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Francis Alinyo and Terry Leahy
Abstract: Food security is a key aspect of human development. This article explores the shortcomings of agricultural interventions in two districts in Eastern Uganda. Our study shows that these interventions have achieved only minor successes in relieving rural poverty and strengthening food security. Programs that support prominent farmers with the aim of commercial development are unlikely to touch the poor. Food insecurity is related to the gendered division of agricultural work, control of cash income and the cycle of planting, harvest and crop sales for poor farmers. The article recommends a set of effective subsistence based strategies for poor farmers with an emphasis on the interests of women.
Keywords: Food security; Uganda; sustainable livelihoods; subsistence; gender
The economy of Uganda is dominated by the agriculture sector, accounting for 80 percent of employment (Ministry of Finance 2008) and 22 percent of GDP (Danida 2005: 16). Production is predominantly for national consumption and 66 percent of agricultural GDP comes from food crops (Danida 2005: 23). Government action on agriculture has been constructed around the ‘Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture’ put in place in 2001 (MAAIF 2000), and revised more recently with the ‘Development Strategy and Investment Plan’ for 2010 to 2015 (MAAIF 2009). The key strategy of both plans has been to deal with rural poverty by increasing the commercialisation of agriculture, moving farmers out of subsistence production. Whether as a result of this policy or otherwise, there has certainly been a trend towards commercialisation. Between 1989 and 2004, the value of non monetary subsistence agriculture fell from 55 per cent of the total economic value of agriculture, to 42 per cent (Danida 2005: 23). Nevertheless, over 80 per cent of rural families still rely on subsistence agriculture to some extent (Culbertson and Kalyebara 2008). Along with this partial commercialisation of agriculture, there has also been some expansion of agricultural production. Commercial agriculture expanded by five to six per cent per year between 1989 and 2004, with subsistence agriculture also expanding by two to three per cent per year (MAAIF 2000).
Despite the implementation of the modernisation plan and the growth in commercial agriculture associated with it, rural poverty is still a very real problem. While poverty declined up until 2003, it increased thereafter. For crop farmers, the percentage in poverty rose from 39 percent for 1999/2000 to 50 percent in 2002/3. This increase in poverty for crop farmers occurred despite the fact that food crops have become a more important part of the commercial agriculture sector in this period, and despite the increasing export of maize from Uganda (Danida 2005: 16, 21). In other words, increasing commercialisation of crop agriculture has clearly failed to pull crop farmers out of poverty. The impact of rural poverty on food security and health is marked. Twelve percent of Ugandan children die before their first birthday, and four out of ten of those who survive are stunted, with vitamin A deficiency, and anaemia being common ( Bachou 2002: 356-7; Cabañero-Verzosa 2005:1).
In this study, we aim to examine the ways in which the policy settings developed by the Ugandan government have failed to come to grips with the real drivers of food insecurity in the rural economy and we go on to suggest some alternative approaches which could be more effective. Before doing this it may be useful to explore the ‘Plan for Modernisation’ and its more recent incarnations in more detail.
The Plan for Modernisation
In 2006, the African Union announced its Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme. This sets a goal of a 6 per cent per annum growth rate for the agriculture sector. With this, there is also an agreement by African governments to put 10 per cent of their budgets into agricultural development. This policy is premised on the expected economic impact of growth in commercial agriculture, seen as a recipe for poverty relief:
Growth in agriculture enables general patterns of development that are employment intensive and hence favourable to the poor. Agricultural growth benefits both rural and urban poor by providing more food and raw materials at lower prices … reducing poverty by increasing labour productivity and employment in rural areas. (FARA 2006: 7)
The logic and rationale of this current approach fits well with the Ugandan government’s ‘Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture’, established in 2000. The objectives of that plan were to ‘increase incomes and improve the quality of life of poor subsistence farmers, improve household food security, provide gainful employment’ (MAAIF 2000: vi). The mission was ‘eradicating poverty by transforming subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture’ (MAAIF 2000: vi). The intention was that farmers would orient most of their production to the market to gain higher incomes. By doing this, they could guarantee food security. Instead of providing their own food through their farms, they would specialise in profitable commercial crops and use the income to purchase food. Technological change that would increase productivity for these farmers would also ‘keep downward pressure on real food prices’. In other words, farmers would use technology to produce more with less land and labour, causing a drop in food prices. This drop in food prices was expected to benefit both rural and urban poor, in their role as food purchasers. An expansion of the food market coming from lower prices and increased production was also expected to provide capital for business ventures in the urban areas. Increased income for farm households would also stimulate economic activity in rural areas. Ultimately, people would ‘leave agriculture’ as the stimulus from lower food prices enabled industrial growth in the towns. Land markets were to be enabled by land reforms to secure property rights. The effect would be that small farmers who left rural areas to get work in the cities could sell their land to more efficent large scale enterprises (MAAIF 2000: vi-vii).
