest areas of the country, lives of rural poor can be quickly and most cost effectively transformed for the better. What is required now from donors and government is to move away from the strategies that have hitherto not helped in addressing the issues of food security.

Photo credit main picture: by John Muhimbise