For once I realise that when Ugandan Public officials choose to use logic to reason out issues, they can be spot on. On Thursday 22nd April 2021, the Honourable Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Engineer Hillary Onek without mincing words and in response to the United Nations Resident Coordinator stated that, “I don’t agree that our farmers toil and suffer to get market for their produce, and then you are telling me the quality. Which quality has failed? All of you (UN officials) are eating Ugandan food you buy from the market here. Why are you thinking of quality now? I don’t agree with that because that is a way of protecting [food market for] the foreign [people] in America and other places. You want money to remain there. We also want market for our food and we are very strong on that.”
There has been a sense of taking Uganda for granted, a country known to be very refugee friendly. You keep hearing of food supplies being imported from other countries and the story peddled by agencies like the World Food Programme is the lack of quality. While they may have a point, it is a feeble one as effectively responded to by the Minister.
If these entities are genuinely interested in empowering Uganda to handle these refugees, is it better for them to continue sourcing food expensively from foreign suppliers or empowering local value chains to ensure that they get the quality and quantity they need? That song of poor quality is a ruse and has been sung for long.
In June 2019, a story broke out of food poisoning in Karamoja and the very WFP was accused. Four people died in the process while hundreds got affected. The culprit was a fortified porridge blend called Super Cereal supplied by a Turkish firm, the Demirpolat Group. This is allegedly a big multinational firm according to online sources having numerous contracts to supply the UN with food. How could it supply poisonous food if indeed it meets the standards that the UN Resident director was pointing out?
It is intriguing to note that a subsequent investigation launched into the matter yielded inconclusive results. Really? People die after eating the food and you fail to trace the fault in the food? It is time for us to stop stomaching such crappy talk aimed at lining the pockets of international capitalists when our local farmers are failing to get adequate market for their produce.
If quality is an issue, I know for a fact that improving quality of foods produced shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to solve. The factors affecting it are known and it’s a matter of just pulling a few strings and all will fall in place. I have engaged in similar quality upgrade of the rice value chain and seen results out of the small efforts we undertake. How much more would happen if WFP with its millions of dollars undertook that initiative?
What further hurts is going to Turkey to get fortified porridge when in Uganda we have numerous companies that make very good fortified foods. One of them exports high grade fortified posho to Khartoum and WFP keeps a blind eye over that? Someone somewhere is not being genuine and wants to keep Ugandans poor while praising them for being hospitable. Does mere hospitability bring food on our tables?
I am glad within a day of the Minister’s pronouncement, the WFP came up and agreed to purchase food from local suppliers.
“We have made affirmative action to buy (relief food directly) from Uganda for national and regional intervention of WFP. We already started purchasing maize for school feeding programme in Karamoja from local farmers such as a group of female farmers in Kaabong District,” Mr El Khidir Daloum (WFP Country Director) said.
“But they (farmers and traders) need to observe quality. We are open to provide technical support and train people on post-harvest handling,” he further added.
As a country, I hope the Minister’s stand ends up rewarding the numerous Cooperative Societies, Small and Medium Enterprises as well as Commercial farmers involved in Agribusiness. There is a fear lurking that this directive might be a veiled effort to further reward those that were responsible for providing poor quality food supplies for distribution during the Covid-19 Lockdown period. For once Honourable Minister Onek, surprise us further by ensuring equitable access to these WFP opportunities.
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