It is reported that “the caloric intake of 62.1 percent of Ugandans is below the country’s recommended dietary intake of 2,200 calories per person per day.” That many do not have sufficient access to food in Uganda is because of our inefficient food system.
In Uganda we are quite happy to give tax holidays to foreign owned businesses to import food supplements into Uganda. Worse still it has been known for Ugandans to prefer feeding their children on fancy food supplements rather than pay a smallholder farmer the fair price for fresh foods – vegetables and oranges. Moreover, the locally produced food is produced in a more environmentally friendly manner and has the same or even better food value than the food supplements.
It is all about ones social standing – their class. The ones whom information adverts target, such as, the one which encouraged people to be faithfully to their spouses lest they contract HIV and AIDS, die and their children end up eating cassava; while the other children will be eating chips (French fries).
Many in Uganda are food insecure because they have insufficient access to food that is culturally acceptable to them – that which they procure without any loss of dignity or self-determination. Meaning, for example, that many in Buganda are food insecure simply because they prefer to eat matooke, but because they can’t afford matooke any more they are forced to eat foods such as posho, akalo, and cassava, which they can afford.
Ironically, cassava is a major staple food in Uganda and yet it is considered the food of the poor. Among the Iteso, my people, a family is insecure if they do not have cassava in stock and or in-field. So, for example, when in 2008 Iteso experienced famine that was caused by flooding which submerged food crops, the Iteso were more offended by comments of government officials who suggested that the Iteso should eat lizards and leaves.
It is quite likely lizards and leaves of several wild plants and crops that we grow are actually a great source of nutrition. In the past Iteso ate cassava leaves, potato leaves and a range of leaves of wild plants, but they no longer do so. This is because it is considered a sign of failure in providing for one’s family, if they are seen eating leaves.
People would rather go hungry or will be malnourished just because they won’t eat edible food items which are socially considered inferior. Eating edible rats, for example, is now frowned upon and yet these rodents would be a great source of nutrition for many who frown upon them.
Sadly, our policy makers do not help with their categorisation of significant sections of the population as ‘backward’ needing education on what is considered food. Our policy makers should be appreciative of our diversity of food sources, document them, and popularise them. This is what our food related research institutes should be doing and not promoting the bad kind of genetically modified foods.
Uganda is gifted by nature and yet millions are hungry