While the main point of this article will be to review the failure of this approach in a particular rural setting in Uganda, it is worth mentioning some of the more global issues to begin with. The approach depends crucially on a good market for agricultural products. This market has to be one that is available to poor rural farmers, who are intended to convert their production from subsistence. Yet it is clear that many agricultural products in fact have a very unreliable market. For example the earnings from Ugandan coffee peaked at USD 2,300 per tonne in 1995 before falling to USD 800 in 1999 (Danida 2005: 19). This was one of the key causes of the increase in rural poverty following 2003. It is understandable that small scale farmers who are very poor will be risk averse and will prefer to maintain much of their production in staple foods. This can lead to a second strategy of commercialisation, in which staple crops become commercialized (Danida 2005). However this is not without its problems. The increase in fish exports from Uganda has driven up the price of fish, undermining what was a cheap source of protein for the poor (Byaruhanga and Opedum 2007). As we shall see, the commercialisation of maize can mean that crops are sold at harvest and there is no cash or stored food to deal with lean times. Successful technological innovation can indeed increase productivity which may just cause a fall in prices and a glut, leaving farmers without cash and without any fall back in subsistence (Danida 2005). The commercialisation of agriculture and the subsequent sale of land to successful farmers can just mean that subsistence farmers are driven to urban centres looking for work without any real options to get employment.
Total reliance on the market to supply food at low prices is not always the best strategy for the poor. It is a myth that an increase in agricultural productivity enabled the Asian economies to grow their way out of rural poverty. For a start, despite the productivity gains of the Green Revolution, and the economic growth associated with that, people from these regions are still suffering food insecurity. A third of the 850 million people hungry people in the world are in East and South East Asia and a third are in South Asia (Pretty 2005:1; Watson, Jiggins, Raina, Appleby 2008:9). The problem is that the poor do not have sufficient income to buy food. The recent food crisis of 2008 demonstrates very clearly that the poor cannot rely on low food prices coming out of the global food market. After 25 years of falling prices, the global price of wheat went up by 130 percent and the price of rice more than doubled (ATG 2008).
Nor is it true that the Asian Tigers began their industrialisation with a commercialisation and liberalization of the agricultural sector. To take South Korea as a key example, from 1949 to 1955, the government appropriated large holdings from landlords and ensured that ownership was limited to 3 hectares, that those who farmed the land had to own it and that farming land could not be leased out (Kwon and Yi 2009: 774) – a far cry from the kind of liberalisation envisaged in the Plan for Modernisation or the Comprehensive African Development Programme.
The hope of imititating the growth of the Asian tigers is clearly at the forefront of these African strategies, yet there are some real problems. One is that these Asian economies have got there first, providing strong competition for any aspiring entrants (Hoogvelt 2001). A second is that basic cereal crops are produced most profitably on large mechanized farms that do not provide a lot of employment for the poor, even when they are located in a developing country (Sender and Johnston 2004). This problem is compounded by the subsidies to agriculture in the rich countries which make it difficult to compete on the international market where cereal crops are concerned (Sparks 2003). With such tough competition in the cereals market it may seem that high value horticultural crops are the best option for poor farmers in developing countries, as suggested by the World Bank. Yet it is difficult for poor farmers to compete on quality and price for horticultural products with well resourced and well educated farmers using the latest machinery (Bryceson 2000; Sender and Johnston 2004). Strong competition from other developing countries in agricultural products can lead to a fall in prices of the kind that devastated the Ugandan coffee industry. Throughout Africa, and especially in the region of Kapchorwa and Bukwo that we will be investigating, roads and the markets that go with them are a very real problem and it seems unlikely that the governments, or foreign donors, will be able to invest sufficiently to make a serious dent in this (Timmer 2005; Danida 2005; CAADP 2009). Even when there is employment for the poor in new agricultural enterprises, there is no guarantee that wages will be high enough to allow the poor to purchase their food or other necessities. The unfortunate tendency is for wages to be extremely low, as those without any fall back in agricultural subsistence have to take what they can get (Mather and Adelzadeh 1998).
All of these issues provide a background to look at the detailed problems of agricultural interventions designed to relieve poverty and premised on the strategy of modernisation and commercialisation.
