Famine is a catastrophic disruption of the social, economic and institutional systems that provide for food production, distribution and consumption.
Thu Dec 10 2009 .
Famine is a result of poverty and corruption
Vision Reporter
Journalist @ New vision
Famine is a catastrophic disruption of the social, economic and institutional systems that provide for food production, distribution and consumption.
By Bowers Turyazayo

Famine is a catastrophic disruption of the social, economic and institutional systems that provide for food production, distribution and consumption.

This leads to food shortage, hunger and malnutrition.

Famine is caused by a combination of economic, political and environment factors.

The immediate causes are drought, floods, low levels of crop planting, wars and civil strife. But what has made most countries in Africa so vulnerable to famine is chronic poverty, corruption, mismanagement of food supplies and inadequate government policies.

Amartya Sen, a noble prize wining economist, argues that hunger, malnutrition and famine are products of poverty rather than the inability of a country to grow enough food.

Uganda today is suffering from one of the worst famines seen in years. It has struck 52 districts and left 3.7 million vulnerable to starvation.

Because of low income levels of Africans, most people cannot afford to have basic needs, hence hunger and starvation. And because people are poor, whatever little is harvested, finds its way to the market.

Traditionally in Uganda most people got incomes from the sell of cash crops like coffee, tobacco, tea and cotton. With the collapse of the infrastructure and the cooperative unions, farmers lost the market and they started selling their staple crops for cash in the region and local markets.

Because of the high levels of poverty, most people end up selling almost all their produced food stuffs in order to raise school fees for their children and also cater for other household needs. For example, in the West Nile region in Uganda, as soon as the harvest is done, it flows to the markets in Juba (Southern Sudan) where they fetch high prices. This leaves the people with no food reserved for home consumption. This exposes families to a risk of famine.

In addition, the negative attitude of learned youth towards agriculture has not helped the situation. The learned youths leave parents in the villages when they finish their studies and remain in towns under the pretext of looking for jobs. The elderly parents are no longer able to grow enough food, because of low manpower in families. In the long-run crops which help in food security like millet, sorghum, maize which need a lot of manpower are no longer grown on a large scale. Nowadays, families grow these food stuffs on a small scale hence nothing is kept for future use.

In most parts of western Uganda, men tend to leave garden work for women and children. The men instead go drinking in the early hours of the day. The result of this is little food production which is not enough for the family.

Drought and other difficult weather conditions in many of the affected countries bring low harvests and drive up the prices of food.

Because of environmental mismanagement in most African countries, climatic changes have caused disaster. Forests have been cut to give way to settlement and wetlands are being reclaimed. This has significantly brought changes in rainfall patterns in most countries.

For example, as a result of floods in eastern Uganda followed by a prolonged spell of drought, there has been food shortage this year. In western and central Uganda, the traditional crop growing seasons have changed due to changes in climate, but people have not adapted to the changes.

They have continued growing crops in traditional seasons. Today, productivity suffers because money is pumped into emergency relief instead of long term preventive solutions. So farmers are ill-informed and ill-prepared to cope with weather calamities when they hit.

Today, the National Environmental Management Authority estimates that only 13% of farmers in the country are informed and yet 77% Ugandans rely on farming as their main source of income. This has grossly affected food crop production, resulting into famine.

Most of the African countries have, for a long time, experienced civil strife and conflicts. In most parts of northern Uganda, West Nile and eastern Uganda, where there has been political instability, there has been an acute shortage of food.

Conflict exacerbates problems associated with the physical factors of drought and crop failure for several reasons. People who work on the land are forced to move in camps for security purposes. This implies that there is no farming taking place. People have to depend on the Government and international agencies for food.

Diversion and mismanagement of government finances has turned drought and food shortages into famine.

Land fragmentation accompanied by limited use of technology, decline in soil fertility and increasing pests and disease challenges have resulted into lower agricultural production hence low productivity.

The Government does not have a policy on food security. Food security sensitisation programmes by the Agricultural Extension and Community Development workers is no longer an issue.

The community used to be encouraged to grow more food stuff and to erect granaries which used to store the harvest that would be in reserve. This traditional system of having granaries as food stores has given way to keeping the harvest into sacks. The district production department has done its work in the communities, it is now the Government’s turn to revisit its food security policies.

The writer works with the Network of Ugandan Researchers and Research Users