Seasonal changes due to climate change remain one of the biggest challenges facing Uganda today. The increasing temperatures, drought, erratic rainfall, and floods adversely affect farmers’ yields.
This creates an uncertain future for farmers and everyone who depends on agriculture as a source of livelihood. According to the Uganda food security outlook conducted by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the full start of the 2022 first bimodal rainy season (March to June) was delayed by 30 to 40 days or more across the country. The season is believed to be among the driest on record since 1981 in large parts of northern Uganda.
In most parts of northern and eastern Uganda, it forced farmers to replant when poor conditions at the start of the season failed early planted crops. This meant that crop development was delayed by approximately a month, leading to crop damage and reduced crop yields. This means less food was available to feed households and participate in the crop market.
FEWS NET highlights that the greater north and the Teso sub-region were expected to be hit the most with bad outcomes prevailing through the start of the second season harvest in November/December. Importantly, the worst-affected households were experiencing the third consecutive below-average production season. Considering that such households possess limited coping capacity, they most likely went into a food consumption crisis.
As of January 9, 2023, the World Food Program (WFP) Hunger Map shows that 16.4 million Ugandans face insufficient food consumption. This represents an increase of 1.2 million food-insecure persons based on the last three months of 2022. The live map shows chronic malnutrition for 28.9 percent of children under 5 years in Uganda. For instance, poor food consumption has likely contributed to increased levels of acute malnutrition in the Karamoja region, particularly in Moroto and Kaabong districts.
High levels of food wastage in the country also exacerbate food shortage. Particularly because of the disconnect between different stages of the agricultural value chain. Food is wasted in quantity (weight/volume) and quality (nutritional value), often due to actions taken by actors along the value chain.
For instance, Uganda produces a lot of vegetables and fruits for export, but about 40% of these are wasted, as they do not meet food quality standards. This is besides all food lost at the farm level, mainly because of poor storage and inadequate value-addition infrastructure in rural areas. Farmers lack modern drying and storage facilities for their products, and most rely on the sun to dry their produce. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about UGX 72 billion is lost every season because of limited investment in addressing food waste and losses.
It is worth noting that there are on-going efforts by both the government and donors to increase agricultural productivity. For instance, led by the FAO, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the project “Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Karamoja sub-region” aims to enhance agricultural productivity. The project supports food production systems and value chains using a Farmer Field School approach adapted to the realities of the agro-pastoral societies of Karamoja. This is part of the Resilient Food Systems (RFS) programme, which aims to increase the productivity of maize, sorghum, cassava, sweet potato, vegetables, and beans by 20% in the Karamoja sub-region.
Notwithstanding the several on-going efforts, there is an urgent need to build farmers’ capacity to respond to the ever-changing farming seasons. Farmers need more modern granaries for adequate food stocks to ensure food security.
This should be supplemented with agricultural insurance to cushion them against the inevitable losses caused by the changes. In addition, to reduce food wastage, tackling post-harvest loss is critical. Rural farmers, who are the major producers of food, should be prioritized when setting up warehouses and granaries, considering that the eight warehouses currently available for the whole country are all located within the city and major towns. These belong to the private sector and have a storage capacity of 32,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to only 0.8% of the total production.
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