Our research in Kapchorwa and Bukwo
Our research in Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts is intended to address these issues at a much more local scale. Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts, are in eastern Uganda, on the slopes of Mt Elgon. The two districts are occupied by people of the same historical and ethnic origin – the Sebei. The two districts have 17 Sub Counties. Five sub counties that have widely benefited from external agriculture interventions were selected for this study. The five Sub Counties are; Benet, Kaproron and Sipi, in Kapchorwa, and Kabei and Suam in Bukwo district. This part of Uganda is widely recognized as suffering from land degradation and food insecurity, despite good soils and rainfall (IRIN 2010).
Our aim in the article is to consider agricultural interventions that have been initiated in pursuit of the ‘Plan for Modernisation’ and to explain why these interventions have been unable to deal with food security issues. The article consists of three parts. The first part looks at the shortcomings of the government agricultural interventions in the study areas. The second part looks at the roots of food insecurity and the last part considers alternative strategies.
This study relies on a number of sources of information. Francis Alinyo, one of the authors of this study, worked on agriculture and development issues in this region from 2000 to 2007, being employed by an international NGO as well as by a local council. During this period he gained an intimate knowledge of the progress of agricultural interventions in the region. In 2008, we conducted a set of interviews with key informants, as well as focus groups and PRA (participatory rural appraisal) sessions with local residents. These have provided the quotations cited in this study.
Approaches to food security
Ziegler (2002 cited in Chilton and Rose 2009:1204) explains the ‘rights based’ approach to food security, claiming that food security is ‘the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs’. Food security is considered in this article in terms of access to food at individual and household level. This article argues that the barriers to successful food security projects are rooted in social systems that systematically disadvantage some sections of the community in accessing food.
In recommending a variety of strategies to deal with food security we adopt a sustainable livelihoods framework with its focus on ‘human wellbeing and sustainability rather than just economic growth’ (Foresti, Ludi and Griffiths 2007: 1). We recommend the promotion of a sustainable livelihood that combines a fluctuating cash income with an assured provision of household food from the subsistence economy, a strategy of ‘multiple livelihoods’ (Walker 2007: 133). Marketing agricultural products for cash is just one part of what can make food security a reality. We agree with Bryceson (2000: 8) that ‘continued reliance on subsistence production represents a vital safety net’ and that an attempt at modernisation that seeks to replace the supposedly backward subsistence economy ‘can lead to the neglect of opportunities to enhance current livelihood strategies’ (Shackleton, Shackleton and Cousins 2001: 596). More broadly, we see it as a mistake to regard industrial capitalism as ‘the pinnacle of economic and social evolution’and non capitalist economic units as ‘primitive, backward, stagnant, traditional, incapable of independent growth and development’ (Gibson-Graham 2006: 40-41).
Recognitions of food insecurity
The study found that food insecurity in Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts exists in the form of hunger, malnutrition and lack of income to purchase food. Female and orphan headed households, the poor and those without any land ownership are the worst affected. This is despite the numerous food security projects that have been implemented, both by government and by foreign donors. Discussion of the problems of hunger and of the hunger of the poor was a constant theme in our interviews and focus groups:
‘The majority of families here suffer from severe hunger and they have to rely on selling labour in order to survive. Many will live on one meal in a day. The situation is terrible. Some of them get loans from the money lenders and pay them back after harvesting their produce. July to October is the peak of hunger.’
‘Right now, there are several families that are experiencing hunger. Most households eat once a day because they lack enough food to live on. That is why if you look around you will realize that people are gloomy and weak. Beans are the main food now in many households. This is causing problems like diaorrhea.’
Food insecurity is having an effect on health and girls’ education. Women in Suam and Kaproron are aware of the risks associated with prostitution, but they are forced to sell sex when there is no food. As Chilton and Rose (2009:1206) put it; ‘the more food-insecure a woman is, the more risks she may take to get food on the table’. PRA participants noted the HIV/AIDS deaths in their villages. Food insecurity is also having an impact on girls’ education. Girls join their mothers to fetch fire wood for sale, or to sell agricultural labour for food or money. As a result, enrolment for girls is lower than for boys in the primary schools in the two districts. The disparity is highest between July and October, when food insecurity is at its peak:
‘Those who do not have food provide labour in the gardens of those who have money and food, in exchange for either money or food. This is very common. And then there are those who collect firewood from the forests to sell. These are women and children, especially the girls. These are young girls of between 8 -15 years. They are enrolled in school but they have to help their parents when there is no food. How do they attend school when they have not eaten anything? Some women ‘sell’ themselves to get money to buy food. Several people have died of HIV/AIDS in the area and the lack of food is bringing this problem.’
