2 November 2016

Uganda: Food Prices to Rise Due to Drought

Photo: The Observer
A farmer in Mbarara in his garden ravaged by drought.

The dry spell that has engulfed the country has hit farmers hard, so much so that some are moving with their cattle to areas as far as Tanzania, while other farmers watch helplessly as their crops wither away, writes ALON MWESIGWA.

Jenipher Birungi, a farmer in Ibanda, is going through the ordeal of starting afresh. In the month of July, it rained twice, giving her the confidence that the wet season was finally arriving and, therefore, she needed to plant onions on her one-acre piece of land.

"The rain disappeared thereafter," she says. "The onions that had come out of the ground dried up; I am starting all over again [to plant].

Like many farmers, Birungi depends on rainwater to grow her crops. She follows the traditional two seasons of the year pattern to plant. Many farmers are finding it hard to plant due to the uncertainties over weather. This year, the rains have been unpredictable, leading to a drop in crop yields.

At the neighbouring cattle corridor of Kiruhura and Isingiro district, livestock have starved to death with farmers deciding to take their animals to other districts, some even as far as Tanzania for grazing.

Such difficulty in food production is likely to lead to a spike in food prices. The impact of the spike in food inflation also affects Uganda's position as food basket for the region. Also, Uganda is known to be a host of refugees, with institutions such as the World Food Programme buying food from local farmers.

In the capital Kampala, the prices of food are starting to go up. At Bwaise market, Ann Nalungalabours to explain to customers why the banana fingers she sells at Shs 1,000 have drastically reduced in size and numbers.

"We no longer see the people who used to supply us," she tells an inquisitive female customer. Nalunga counts five green banana fingers for a bundle and sells that at Shs 1,000, which meant a bunch would cost between Shs 10,000 and Shs 25,000.

A whole bunch of matooke goes for between Shs 20,000 and Shs 35,000. However, just early this year, Nalunga sold 10 fingers at Shs 1,000. Presenting the October 2016 monetary policy report, Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile said drought remains one of the biggest risks to the economy's recovery.

"Because of the drought in many parts of the country, food crop prices are rising with annual food crop inflation increasing from minus 1.9 per cent to 5.1 percent in the last three months," Mutebile said.

Birungi told The Observer: "At this time, we should be weeding and planning for a harvest season in December. Look, we are planning to plant again; we still can't be sure if it [the rain] will be enough."

Majority of Ugandan households, about one in every seven, obtain their livelihood from subsistence farming with a majority in rural areas (82 per cent), according to the 2014 national census.

Traditionally, the central, western and eastern regions have two rainy seasons, from March to May for the first rains, and the second rains from September to November. The northern region receives one rainy season from April to October, and the period from November to March has minimal rain.

These weather patterns have become increasingly unpredictable. Experts blame this on a population boom that has seen sources of rain such as forests and swamps being encroached on, plus the effects of climate change brought about by factories polluting the ozone layer with toxic fumes.

District leaders and residents in Isingiro and Kiruhura have said this is the most severe scarcity of water and pasture in more than a decade. The two districts are known for production of milk.

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