Mr Sory Ouane, the new World Food Programme (WFP) country director in Uganda, has worked in the organization in several countries for more than 20 years. He spoke to Peter Nyanzi about their operations and new corporate strategy in Uganda. Excerpts.
What personal skills and expertise do you bring to WFP's operations in Uganda?
I am an agricultural economist by training and I have a long career in the United Nations. I started my career with the UN though I have never worked in my home country- Mali. I am a baby of the UN, it is the only organization I have ever worked for. In the past 22 years I have worked in various countries in Africa and at the headquarters in Rome. I started my role as country director in Congo Brazzaville, then Mauritania and Niger. So, I bring a wealth of international experience because every country is unique. So I have gathered a lot of experience, which I think will be useful to Uganda.
How is Uganda different from the other countries where you have been?
There are a lot of skills and expertise in Uganda. There are experts in programme design, monitoring and evaluation among other fields. I am an African but I was impressed by the quality of the workforce I found here. What we are doing now is to consolidate that capacity through further training.
One of your first activities in Uganda was launching a 6,000 metric tonne warehouse in Gulu. Why are warehouses important to WFP?
A few years ago WFP signed a memorandum of understanding with the Uganda Commodity Exchange (UCE), a move that enabled the warehouse receipt system to take off in Uganda. WFP pledged to support warehouse upgrades, increased purchases and support to training of farmer groups. With the return of peace, formerly displaced people have now returned to their homes and are growing food. So in partnership with USAID, we have constructed and renovated modern warehouses in Gulu, Kapchorwa, Soroti and Kasese plus dozens of other satellite collection points as part of the new Agriculture and Market Support programme, which is part of another Joint Action Agreement (JAA), which we signed with the Ministry of Agriculture in 2009. The revised JAA has been drafted to incorporate the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, which oversees the warehouse receipt system.
But there are indications that the number of farmers taking their grain to warehouses is reducing. Why is this so?
It requires a lot of sensitization. The government and district authorities need to reach the farmers and show them the importance of the warehouses. For instance the 6,000 tonne warehouse in Gulu has not been used to its full capacity. It is about changing the mindset of the farmers and the community.
Some say that the process of selling through the warehouses takes too long so the farmers prefer to sell to those who pay immediately though at lower prices?
It is the challenge of the market. We can't force buyers to buy immediately through the warehouse system. But many small holder farmers are starting to see the advantages of the warehouse system. For instance, they have been able to access credit from banks. Stanbic Bank, Centenary Bank and Housing Finance Bank have been extending credit, which so far amounts to $600,000, (about Shs 1.5 billion) based not only on the warehouse receipts, but also on WFP contracts. WFP support has enabled smallholders and traders in the Acholi region to earn US$200,000 (about Shs 500 million) from selling their produce.
How do you react to the fact that former IDPs who used to get food relief from WFP are now the ones supplying food to WFP?
It makes me proud to be part of WFP. I see this as an organization that is adding value to communities and the country at large. I think it is absolutely commendable.
As an African, what do you see as the main problem for Africa - which with all the capacity it has - is still a top net importer of food?
Not all African countries are food importers. The African Union has adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and all countries including Uganda are signatories. All African countries have made a commitment to devote 10% of their national budget to agriculture though not all countries have achieved that target. I am hopeful that we will get there one day.
Do you foresee a situation when Karamoja would stop depending on food relief and become a food producer?
We hope so and we are working on it. Just two years ago, WFP was feeding almost the entire Karamoja population of one million people. We have launched the Karamoja Assets Production programme, which is part of the broader Northern Uganda Social Action Fund. We have broken the cycle. The Karamoja region has not faced a famine since 2010 unlike other regions in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
With the new refugee influx into Uganda, how is WFP dealing with the situation?
We have spent more than $20m this year on refugees and we need at least $4.6 million. After end of September we will face a serious shortfall and we will not be able to meet the needs of the refugees.