Short comings of current food security projects
Methods of recruitment and participation
Programs that aim to alleviate food insecurity in Kapchorwa and Bukwo tend to end up being dominated by those who already leading members of the community. To start up a ‘community’ project, development agencies and government extension workers call representatives of the community, in most cases leading men, to meetings to identify food security problems. They are provided with sets of proposed solutions and the corresponding financial resources sourced. The local leaders are then expected to take feedback to the communities and prepare them for implementation by forming group projects which consist of 20 to 40 people as members. Each project is headed by a local committee, dominated by ‘prominent’ people. The process of group formation is hasty, causes suspicion and relies on existing power structures in the community which many find marginalizing (Oakley 1991). Another model for project initiation is associated in particular with the National Agricultural Advisory Services. In this model, extension workers identify ‘lead and model’ farmers to champion the commercialization of agriculture. These wealthier farmers are given agricultural inputs to create demonstration farms which the poor are expected to copy.
The criteria for recruiting members to community projects disqualify those in dire need of food assistance. The projects we visited required membership fees between 5,000 and 20,000 Uganda Shillings annually. While membership fees are a good idea to promote ownership, those who are hungry find sums like this too much to pay. Members are also required to be a resident or own land in the area where the project is operating. This requirement discourages women, who are not likely to be the owners of land, from joining. Another excluded group are those with uncertain land tenure. A leading member of the Tuikat group explained his perspective:
‘For one to be a member of our group, a membership fee of 5,000 shillings per year is needed. Another consideration is that you must be a resident or own land in the locality. So far 43 of the 113 households in Tolil village are members of the Watershed group. External support from government or NGOs does not benefit non members because how do you extend support to somebody who has not shown interest. Some time ago, ActionAid supplied coffee seedlings to everybody in this area but most of the poor people sold the seedlings at half the market price because some of them did not have land to plant while others sold the seedlings to get money to earn a day’s living. You know, dealing with poor people is not easy.’
This account suggests that the poor use whatever they can sell to purchase food. They cannot afford ‘community group’ membership fees if they are so poor that they have to sell coffee plants when they receive them, rather than selling the beans later. The middle class who dominate group projects view the poor as people who have ‘not shown interest’ – they are causing their own problems because they waste resources and money. Leaders, such as the speaker, are unable to enter sympathetically into the world of the poor or to devise strategies for food security that would be effective. Their preferred response is to exclude them from projects and assistance.
These project models also fit with the preferred mode of operation for government programs based around the ‘Plan for Modernisation’. Although the plan is intended to move subsistence farmers into commercial operation there has also been a decision to target only the ‘economically active poor’ in government projects such as those run by the National Advisory Agricultural Services. These are farmers who have access to productive assets and some skills and knowledge (Danida 2005: 43). The outcome is that poorer subsistence farmers are left out of the picture (Danida 2005: 41,46,58). As we have seen, this bias is exacerbated by local realities that influence the design of bottom up community based projects and ensure dominance by leading members of the communities.
Targeting the local middle class
Projects tend to be targeted to relatively middle class villagers and are oriented to commercial farming. The following is typical of the way lead farmer projects work:
‘I am a model farmer in this parish. I was given potato seeds, fertilizers and herbicides by the National Advisory Agricultural Services program to establish a potato multiplication garden. In total, the inputs I received are worth 2 million shillings. The potato garden I have established is supposed to serve two purposes; one, as a learning unit for other farmers who want engage in potato farming and two, as a centre where other farmers will get improved potato seeds. I like this program because it has helped me to access planting materials and inputs which I would not have otherwise accessed.’
Interviewees chosen to be lead farmers and develop commercial cropping were typically people with more land than most of the poor. In most cases they also had a job outside of farming that allowed them to pay for some inputs and supplement their livelihoods when their farming income was insufficient. One recipient was a secondary school teacher with what is considered a large holding (15 hectares):
‘I was given the chickens and materials as a grant under a government program. The program’s focus has slightly shifted from training farmers to providing inputs. Inputs are important because most people here are very poor and unable to purchase inputs. I received 100 chickens worth 1 million shillings and the poultry house cost 2 million. There are very few farmers here who are able to raise 3 million to start a farming project. Therefore the idea of giving farmers inputs is very good.’
