Delayed disaster calls, politics deepening food insecurity in EA

Thursday May 30 2019


Samburu pastoralists are allowed, by conservancy security personnel, access on January 24, 2017 to dwindling pasture on the plains of the Loisaba Wildlife Conservancy. PHOTO | AFP 

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It has been a disastrous season for Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan farmers, whose lives have been turned into a study in loss: Damaged crops, dead animals and damaged seeds.

This has cast doubts on the efficacy of the disaster warning and recovery systems in the region as intense drought, rainstorms and flooding in parts of Kenya, western and central Uganda have left food shortage and fears of starvation in their wake.

These challenges were discussed at the East African Agriculture Budget Summit in Arusha, Tanzania and organised by Action Aid, Oxfam International and Food Rights Alliance, a Ugandan civil society organisation.

Not to be left behind, politics—the trade dispute between Kenya and Tanzania, which affected three harvest seasons during the year—was also mentioned among causes of food insecurity; so was lack of mass food storage investments in Tanzania and Uganda.

“We do not feel the impact of governments’ disaster warning systems. Some farmers who planted maize in March lost out because the rains failed, seeds dried up in the ground and so they have been forced to replant at considerable cost,” said Elizabeth Ngimor, a farmer from West Pokot County of Kenya who attended the Summit.

“As a result of severe drought in Kenya last year, many farmers in West Pokot County have been relying on food aid since 2018 but some of it was sold to Uganda under unclear circumstances. Other farmers in Trans Nzoia County and Narok lost many acres of maize and wheat last year to flooding,” she added.


Delayed warnings

Like Ms Ngimor, thousands of small-scale farmers are frustrated over delayed disaster warnings and poor distribution of food relief in the hardest hit areas and ever changing weather conditions.

As a result of this mix of misfortunes, food production forecasts for Uganda and Kenya have been drastically slashed.

Total crop output from Uganda’s first farming season of 2019 is projected to fall by 50 per cent compared with the first crop season of 2018, according to data released by the Office of the Prime Minister earlier this month.

Crop seasons

Comparative data for Kenya’s first crop season of 2018 and 2019 is not yet available but signs of food scarcity are evident.

Humanitarian relief budgets are expected to rise as governments struggle to feed their hungry in the affected areas.

Uganda, has budgeted Ush106.6 billion ($2.8 billion) to cater for disaster losses, food security problems and damage to education and health services caused by flooding and hailstorms.

The government has allocated Ush40 billion ($10.5 million) for emergency procurement of food items while Ush39 billion ($10.2 million) is for procurement of fast maturing seed varieties of maize, beans, sorghum and millet to be distributed during the current rain season.

Figures released by Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister show that the north and east of the country plus the main cattle corridor are most affected by food shortages, with roughly 3.5 million in need of food.

Around 90 districts in Uganda have been struck by severe storms over the past six months, leading to destruction of 356 primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.

Thirty-three districts in central and western have lost hundreds of hectares of bananas and beans to heavy storms.

Meanwhile, failed seed germination severely affected Karamoja, Teso, Elgon, Bukedi, Busoga, Lango, Acholi and West Nile areas.

Some 85 per cent of Karamoja’s population faces an acute food shortage; condemning most of them to a single meal a day, Uganda government data shows.

The entry of more than 30,000 head of cattle from the neighbouring Turkana area of Kenya in search of water and pasture has complicated matters in the dry, water starved Karamoja region.