Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Food Day 2011: Food Security

Mass catering at Kigezi High School, Uganda.
In one of my endless Twitter conversations with Inii Ukpabio, I recently learned of something that had gone hitherto unnoticed in my knowledge of development studies. It related to different types of security and the fact that there was such a thing as ‘food security’.

Unknowingly, I had already shown some awareness of the issue of food security in East Africa by looking at the choices families may have to make between food costs and education, and also when looking at aid distribution during the current East African famine.

And so, being a latecomer to the international development party, I scratched my head a little and then realised what a massive issue it really is and could continue to be for the world and in particular, to my beloved corner of East Africa.

In Uganda, where the shilling remains so weak and inflation so high, the implications on food security are seriously high for the average citizen on the street. In the urban environments, wages aren’t going as far as they once may have done and this means that households will have to tighten their financial belts.

The knock on is, that regardless of Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education, families may find themselves with the choice between being able to adequately feed themselves and being to educate their children or get medical help should it be needed. The need for such choices shouldn't exist in the first place.

This isn’t the only problem though facing many. There are an increasing number of reports in the press about multinational corporations buying large tracts of land directly from various African governments. The Guardian newspaper, in this time of serious food insecurity for East Africa, reported as recently as October 14th that a UK-based forestry firm had evicted a possible 22,000 people from their land in central Uganda – many of whom would have been subsistence farmers.

Rwandese tea plantations on the Kigali-Gatuna road last year.
The impact is profound for rural communities. Many could be forced into the unfamiliarity of urban communities with the higher rents and general living costs that this entails. Many others will have to deal with the loss of self-sufficiency and the extra few shillings that could be made selling surplus produce at markets. Either way, all would have been left facing disputes over land with much higher powers - powers they don't have the resources to fight.

In a recent Oxfam report, one such evictee, Francis Longoli says, ‘I remember my land, three acres of coffee, many trees – mangoes and avocados. I had five acres of banana.’ He continues, ‘my land gave me everything from my living to my children’s education. People used to call me Omataka – someone who owns land. Now that is no more. I am one of the poorest now.’

Governments shouldn’t be fooled into believing that signing away land to multi-nationals for economic reasons will result in a better existence for the populous. Many of these deals, even if they are to be with a food production company, are unlikely to bring any direct benefit to farmers or their communities.

So, as I reflect on my state of relative financial security and my strong personal food security on this World Food Day, I consider the future for people like Francis. The Uganda I know, with its little patches of cabbages and beans, hugging the sides of buildings and hills across the countryside, shouldn't be allowed to suffer for the instant financial gratification of governments. 

What many people want, as they tend to their shambas, is to be the masters of their own destinies, to have safe houses and to be able to provide food for their families.

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