The projects that were discussed by our interviewees fit with the philosophy of ‘development through enterprise’ and emphasize ‘business models driven by a profit motive that engage the poor as producers and consumers’ (Karnani 2009: 76). An increase in the productivity of commercial farming could make sense if we were to believe that food insecurity is caused by an absolute shortage of food. In this logic, more productivity produces more food leading to more food security. However it makes little sense if we think that a shortage of cash is the main problem. As has often been pointed out, food insecurity does not come about as a result of an insufficiency of food but because the poor do not have enough money to buy food. Successful farming for the middle class will not solve the cash problems of the poor and they will not be able to buy any extra food that has been produced. A related factor commented on by our interviewees is that much of the maize produced by more wealthy farmers was in fact destined for export and was making no difference to food security for the poor; in fact this export market was actually driving up the price of maize.
When effective income provision from employment in market agriculture, or any other kind of paid work is unlikely, an emphasis on funding commercial enterprise can just have the effect of helping the minority, who may benefit, while the vast majority are confirmed in their poverty. Meanwhile government funds that could go into more effective food security strategies are unavailable. With its current strategies for assistance, the government is not in fact meeting its responsibilities to facilitate rights of access to food (Chilton and Rose 2009: 1207).
Another problem associated with current food security projects is the way they encourage dependence on external resources. Farmers from the projects we visited in Kaproron listed banana varieties developed in agricultural research stations as an item they needed to improve banana farming, yet farmers in the neighbouring sub-county, Sipi, have been able to improve production from local varieties using mulching and intercropping. Another example is the provision of improved livestock breeds to wealthy farmers. As a result of such approaches, farmers are coming to believe that their problems can best be solved by external agencies. The solution is seen as providing external inputs, reinforcing the notion that ‘only outside experts can give help’ (Kretzmann and McKnight 1997:4). Traditional farming systems and indigenous knowledge that could deal with food insecurity are fast disappearing. The ability to attract external funding is becoming a measure of performance for local leaders. Yet externally motivated development projects are very likely to fail when outside funding ceases (Oakley 1991:18).
Roots of food insecurity
An effective approach to food security has to break decisively with the orientation to middle class farmers that is the de facto outcome of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture and similar strategies coming from NGOs. It has to depend on resources which can realistically be accessed and maintained by the poor, rather than on expensive external inputs. Above all, it must be premised on a close social analysis of what it is that is driving food insecurity. The roots of food insecurity lie in the patriarchal division of labour and domestic power in this region, the intimate link between these arrangements and the harvest cycle, and in problems of insecurity of tenure and land poverty.
A key cause of food insecurity is the relationship between men and women. Women play a pre-eminent role in agriculture in Uganda – they are 90% of the agricultural labour force for both subsistence and cash crop production but own only 7 percent of productive land (Danida 2005: 63). In the districts we studied, men and women have different and complementary roles in agriculture, yet the bulk of hours of agricultural work are done by women. This became very apparent when we compared the workload diaries produced by our interviewees. Historically, in Sebei culture, women are viewed as analogous to household property, a tradition expressed in bride price and men’s ownership of property. Women are ‘visitors’ in the family. Such a view undermines women’s capacity to make decisions concerning agricultural production. In farming, women perform agricultural roles like weeding and harvesting while men undertake opening of the land and harvesting. However, selling the produce and making decisions on the use of accrued income is exclusively men’s affair. Women have no authority to say when and how much farm produce should be sold, let alone what the income should be used for. Efforts to involve themselves in such affairs can provoke a battering or divorce. Food insecurity is directly related to these gender issues. Sales of agricultural produce peak soon after harvesting season when middlemen move to the villages to purchase the produce from the male sellers. In many cases, men sell all the produce and spend all the income from the harvest on drinking and other luxuries and yet the burden of providing food rests with women. The key importance of this pattern is that it means that the strategy of moving poor families from subsistence and into commercial farming is by no means guaranteed to relieve poverty and prevent food insecurity. In fact the reverse outcome is more likely, as food that would have been stored for household use before marketization is now sold leaving the family without food and without the cash to pay for food when they need it.
A second gender factor is the exclusion of widowed women from land ownership. While married women have access to land through their husbands, this can vanish if the husband dies. The husband’s relatives will claim ‘their’ land back and the widow will have no land to grow food. While these practices are actually against the law in Uganda today, our interviewees did not regard the legal protections of women’s right to inherit land as effective.
