Food in­se­cu­rity is re­flec­tion of a lead­er­ship cri­sis

By: Mugoya Musa

On 14th Feb­ru­ary, 2017, Agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Hon. Vin­cent Ssem­pi­jja pre­sented to par­lia­ment a joint state­ment on a UGX 8.47 tn, strate­gic pol­icy ac­tion plan to mit­i­gate the food in­se­cu­rity and dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try. It in­di­cated a grow­ing in­crease in the pop­u­la­tion that needs food re­lief, from 1.3M in No­vem­ber 2016 to 1.58M Jan­u­ary 2017 and the ur­gent need for re­form. The Min­is­ter also as­serted ma­jor causes of the hunger for in­stance; cli­mate change, low fer­til­izer us­age, low or no use of mech­a­ni­sa­tion, de­struc­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment, sports bet­ting and gam­bling, over con­sump­tion of al­co­hol as well as neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­wards work. Quite en­light­en­ing, how­ever, he for­got to men­tion one im­por­tant facet of the prob­lem, the loom­ing lead­er­ship cri­sis.

In my hum­ble opin­ion the afore­men­tioned pre­cur­sors of hunger re­flect a deeper cri­sis char­ac­terised by poor plan­ning, ap­pro­pri­a­tion and use of the re­sources, in ad­di­tion to the fail­ure to build ef­fec­tive and func­tional in­sti­tu­tions. I’m not the only one who per­ceives this, in 2005, Ad­vo­cates Coali­tion for De­vel­op­ment and En­vi­ron­ment, a pub­lic pol­icy think tank cau­tioned the Pres­i­dent to de­sist from politi­ciz­ing en­vi­ron­ment con­ser­va­tion. This was af­ter Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni stopped Na­tional Forestry Au­thor­ity (NFA) from evict­ing en­croach­ers in South West­ern Bu­soga for­est, to­wards the gen­eral elec­tions[1]. The same pol­icy is­sue high­lighted a slow but sure rate at which en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion had gained mo­men­tum and the dire con­se­quences to the pop­u­la­tion.

While the Min­is­ter, faults only other fac­tors, se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are di­rectly or in­di­rectly a part of the myr­iad of prob­lems fac­ing food pro­duc­tion. Re­ports of many grab­bing for­est re­serves, cut­ting down nat­ural forests for com­mer­cial pur­poses as well as en­croach­ing on swamps are com­mon. In rural ar­eas, the pop­u­la­tion has been left to un­con­trol­lably de­scend on swamps. In ur­ban ar­eas, pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and politi­cians with the help of se­cu­rity agen­cies have acted in the same man­ner only that they are reap­ing juicier prof­its from fuel sta­tions, in­dus­tries and plush es­tates erected. Hither to that, Hon Ssem­pi­jja as­serted that Uganda ex­ports an es­ti­mated 1400­met­ric tonnes of food daily even amidst a food cri­sis how­ever, reg­u­la­tion is­n’t any­where in the im­me­di­ate pol­icy ac­tions by the gov­ern­ment.

Du­pli­ca­tion of roles and bud­gets un­der gov­ern­ment min­istries is an­other im­ped­i­ment, for in­stance ir­ri­ga­tion falls un­der the Min­istry of wa­ter and En­vi­ron­ment as well as the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture.  In 2017/​18 the for­mer has a pro­posed al­lo­ca­tion of UGX 67.46bn while the later will be need­ing UGX 23.36bn for wa­ter for pro­duc­tion. A par­lia­ment re­port on the Bud­get frame­work pa­per ap­proved on 1st Feb­ru­ary 2017, rec­om­mended that all wa­ter re­sources be al­lo­cated un­der one com­pe­tent agency. Hope­fully this will also re­duce the bu­reau­cratic ping pong both Min­istries have been in­volved in.

