Mon. Sep 21st, 2020

Supporting Farmers

Karamoja maize glut leaves grains in stores

6 min read

 Karamoja, maize glut, uganda

A Karamoja farmer beside her granary. Uganda’s northeastern region of Karamoja is on the cusp of becoming a major source of food relief.

In Summary

  • The potential to become a regional food producer, Karamoja remains marooned by impassable trunk and feeder roads that cut it off from the lucrative markets in Kampala and beyond.
By JULIUS BARIGABA
After decades of neglect that spawned poverty in Uganda’s northeastern region of Karamoja, the area is turning the corner and is on the cusp of becoming a major source of food relief. The problem is lack of markets and poor transport infrastructure.
Recently, and for the first time, the World Food Programme bough 98 tonnes of high quality maize from the region which has periodically suffered devastating droughts that burned all pasture and left livestock emaciated.
The region’s fortunes took a turn for the better about six years ago following a change of policy by the government, that saw relief agencies and local NGOs started working with the local population, introducing crop farming to end Karimojong’s dependence on cattle.
The purchase of maize from some of the region’s greenbelt districts of Napak and Nakapiripirit shows that the efforts of WFP and its local partner Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development (Acted) are paying off.
“We depended on food aid, but five years after we received training on cultivation, we have a bountiful harvest, and that sometimes, there is even enough left over for sale,” said Margaret Lote, a widower and mother of nine who lives in Namalu sub country in Nakapiripirit district.
Her two acres can produce a minimum of 10 bags of maize, but in a good season, she harvest is double this amount.
She retains enough for her family’s needs and the remainder is stored at a nearby community warehouse for sale.
To put this turnaround into context, one needs to look back at the food emergency crisis in the region 11 years ago.
From late 2007, Karamoja suffered severe drought and hunger, which, according to medical records obtained in June the following year at St Kizito Hospital Matany — the largest in the region — left 63 people dead in the space of six months.
The records showed that 405 patients suffering from marasmus and kwashiokor, mainly from Moroto and Nakapiripirit, had been admitted to the facility.
Each month, the records indicated a rising number of admissions of patients with severe malnutrition, mainly children, mothers and elderly women.
Toward zero hunger
In the first three months of 2008, the average monthly number of those admitted suffering severe malnutrition was 25.
But between April and June, the number rose to 53, with a death statistic of 16 per cent, as opposed to 8 per cent recorded in 2007, which had a monthly patient average of 23.
Thus, Karamoja earned itself the image of Uganda’s poster boy for hunger, starvation and malnutrition.
These harrowing tales sent relief agencies into overdrive, to engaging the nomadic Karimojong pastoralists — long labelled as having no interest in farming — to make explore the food potential of this region.
The fertile soils in Amudat, Napak, Nakapiripirit and Moroto Districts, which form the green belt of Karamoja, held the key to unlocking the region’s food potential.
“We must achieve zero hunger because unlocking food potential is not an end in itself,” said El Khidir Daloum, the WFP country director, referring to the purchase of 98 tonnes of maize.
He was alluding to the reality that schoolgoing children and infants in some parts of Karamoja remain reliant on food aid.
The UN relief agency paid Ush1,350 ($0.35) per kg for grain bulked at Namalu and Ush1,200 ($0.32) per kg for maize stored at Iriri warehouse — which the farmers consider to be “very fair prices.”
Grain, if produced to international standards, is big business both locally and globally. For instance, last year alone, WFP bought $19 million worth of grain from Uganda.
According to the African Development Bank data, by 2030 the size of food and agribusiness in Africa will reach $1 trillion, which Karamoja could take advantage of, changing itself from a basketcase into a food basket.
The potential to become a regional food producer, Karamoja remains marooned by impassable trunk and feeder roads that cut it off from the lucrative markets in Kampala and beyond.
The quantity that WFP purchased to distribute as food relief in the rest of the region is a drop in the ocean as majority of farmers are now stuck with several thousand tonnes of maize which they cannot take to market due to the poor infrastructure.
“We produce a lot of maize, it can reach 5,000 tonnes,” said Emmanuel Loumo, the store manager at the Namalu satellite collection centre, boasting a 100-tonne capacity, where 48 farmer groups store their surplus, ready for wholesale buyers.
Indeed, 35km north of Namalu, another group of farmers, which targeted WFP as the obvious buyer, has also been stuck with 30 tonnes of maize since last December for lack of buyers.
Green Farmers Association chairperson Anne Lemukol says that the group was motivated by the famine that hit much of Uganda and the region in 2016, seeing an opportunity to double production and make money if food shortages persisted.
The group was targeting the market in South Sudan and Lodwar in Kenya’s Turkana County, but bad roads rendered access to these markets impossible.
“We had intended to sell 60 tonnes in order to buy a tractor, so that we could increase our acreage, but where do we now put it when we still have the old produce? As we speak, 30 tonnes remains unsold,” she said.
While relief agencies buy grain for distribution to refugees and in other emergency situations, the farmers lament that the process can be drawnout while they need cash quickly.

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