As a farmer from Kabei explained these issues:
‘As women, we face unique farming problems. As a window I have lost all the land that my late husband left us with. The relatives of my late husband claimed that I am not a member of their clan and grabbed all the land. Now I have to brew and sell to earn money to buy food. If I don’t do this my children will go hungry. For other women, their husbands sell all the produce they get and leave the responsibility for feeding the family to the woman. When the man has sold everything and there is nothing to eat, the woman must sell her labour in exchange for food. That is why most of the people you see in the gardens are women. They are providing labour so that they will be paid money to buy food. Otherwise, when their husbands return home in the evening and find no food, they will be in trouble, they will be beaten.’
Another gendered constraint is that women are overloaded with household and farming work. So they rarely participate in sessions offered to develop farming skills. Men dominate community projects and training opportunities leaving out the actual practitioners. Those given skills by the funding organizations are not the ones involved in production.
These three factors mean that food insecurity in Kapchorwa and Bukwo is a structural problem related to gender. As Facio (1995:17) argues, women’s food security issues arise because of their subordinate position to men at the domestic and community levels. Furthermore these issues have serious effects on the food security of other family members; children and even the husbands themselves, who are unable to source food after the harvest income has been spent.
Incomes and the harvest cycle
The problems with the harvest cycle are not just an effect of gender. They are also tied into the way poverty and the market in food interact. Small holder farming is the main source of income and livelihoods for the communities in this region. So households sell their havest to purchase goods and services that they need urgently. At a later stage they are forced to buy food at higher prices. One of the local leaders in Suam Sub County explained that pressing household demands force people to sell their produce when the prices are low:
‘We produce a lot of food in a year. Kapchorwa and Bukwo are actually the food basket for the country and surrounding areas. The problem is we sell almost everything, especially soon after harvesting when prices are very much lower. People are under pressure to pay for a variety of needs, it is not their choice. The problem is they have to buy food later at even higher prices. There are also households that have nowhere to cultivate and yet don’t have any source of income. It is a problem for them to buy food when prices rise so high.’
Hunger becomes an issue when households do not have income to purchase food as they wait for theirs to mature in the field. A common coping mechanism is that farmers acquire loans from individuals and micro finance institutions that charge them exorbitant interest rates. In the process they have been trapped in a vicious cycle of food insecurity and poverty. Farmers who earn a salary from government use the income to smooth out the ups and downs of the harvest cycle. They sell their produce when the supply is low and prices for their produce are high – because they can use their salary income to purchase household needs. This civil servant explains his strategy:
‘It depends on the products. Milk is basically for home consumption. I sell part of the maize and keep the rest for consumption. I will use most of the eggs to generate income. Another important factor is the fact that I and one of my wives are civil servants. We are able to buy inputs like seed and fertilizers on time. Our salaries act as a supplement when there is no other income generated from farming.’
For the poor of Kapchorwa and Bukwo, the commercialization of agriculture takes place in relation to their condition of poverty. A very likely outcome is that they will sell all their harvest to get cash and then spend the cash. As we have seen, this pattern is also linked in to the patriarchal division of labour and domestic economic power. An effective program for poverty relief has to take this context into account, rather than simply assuming that commercialization will solve problems of poverty.
Land tenure insecurity
The issue of land tenure also has an impact on food security. Many farmers in the study area come from groups that were excluded from what is now Mt Elgon National Park. People who missed land during the resettlement process in 1983, complained that in the absence of secure tenure, their desire to engage in farming is hampered. There are few incentives to invest in farming activities that only pay in the long term if farmers are uncertain how long they will be allowed to access their land (Pretty 1995: 36). Communities in Yatui and Kisito sub-counties, regions which border the park and where ownership is contested, complained that they are not allowed by the management of the national park to grow long term crops like coffee, bananas and fruit trees. They argued that this makes them vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty. As we have seen, land tenure insecurity is a perpetual condition for women in these districts. As they are the main part of the agricultural labour force, this has a particularly dire effect on strategies for labour investment in practices that pay off in the long term – including of course, many actions necessary to sustain soil fertility, as well as the planting of perennials for food, fuel or fodder.
Proposals for dealing with the gender issues
We are not the first to have noticed the problems of food insecurity that can come out of the patriarchal division of labour and domestic power. The Danida evaluation of the ‘Plan for Modernisation’ notes that women do most agricultural work and have control of and responsibility for subsistence crops, ‘whereas men, who own the land, tend to grow cash crops and raise livestock for cash income – which they often spend for their own personal needs’ (2005: 63; see also O’Laughlin 2007). Their solution to these problems is to improve women’s ownership of land. They note that there has already been some legislative progress with this – for example women’s rights to inheritance are now recognized – and recommend further changes so that women become the legally recognized co-owners of family land. This seems unlikely to take place and at any rate unlikely to become effective. The new inheritance law has not stopped seizures of widow’s lands. Men’s customary control of cash income for agricultural products is not likely to be altered by a law which states that women have legal co-ownership. As Kimani (2010) points out: ‘Gender relations are the most difficult social relations to change’.
