Food scarcity in Uganda is superficial

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.

25 responses to “Food scarcity in Uganda is superficial”

  1. Thanks Mukyala Owaraga, I think you are right to say that, the challenge on the table is perception and training programs not tailored to suit our domestic nutritional demands. I will agree with you Norah, that training programs that leen on Western style nutritional diets will not be easily replicated over in our local environment. Thus, an urge is absolutely eminent to develop nutritional guides based on local nutritional material. From the perspective of an African, we should have books telling us the sources of protein, carbohydrates, iron, vitamins etc to include ingredients like grasshoppers, flying ants, baked soil, rats, game meat or commonly known as bush neat, leafy vegetables, root tubers, grains and seed.

    So are our policy makers working on behalf of states even aware that there is challenge, not in pollicy development other than in application of policy contextual content. If that is the case, a call to sit on the drawing board is rather a matter of urgency.


  2. Many thanks Norah. I have read your analysis with keen interest. the issues raised are not different from cases here in Malawi. And I am reading your blog at time when I a preparing to participate in a conference on Agriculture in Malawi while enjoying our 50 years of independence.

    I like the idea of mindset. but mind set of who. I would want to propose that if the countries in Africa should achieve food security, the mindset of those that have influenced us to abandon what we call food food should also be changed.

    I will stop here for the time being.


    • Melton yes, I agree with you we all need to change our mind sets. I wonder what do the nutrition training charts used in Malawi look like – might they have pictures of nutritious food that is not available locally in Malawi? In Uganda it is not uncommon for nutrition training chats to bear images of foods – cuisines – of the global west. If we make simple changes such as these – changing nutrition training charts to bear images of our own food, then we will change our mind sets and of those who have made us abandon what we call food food … We can do both at the same time.


  3. Sensible government policies is too much to ask from ignorant bureaucrats who think lizards are a sustainable solution to food scarcity. How many lizards are there in the Teso region? It would require time to start raising lizards sufficiently to address the shortage. The late Kibirige Sebunya advised villagers to eat the monkeys that were plundering their maize. How brilliant?


  4. I grew up in Kumi district and I remember there was a granary in every household. Its been ages since I was last there. I believe one of the issues that force hunger and famine on Uganda is the lack of storage facilities for food. Maize costs as low as 400 shillings during the harvesting season but will rise to as much as 1200 shillings when scarcity hits. I also understand a large portion of our food is exported to neighboring Sudan and Congo causing local prices to spike to unaffordable levels. I understand that lots of Ugandans cannot afford fish because its mostly exported.

    So i think food scarcity is real but the reasons can be addressed by sensible government policies.


  5. in my home district food scarcity is for real,Farmers have challenges of reading the right plantings seasons as before due to climate changes, the seeds farmers buy are of poor quality, fail to germinate, tools for opening land are inadequate, land fragmentation is making access to land very difficult. and agriculture has been left to women. Extension services non available. The idea of Food aid is making matters worst.


    • Wow in such a short comment you have touched you have given insight to major issues that are pertinent. In subsequent posts I hope to address each of the dimensions climate change, inputs, farm implements, land, gender issues, extension services, and food aid. They all need analysis and accomodation during planning and budgeting.


  6. Norah, for all I know the problem of food insecurity in Uganda is more about food distribution than the actual lack of food at all. But to allege that Ugandans prefer feeding their kids on food supplements is to tell us that Ugandans have majority elite like you. What does food supplement mean to a poor woman living in Loro near you base camp when she cannot afford a couple of cassava tubers.

    My second take is that for your good work, develop a sensitisation campaign on what I will loosely call Household Food Planning. Many of the starving households in the areas are I know produce enough food to last a whole year but grossly mismanage it so you find food stocks lasting for 9 months or less instead of 12 months. Well, we know there is poverty, we also know climate change challenges but to be in perpetual want of food which one is capable of producing adequately to say the least a gross lack of planning on the part of people who suffer from lack of food year in year out.


  7. it always puzzles me why my beautiful district of Mukono which receives rain throughout the year still has people suffering from hunger! They struggle to plant but the yields are too low , Naads was and is a sham ,the fertilizers are damn expensive .incentives like fertilizers , chemicals etc should be provided at a relatively cheap price otherwise we will continue to lament about hunger in the pearl of Africa.


    • Juliet yes, many of us in Uganda are puzzled and many non-Ugandans from countries with less gifted weather are puzzled too. We do not need in-organic chemicals as much, even with only organic fertiliser we can produce food to feed us all year round. It is just that people will insist on growing the same food year in year out until the soils are exhuasted and the yilds are low – rotational agriculture, intercropping would solve this quite easily, but for some, as Mabuya has pointed out, growing ‘alternative’ food crops is not an option. So potatoes rot and we call for government assistance?


    • Norah you have raised many fundamental points here, and yes you are spot on! The fact that Uganda, a country once aptly described as the pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, can have sections of the population that is food insecure warrants close examination. You have helped bring some of the critical factors that to the fore. Most importantly, I pick the issue of mindsets. I visited Masaka villages about a dedade ago as part of a monitoring team for a danida project on household agricultural support. We found an old lady who told us her household would die of hunger if government did not come in to their rescue. They did not have food, so she said. On further probing, we discovered that she had a shamba of sweet potatoes but they were rotting in the garden as no one wanted to eat potatoes and there was no market for them in the area. To her, food was matooke, a crop that no longer yielded well in the area. To address food insecurity concreretely and sustainably, there is a clear need to address mindsets. Local leadership have a critical role to play here. Unfortunately, most of the the local/community leaders (faith, cultural, civic, political) are all obsessed with hard politics (symbols, colours, slogans etc). Their mindsets about leadership also need to change. For the policy makers, there is a huge mindset or call it paradigm challenge. We have heard experts argue that food security is in the pocket and not in the garden. Farmers (or are they ‘diggers’) are encouraged to grow for the market and have money in their pockets to buy whatever they want. This idea may have good economic thought in its DNA but I am not sure if it was anchored in the realities of most peasant farmers that characterise our agricultural architecture. There is a challenge of cognitive dissonance here. Peasants grow food for direct consumption. Transforming that mindset into growing for the market can only serve to increase food insecurity and poor nutrition status as the ‘traditional’ perception about the use of money is that it for purchase of items that a household cannot produce on its own. One may wish to cite Bushenyi here. A food basket (milk, matooke, etc in plenty) but with the worst nutrition indicators in the country. So norah, it all points to three important factors: 1. Mindset 2.Mindset 3. Mindset.


      • Wow, this was worth waiting for Mabuya … For Uganda food insecurity is superficial because there is a whole load of food around us which we do not consider food – it is indeed 1. Mindset 2. Mindset and 3. Mindset … This is where we should focus a significant part of our energies ….


      • “33 percent of all food is wasted” UNFAO

        Food waste is indeed a global challenge. In the context of Uganda I would add that all those edible plants and animals that we refuse to eat becaus of our MINDSETS is also food waste so our percentage of waste is even higher


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