Food System of Iteso Degraded – Part II: ‘Urban-slumitisation’ of villages

‘Urban-slumitisation’, the mushrooming of urban-slum-like trading centres that are characterised by small shops, eateries, meat roasting joints and drinking places, is occurring in villages in Teso.

These village-urban-slum-like centres (village centres) are accompanied with behavioural change among Iteso village dwellers – the shifting away from traditional Iteso practices to those which mimic practices of global-westernised Ugandan urbanites.

Iteso, for instance, used to exclusively take homemade ajon (alcoholic millet beer) at a home. It used to be a source of pride to host others to your home to aimat ajon (take millet beer). However, increasingly, Iteso village dwellers, mostly the men, now go out to village centres to drink ajon, which they buy from individual commercial brewers and sellers.

Consumption of commercial ajon is also popular among other peoples and in other areas of Uganda, including in urban slums. No wonder, the noticeable rural-urban migration of Iteso women to urban slums and to village centres to take advantage of the business opportunity to commercially brew and to sell ajon.

The commercialisation of millet – growing it to sell to ajon commercial brewers – has caused a reduction in the availability of millet for food; essentially, transforming millet from a food crop to a cash crop. Millet is now consumed more in the form of commercial ajon as opposed to in the form of atap, the staple food of the Iteso of Uganda.

Another behavioural change is Iteso consuming bottled beer that is now more readily available in village centres in Teso, particularly Eagle Lager that is made out of Epuripur sorghum.

Drinking Eagle Larger and other bottled beers is marketed and is perceived as success – ‘he has made it, he even drinks bottled beer’ kind of sentiment. This phenomenon is both a symptom and a cause of deepening ‘urban-slumitisation’ of Teso villages.

Be that as it may, Epuripur, a 1995 product of the Teso based Government of Uganda (GoU) National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute Serere (NaSARRI), was developed for the benefit of Nile Breweries, the makers of Eagle Lager.

In developing Epuripur, NaSARRI did not give priority to the interests of smallholder farmers and to the protection of Uganda’s food systems. An empirical study, in fact, found that the bulk of Epuripur development research activities were “in order to meet quality standards required by the brewery (Nile Breweries).”

Logically, Epuripur turned out not good for consumption as atap and consequently, its advent has changed the main purpose for producing sorghum in Teso from producing it for food to producing it for cash.

That is to say, the number of Iteso who grow Epuripur increased; hence Epuripur being billed as a Teso success story of public-private partnerships – GoU, academia, Nile Breweries and civil society organisations working in collaboration to promote innovations for the benefit of smallholder farmers, the praise goes.

Heralding Epuripur as a food security and a livelihood enhancing innovation for smallholder farmers in Teso, however, is either intentionally Machiavellian or it is a genuine error that is borne out of being insufficiently informed.

Epuripur growing has in fact degraded capabilities of smallholder farmers for they are forced to be beholden to Nile Breweries for seeds and inputs; and to therefore enter into farming contracts that are skewed in favour of Nile Breweries.

Re-allocation of land from production of sorghum for food to production of Epuripur is a form of covert land grabbing that has devastating effects to food and nutrition security of the Iteso. When land is re-allocated as such, it means that the quantities of sorghum that are available for atap are reduced.

Worse still, according to scientist, Epuripur is a high feeder and its agronomy requires artificial fertilisers and pesticides; making Epuripur harmful to Teso’s fertile soils.

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