Towards food security
As we have seen the causes of food insecurity in Kapchorwa and Bukwo are complex and structural. Any attempts to improve the situation must depend on a deep analysis of these. In an apparent move to address food insecurity, external institutions are instead contributing to the problem – supporting the middle class and marginalizing those who are hungry, poor and landless. In the light of our critique of existing programs and our survey of the basic issues lying behind food insecurity we will make a number of suggestions.
Securing land tenure for the poor
Where the poor do not have adequate access to employment income, control over at least some land is vital. A full analysis is beyond the scope of this article but the following suggestions could be useful. Funding should be applied to enable women to claim their rights under Ugandan law to maintain their ownership of the farm after their husband dies. Land should be restored to widows where members of the husband’s clan have taken it. The land insecurity of those excluded from Mt Elgon National Park should be resolved. Government funded land re-distribution is an option for the landless poor.
Whereas all the development projects in the districts emphasised participation as the mode of delivery, our study found that the form of participation practiced is what Pretty (1995:173) calls passive participation – ‘a form of participation where people are involved merely by being told what is to happen’. The outcomes of food security interventions would be more successful if all the people in a specific neighbourhood were actively involved in the analysis and implementation of food security projects for their neighbourhood. As Pretty remarks, long term economic and food security can be realized when ‘people’s ideas and knowledge are valued and power is given to them to make decisions’ (1995:172). Full participation could bring ownership and sustainability to food security projects – something missing from the projects that we studied. Those who are food insecure would be able to access external assistance. Full participation and consensus building would enable projects to identify and build on community assets.
The need to involve all farmers in food security and land care interventions is recognized even by the elite who are the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. The actions of those who are not recruited into projects can have negative impacts on other farmers:
‘I have been categorised as a lead farmer in this area by the National Agricultural Advisory Services. I have received 100 chicken and materials to build a poultry house. It is expected that people who want to learn poultry management will come and learn from my unit. I have also established contour bunds to check runoff water. But some of the problems I experience in my garden are caused by the activities of ordinary farmers, who are not presently a target of the interventions. Such problems include water runoff, theft of farm products like firewood and fruits, as well as roaming livestock. These people leave their livestock to roam around destroying whatever is in the garden. All the contour bunds and trees I planted have been destroyed.’
So, some of the common agricultural problems are transboundary. Water runoffs, thefts and free grazing of livestock, are problems that can best be addressed through collective action. The ‘catchment approach’, has the potential to target and involve communities living or farming in a particular catchment (Mitchell 2001:96). It would mean targeting all people within the given catchment to develop a food security project (see Westermann 2008 for an example of a successful African project using this strategy).
Promoting ‘women’s crops’
In these districts, there is a gendered segregation of crops in terms of preference and control at household and community levels. Women prefer and make decisions for crops like sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet and vegetables. Maize, coffee, barley and wheat are predominantly controlled by men. Our interviewees often referred to sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet and vegetables as ‘women’s crops’. The men acknowledged that it is uncommon for them to get involved in these crops. When we visited the local markets, we did not see any men selling these crops. The situation is no different when it comes to livestock; women prefer and have control over poultry rearing while men have control of cattle and goats. Men are concentrating on crops with a high market value and women on crops that are most relevant to home consumption (and food security).
The link between gender segregation of crops and market relevance has also been noted in Mukadasi and Nabalegwa’s study of Uganda tree cropping:
‘Marked variations were reported in tree species preference according to gender needs. The fruit tree species with a high market potential are the most preferred by men. This is due to the potential revenue likely to be obtained through selling the products. Our survey results show that women preferred those tree species with a lesser market potential, and effectively having more products available for domestic use.’ (Mukadasi and Nabalegwa 2007: 10)
We consider the gender segregation of crops and livestock as an asset – a local social setting that can be built on to combat the food insecurity situation. As often noted, ‘resources transferred to women are more likely to be used for feeding children than resources given to men’ (Devereux 2001:292). Men and women’s expenditure preferences differ; the women we talked to were more concerned with ensuring that their children do not go hungry while the men chose business opportunities.
