Food insecurity in northern Uganda, a region recovering from two decades of conflict, is approaching crisis levels due to a combination of factors, including bad weather and lack of adequate farm inputs, agricultural officials have cautioned.
“The first season’s harvest has been so poor because of a long dry spell, while heavy rains, pests and diseases are destroying crops for the second season,” Jackson Lakor, a senior agricultural officer in Gulu district declared.
The dry spell in the month of June and early July adversely affected preparations for the second planting season in the region and destroyed crops planted during the first season, he added.
“We anticipate tougher periods for IDPs [internally displaced persons] and other people in months to come because the food quantity from the first season harvest was inadequate to feed them for the coming months as they await the second harvest that is being badly affected by the rain,” Lakor said.
He said a contingency plan for the region’s food security was required to help the people, especially IDPs returning home.
IRIN spoke to several returnee farmers in Gulu, Amuru, Pader and Kitgum who said their harvests had been poor due to the bad weather.
Omara Otto, a farmer in Madi Opei in Kitgum, said his harvest had been so poor he would be unable to feed his family in coming months.
“I thought I would get seeds from the first season’s harvest for planting in the second season but there is virtually nothing, the long dry season destroyed the beans, maize, millet and groundnuts that were maturing,” he said.
Another returnee farmer in Lukole Village in Pader district said his six hectares of groundnuts, beans and maize were razed to the ground by a hailstorm.
An assessment of the hailstorm estimated that some 403 acres of crops had been destroyed.
The national agricultural advisory officer in Gulu, Alfred Otenya, said crop productivity had been far below the expectation because of the dry spell, deterioration of land fertility in some areas, poor farming methods, lack of high yielding as well as a shortage of food supplies in markets as result of high demand from neighbouring southern Sudan.
The bad weather badly affected crops such as pulses and cereals in the fields, Otenya said, adding that the situation had been made worse by the high number of buyers from southern Sudan, leading to food shortages.
He said with food prices having risen sharply in the past few months, some farmers have had to sell their food reserves.
High food prices
A market survey in Gulu, Kitgum, Amuru and Pader districts indicated that prices of commodities such as groundnuts, sim-sim, maize grains, sorghum, millet, beans and cow peas have increased as result of low supplies and increasing demand by consumers.
A kilogramme of groundnuts in Gulu fetched Sh2,200 (US$1.5), beans Sh1,600($5), maize Sh600 ($0.4), while millet went for Sh800 shillings ($0.5).
Noah Opwonya, an official of the National Chamber of Commerce, said food shortages and the high prices had dramatically raised the cost of living.
The high prices have also affected the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Bai Mankay Sonkoh, the head of WFP in Gulu, said their supplies had diminished in the past two months because of the inadequate supply and high prices.
“Currently, the market cannot provide enough for what we need, this means there isn’t enough food for distribution to IDPs,” he said.
“We are currently implementing a food security assessment in Gulu and Amuru to try to determine crop yield. This activity will go on for the next one year to help determine crop yield and requirements for intervention.”
Sonkoh said preliminary results of the assessment had shown that even if people in the region were accessing land, they were able to only cultivate about 30 to 40 percent of the land.
IDPs are more at risk of food insecurity, officials have warned
He said WFP was working with partners to see how to increase food productivity in coming years by providing agricultural inputs, tools and seeds to farmers in the region.
He said seed multiplication centres had been established in Gulu and Amuru in efforts to improve farming.
Malnutrition rates in the region have also increased as more families face food shortages, with several health units reporting an increase in cases of malnutrition.
Statistics obtained from feeding centres at the Gulu regional referral hospital and St Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu showed that up to 1,200 children who were suffering from moderate malnutrition had been treated in the past four months.
Rose Vivian Anzoyo, a nutrition specialist at the Gulu referral hospital, said most children treated were moderately malnourished.
She said some of the mothers said they lacked food to feed their children.