Researchers from five countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Rwanda have launched an initiative that will analyse regional trends in food prices. This is expected to bridge the information gap for policymakers and help them come up with solutions to boost food security in the participating countries.
A number of institutions will participate in the research and analysis of the trends to help in the forecasts of the regional food trends and agricultural practices. The institutions include Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) which will research in Uganda, The Economic Social Research Foundation for Tanzania, National University of Rwanda, Ethiopia Development Research Institute, University of Nairobi, and the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System from Kenya.
The gathered information will be posted on a portal accessible to the public on www.efpdp.org, and policymakers are expected to be key users of that information to inform practical decisions, geared at improving food security.
High food prices have continued to bite hard in the country despite the fact that inflation has eased to a single digit. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) partly blames the spike in food prices on the high fuel prices, low supplies to the market due to the long spell of drought and a weak currency.
While UBOS figures show that annual food crop inflation dropped from 6.3% in September to 4.4% in October 2012, the story appears to be different in the markets; many Ugandans will swear there hasn't been any decline in the price of food.
According to Dr Swaibu Mbowa, a research fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), "In Uganda, like other EA countries, food prices have continued to rise and remained high ever since the time of the first 2007-2008 world food crisis".
Presenting a paper, Food price trends analysis in the East African region: the case for Uganda, at the launch of the regional initiative to analyse trends in the food prices, Mbowa noted that, for instance, prices of beans rose from Shs 400 in 2007 to Shs 2,500 a kilogramme in the same year.
The price has since remained above Shs 2,000 a kilogramme to date. For maize, prices went up from Shs 200 to about 1, 500 a kilogramme in 2008. That price remains firmly above Shs 1,000.
Dr Sarah Ssewanyana, the executive director at EPRC, says high prices make the issue of food security not only a thorny matter in Uganda, but also a global and regional concern. She says high food prices have far- reaching implications on poor households.
"The poor in Uganda spend approximately 65% of their income on food. This means increases in prices might reduce the number of meals they take a day. More people also go in for less nutritious foods, which leads to hunger and malnutrition," she said.
President Yoweri Museveni has a different view when it comes to high food prices; he believes rural households, the majority of whom depend on agriculture, earn more during a price boom. Researchers, dispute this argument. They say producer prices have not increased at all, although the consumer prices have. They say it is the middlemen who earn and not the farmers.