Karamoja's dry and windswept climate has for long been a hindrance to productive agricultural activities in the region leaving the residents with their only option of a pastoralist livelihood dependent on cattle for survival.
By Katherine Nabuzale
Hunger-stricken Karamoja residents reject calls to return "poisoned" World Food Program (FAO) flour. This has recently been in the news following reports of three people dying after eating poisoned porridge flour supplied by World Food Programme in Karamoja.
Karamoja's dry and windswept climate has for long been a hindrance to productive agricultural activities in the region leaving the residents with their only option of a pastoralist livelihood dependent on cattle for survival. The usual arid climate in Karamoja coupled with the current general climate changes and the increasing food demand means that there is urgent need to put in place different strategic plans to secure food for today and the future for all Ugandans.
Food security involves developing a comprehensive national system based on enabling sustainable food production through the use of modern technologies which enhance local production. It also calls for the formation of collaborative partnerships that diversify food sources as well as implementable legislation and policies that contribute to improving nutrition while reducing food waste.
Modern practices that lead to a flourishing agriculture sector in any country are a result of continuous, application-oriented research and development. And the key to this success lies in the two-way flow of information between researchers and farmers. Through a network of extension services, problems in the field are brought directly to the researcher for solutions, and scientific results are quickly transmitted to the field for trial adaptation and implementation.
Building a resilient food economy that can adapt to change and cope with negative shocks stands on four fundamental building blocks as explained below;
Efficient agricultural production that takes advantages of innovative technologies and practices-
A foresighted national agriculture strategy encourages the production of crops well suited to the local environment and promotes a production strategy that builds on a country's comparative advantages. Adoption of new technologies that are innovation driven through research and development such as Ag-Tech places more emphasis on sustainable and efficient ways of food production.
Ag-Tech covers advanced agricultural methods that differ from traditional ways of farming. It encourages the use of controlled-environment agriculture that uses efficient technologies to manage inputs and maximize outputs. For instance, aquaculture or farming of fish and other marine life in controlled conditions, vertical farming where plants are grown indoor in vertically stacked layers using artificial light, regulated humidity, temperature, and minimal pesticides thus, enabling large-scale production of vegetables in the absence of soil, sunlight, and chemicals. It also covers drones to map farming areas and adoption of sensors that can help boost yields. A very good example here is the United Arab Emirates which in its efforts to attain food security is exploring various new technologies that can withstand its fierce climate, water scarcity, and soil salinity to produce local crops with least amount of water.
Tailored trade and investment approaches- A well-planned international trade and investment strategy can help hedge against volatility and food shortages while spurring economic growth. Creating trading and processing hubs can help a country gain access to food supplies even if it has limited production or resources of its own. The United Arab Emirates has created a regional trading hub to diversify supply. Regulating retail fresh-food storage to reduce waste. To mitigate the risk of supply disruptions and strengthen its food economy, Singapore provides local producers with incentives to explore new technologies to increase the production of eggs, leafy vegetables, and fish.
Well-functioning domestic markets - Efficient domestic markets matter because the route from farm to table is long, complex and subject to disruption. A single bottleneck can lead to losses for producers and shortages. On the other hand, cooperation can produce dramatic advances. In Mozambique, the international brewer SAB Miller sources raw cassava from smallholders. These often lack adequate storage so crops must be sold immediately and at a low value. To overcome this challenge, SAB Miller relies on a mobile-processing unit thus, moving processing nearer to the farms, less cassava is wasted and farmers are able to capture more value.
Additionally, investing in infrastructure such as modern storage facilities, preservation measures, adopting best food regulations and focusing on changes in consumer behaviour is crucial in tackling food waste.
Strategic reserves of food and water- Already due to the prolonged dry season and unpredictable weather patterns, some parts of Uganda are experiencing food shortage and water scarcity. Such events reveal the fragility of the global food network. Every country needs a backup plan when primary food production or trade routes are disrupted. These stocks can be provided through a combination of public-sector projects like strategic grain reserves, and regulation, requirements that food distributors or supermarkets maintain stocks at certain levels. Taking China as an example, it has a strategic food-reserve system to cope with supply and market disruptions as well as keep inflation in check. A national administration manages reserves of rice, wheat, soybeans, maize, vegetable oil, and meat in 31 provinces. While Provincial and city governments hold their own reserves.
In the United Arab Emirates, the government has constructed public facilities to store 12 weeks of wheat, rice, and powdered milk. In addition, private retailers are required to stock two to four weeks of perishable reserves, including poultry and fresh vegetables. These supplies ensure availability during short disruptions.
The above examples of China and the United Arab Emirates' strategic food security measures and policies are lessons for Uganda to learn, pick and implement.
Katherine Nabuzale is a Ugandan living in Germany