The ghost of Malthus haunts policy makers, the reason for continued food insecurity

The dominant discourse on food insecurity in Uganda seems to support Hoebel’s assertion that the ghost of Malthus haunts all mankind. Prevailing arguments on food insecurity in Uganda tend to call for increased production, and to allude to the Malthusian view, which calls for a reduction in population growth as the solution for achieving food security. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in 2011 indicated that Uganda’s population density has indeed increased, from 123 persons per km2 in 2002 to an estimated 165 persons per km2 ; but population growth in itself does not necessarily explain the prevalence of food insecurity in Uganda.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s 2010 analysis shows that the largest per capita increases in food production per head have been achieved in countries that are more densely populated than Uganda.  India’s food production per head index increased by 26 percent, from 96.5 in 1974 to 1976 to 130.5 in 1996 to 1997; in the same period, China’s production per head more than doubled, from 90.1 to 192.3. Uganda is a net exporter of food; indicating that Uganda may have the capacity to produce enough food for its current population.

 The prevalence of food insecurity among Ugandans seems to be associated with issues of food distribution, perhaps more than those related to food production.  Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Industry and its Ministry of Health in 2003, in fact, attributed Uganda’s high rate of malnutrition to cultural factors such as ignorance, taboos and lifestyle. There are indications that millions in Uganda are experiencing food insecurity as a result of their own actions and those of their fellow Ugandans. Chronic wastage of good food, exorbitant food prices and food exports from the periphery to the core are the norm in Uganda.

 In both their homes and in restaurants, people throw away significant quantities of edible food every day, because Ugandans tolerate the practice of putting too much food on one’s plate, which they do not finish. The preparation of excess food, which leaves enough prepared food for wasting, is the norm in Uganda, especially during festivities. Wastage has grown to the extent that in Uganda interest is growing in food waste as a source for income generation, the animal feeds business. Food is also wasted because it is contaminated or rots as a result of inappropriate preservation, storage and transport facilities. 

Millions in Uganda go hungry and die from insufficient nutrient intake, while the number of those afflicted with obesity — a condition associated with over-sufficient nutrient intake — is rising. A UBOS survey found 14 percent of Ugandan women in the rural areas were overweight or obese. In 2010, UBOS reported that diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, which are associated with poor nutrition caused by an over-sufficient diet, are prevalent in Uganda.

 There is very little data in Uganda on the quantity of food that is wasted as a result of the beliefs, attitudes, norms, practices and behaviours of Ugandans. This could be why the Government of Uganda (GoU), academics and other development agents tend to neglect the connection between beliefs, attitudes and the current food insecurity situations in Uganda.

They continue to allude to a perception that food production in Uganda is insufficient to meet the needs of Uganda’s population. The tone and content of the dominant food security/insecurity messages in Uganda do not normally associate food insecurity with the adherence of Ugandans to societal beliefs and attitudes. Neglected in key ‘development’ messages in Uganda are any shifts in preferences that result from social changes.

Issues that need attention include how interventions to alleviate food insecurity are changing food production and food distribution practices in Uganda; how the people of Uganda may be resisting interventions intended to ensure food security based on their perceptions of the interventions as risky; and how food insecurity in Uganda may be a result of beliefs and attitudes that put constraints on consumption of certain foods.

2 responses to “The ghost of Malthus haunts policy makers, the reason for continued food insecurity”

  1. much as food wastage may be a problem among those who actually have access to available food, it may not be the solution to food security problems of poor communities as long as poverty still prevails..we shall see uganda exporting food while ugandans starve because there is no market for that food in uganda..ugandans lack the purchasing power to buy food resources and therefore traders are left with no choice but transport that food to where there is demand…


    • Naome thank you for taking the time to read my blog post and to comment there after. Much appreciated. I partially agree with you. The market for food in Uganda is huge, for how else would you explain food imports into the country despite the fact that we grow enough food in Uganda to potentially feed all Ugandans. The real problem in Uganda is our country’s dodgy domestic trade policies. Please read another of my blog posts for more of my views on the subject. Here is the link:


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