Youthful Moses Moya has no regrets for abandoning his ancestral home in Mayuge district in eastern Uganda. He churns out chapatti and rolex at Nakawa on the Kampala- Jinja highway.
Not far away, a hawk-eyed Karimojong woman keeps watch over children who are barely five years old near Centenary Park in Kampala. They stretch out their hands begging for money from passersby.
In Kabale district, Moses Ashaba has made up his mind to go for the expansive pieces of fertile land in Kibaale district. He wants to start a new life in what has become “the promised land” for people in southwestern Uganda.
The three youthful people have something in common; they have migrated or are planning to migrate in order to survive. Their lifeline, which is land in their home areas, has become barren and can no longer secure them a decent livelihood.
As a result, they have had to abandon their homeland to survive the perils of food insecurity and income insecurity in the rural areas.
This comes to mind as we commemorate this year’s UN World Food Day, today. The global theme is, Change the future of migration.
No wonder, according to the 2017 World Hunger report, the Ugandan population that is facing a risk of hunger and food insecurity has risen to about 10 million in 2016, from about seven million in 2015.
The report explains that this increase was largely due to extreme climatic conditions, which affected food production across most parts of the country.
Food insecurity and malnutrition
The regional advocacy manager for Sustainable Diets for All programme, Immaculate Yossa, says Uganda, which is often referred to as a food basket for the region, is also experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition.
“How do we have food insecurity in the country yet Uganda is a food basket for the region?” she says, adding that there is a need for implementation of government policies to improve agriculture.
For instance, increased funding to agriculture and support for the smallholder farmers.
Certainly, funding to the agriculture sector is still low, compared to the requirements. For example, the share of the agriculture budget has remained at just 3% of the annual budget.
Because of this, key agriculture sector elements, for example the extension services, have not been fully implemented. And without expert extension services, many farmers make mistakes, which in turn force them to abandon farming all together.
By the end of the last financial year, 26% of the national directorate was fully staffed, with another round of recruitment in this financial year.
At district level, there should be a total of 13 staff per district. At the moment, there are 116 districts in the country, which brings the total number of staff to about 1,508.
These include production and marketing officers, extension co-ordinators, principal veterinary officers, principal crop officers, principal fisheries officers, senior veterinary, crops and fisheries officers, animal production officers, entomologists and vermin control officers.
At the moment, 26% of the positions at the districts are filled, with another 22% to be added by the end of this financial year.
At sub-county level, a total of 9,548 staff are targeted. These include veterinary officer, agriculture officer, fisheries officer plus their assistants and an entomologist. Of these, at least 33.4% have already been recruited, with more recruitments coming in the next two financial years.
With about 3,600 extension workers already recruited, the ratio of extension workers to farming households was 1:2,472.
According to Beatrice Byarugaba, the director of agriculture extension at the agriculture ministry, this is still below the recommended ratio of 1:500.
With an estimated 8.9 million farming households at the moment, it means that each extension work is taking care of 2,472 homes. If they are to visit at least five homes per day, they will need 494 days to complete the cycle of visiting all the households. Certainly, extremes such as the fall armyworm cannot wait for that long.
Yossa, says the growth of urban centres has also been followed with street vending of food. This is regarded as illegal and unsafe because of the poor food handling practices.
“We need to change the legal framework because urban low income consumers still need to access a diverse diet,” she says, adding that the street could meet this increasing demand.
She points out that migration of people from rural to urban areas was taking place because amenities and infrastructure were lacking.
She pointed out that migration was depriving the rural areas of the much needed labour.
According to the latest Uganda Bureau of Statistics report, urban dwellers spend at least 70% of their earnings on food. However, with simple interventions like using home prepared manure, for example, they can produce most of the food they need and improve the nutrition at home.
“Urban dwellers can easily use kitchen refuse and urine to grow vegetables organically, for example,” Victoria Ssekitoleko, a former agriculture minister and now an agriculture lobbyist, says.
She explains that with these simple interventions, the increasing expenses on food and poor nutrition by urbanites can be reduced.
Changing climate and adaptation
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world is on the move.
“More people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since the World War II due to increased conflict and political instability. However, hunger, poverty and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change are other important factors contributing to the migration challenge,” FAO states.
Climate change is caused by emissions such as carbon dioxide from production processes, which trap heat escaping to the atmosphere, thereby causing global warming.
The warming of the earth disrupts rainfall patterns and also melts the ice on mountain tops, like the Rwenzori.
Three-quarters of the extremely poor people base their livelihood on agriculture or other rural activities.
Creating conditions that allow rural people, especially the youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so and to have more resilient livelihoods, is a crucial component of any plan to tackle the migration challenge.
What FAO is doing
FAO is working with governments, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and local communities, to generate evidence on migration patterns and is building countries’ capacities to address migration through rural development policies.
“We support governments and partners as they explore the developmental potential of migration, especially in terms of food security and poverty reduction,” FAO states.
People have always been on the move, but the current migration appears to be unmatched. Who will address the drivers or triggers of the new wave of migrations?
Organisations, governments and citizens need to work together to promote rural development. This is likely to keep the youth like Moya and Ashaba in their homeland.