Po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age will also con­tinue to mar so­cio and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment be­cause while the in­ces­sant cre­ation of ad­min­is­tra­tive units works in favour of po­lit­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity it does not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery. Every elec­tion cy­cle comes with its own dis­tricts and fi­nan­cial bur­den. Would it be such a bad idea to re­vi­tal­ize dis­trict farm in­sti­tutes in­stead? What ex­pla­na­tion could pos­si­bly jus­tify the ex­pan­sion of the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Or­gan­i­sa­tion at parish level and not agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers at sub county level to a hun­gry pop­u­la­tion? Or why for the last 6 years, the UGX 65bn wage re­quire­ment to op­er­a­tional­ize the sin­gle spine ex­ten­sion sys­tem is an un­funded pri­or­ity while the Pres­i­dent gets UGX 90bn in each fi­nan­cial year for do­na­tions.

Iron­i­cally farm­ers or pro­ducer Co­op­er­a­tive unions that used to sup­port farm­ers were re­placed by Sav­ings and Credit Co-op­er­a­tives (SAC­COs).  The in­fra­struc­ture that used to sup­port famers in pro­duc­tion, stor­age, trans­porta­tion, mar­ket­ing etc is di­lap­i­dated or no longer ex­is­tent. The Busitema Agri­cul­tural In­sti­tute that used to pro­duce skilled agri­cul­tural ar­ti­sans is now a uni­ver­sity. Such de­lib­er­ate pol­icy ac­tions have only worked to sti­fle agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

Dur­ing a re­cent di­a­logue on food se­cu­rity; Lib­er­a­tion sym­po­sium: Ugan­da’s food se­cu­rity and youth em­pow­er­ment sit­u­a­tion, lead econ­o­mist, Prof Au­gus­tus Nuwagaba made men­tion of the fact that no coun­try had ever de­vel­oped with­out a func­tional agri­cul­tural bank. How­ever, de­spite Uganda be­ing largely agrar­ian, there was very lit­tle to show for it. Gov­ern­ment as a de­lib­er­ate pol­icy has opted to lit­ter re­sources in dys­func­tional pro­grammes like agri­cul­tural fa­cil­ity, youth liveli­hood, op­er­a­tion wealth cre­ation and now women fund whose re­turns are yet to be reaped. Al­ter­na­tively, these funds could be pooled to form an agri­cul­tural bank able to pro­vide cheap-long term credit to agri­cul­ture which is and will in the fore­see­able fu­ture re­main cen­tral to Ugan­da’s poverty re­duc­tion, eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment. The sec­tor con­tin­ues to em­ploy about 72% of the to­tal labour force and con­tributed 22.6% of the na­tional GDP in 2014/​15 and ac­counted for 53% of Ugan­da’s to­tal ex­ports earn­ings[2].

On the same plat­form the is­sue of fake seedlings arose and Gen. Charles Angina, the Deputy Co­or­di­na­tor of Op­er­a­tion Wealth Cre­ation, threat­ened to pa­rade all those sup­ply­ing fake seedlings, a good move. How­ever, this is putting the cart be­fore the horse. The need to first com­pre­hend the in­sur­mount­able im­por­tance of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor needs to be done be­fore any fur­ther ac­tion is taken. Af­ter the em­bar­rass­ing per­for­mance of NAADs, the Ugan­dan army took on the man­tle to de­liver what had ear­lier failed. Such stop gap mea­sures are com­mon now, with al­most all poverty al­le­vi­a­tion pro­grams be­ing un­der the army’s ju­ris­dic­tion.

All the facets above in­di­cate a gap­ing hole in Ugan­da’s lead­er­ship, a bat­tle of pri­or­i­ties one could say. Lead­ers have di­rectly or in­di­rectly played detri­men­tal roles in Ugan­da’s food pro­duc­tion sec­tor, even when they fail to en­force and im­ple­ment en­vi­ron­ment poli­cies and laws or en­cour­age and pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion through their po­lit­i­cal state­ments and pro­nounce­ment. Food se­cu­rity will not man­i­fest with­out con­certed ef­forts from all stake­hold­ers, the lead­er­ship be­ing the most im­por­tant. It is high time Ugan­dans took ac­count­abil­ity se­ri­ously and de­manded for it from lead­ers.

[1] http://​​Files/​Pub­li­ca­tions/​PBP_12.pdf