Against this background, we suggest that promoting crops and livestock over which women have greater control will address household food insecurity. A good starting point is to support and expand the kitchen gardening activities that have been established for farmers in Sipi and Tegeres – one of the rare effective project interventions in these districts. Aid projects should assist villagers to construct water tanks to supply water for domestic use and for kitchen gardens. Interventions for kitchen gardens and cropping fields should promote the traditional ‘African Dark Leafy Green Vegetables’ which are nutritionally superior to introduced commercial vegetables and require fewer costly inputs (Ekesa et al 2009). Projects should emphasize the root and cereal crops controlled by women, poultry rather than larger livestock and tree crops for fuel wood, fodder, fruit and nuts. The crops that are known as ‘women’s crops’ are unlikely to be harvested by men for cash income – projects that target their support to these women’s crops are more likely to make an impact on household food security. This is both because these crops are controlled by women who have the responsibility for feeding the household and also because these are precisely the crops which are hard to market for cash income.
Rather than an attempt to redefine development ‘to include the elimination of discrimination against women’ (Facio 1995: 17) this suggestion approaches the gender power dynamic in a tactical way, using existing cultural resources as assets. The segregation of men’s and women’s crops is clearly an operation of patriarchal power in Uganda today – with men’s crops being the ones that bring a cash income. One strategy would be to demand an end to this discrimination – to try to enforce women’s rights to control commercial crop resources. Another approach is to treat this crop segregation as a cultural asset which may be used tactically to achieve some empowerment for women.
Neo-liberal agendas on the part of governments put commercial farming as the target of development work. Yet in cases like this, the effect of this agenda is to create a situation in which almost all land is devoted to a commercial crop which actually is unlikely to produce a reliable income and the ability to purchase food throughout the year. Turning this arrangement on its head, we are suggesting that growing foods that are not likely to enter the commercial economy is a more secure route to regular everyday food security for poorer farming families.
Securing women’s rights to the cereal harvest
Rationing of agricultural produce is a strategy that the Sebei community historically used to address hunger. The harvested produce would be divided and stored separately. One of the granaries – the one controlled and managed by the wife – was used to store food for household use. Another granary stored food for other purposes. This practice was recommended by some of the women we spoke to:
‘In my opinion, we should go back to the old days where there was a granary for food and another for sale. Those days the food granary would even be called the women’s granary. Those granaries with stuff to sell were called ‘men’s granaries’. A law should passed by the village councils that every household should have at least two granaries; one for food and another for sale. This should be the demand of all the women.’
It appears that the collapse of this arrangement has increased conflicts between men and women and led to food shortages. Our interviewees proposed enactment of by-laws to restore this practice. This is possible if projects mobilize communities and their local leaders. We note that this strategy is the opposite of that proposed and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to maximize commercial production of maize – to establish a state of the art grain storage facility for 2000 tonnes of maize (IRIN 2010). Instead our proposal is to retain more of the maize crop to enable local food security, storing it at each household.
Crop diversity for maximum food security
A key issue in food scarcity is the fact that cereal crops are harvested and then sold without being stored for later use. Later on, families go hungry as there is insufficient cash to purchase food. We are recommending that a variety of carbohydrate crops that are not normally marketed for cash be grown that can be harvested throughout the year, or readily stored for lean periods. These are for a start the root crops such as sweet potato, arrowroot, cassava, potato and taro. Many of these store themselves in the ground and can be harvested at will. Some can be stored after harvest. There are also a variety of nut crops that can be grown in this region – macadamias, pecans and walnuts. These crops can be readily stored. Bean crops can be dried and stored – the obvious cropping beans such as soya beans, broad beans, and peanuts but also carobs, a tree crop. Fruits can be preserved by drying for eating at lean times of the year – mulberries are a particularly easily grown fruit crop that is rarely sold because it does not travel well. However it can be dried and stored quite readily. Aid projects should develop these crops and assist people with storage technologies.
The food security projects we have examined in Kapchorwa and Bukwo have been oriented around the ‘Plan for Modernisation’ of agriculture, established by the government in 2001, and still providing the rationale for most interventions by government and NGOs in this district. On the ground, the reality is that these interventions have benefited the middle class. Lower class people have been left more food insecure and marginalised. What is necessary is a strategy that is adapted to the particular problems which are causing food insecurity in the first place. Land shortage and insecurity is one problem and can really only be relieved by strong government action. Another set of problems revolves around gender and the role of the market economy for food products. There is the selling of food for cash at harvest; leaving no food for other times of the year and no cash to buy food. A second is the fact that the men of households control cash income from food and are motivated to sell crops for cash because they do not have the responsibility to maintain food supply for the household. A set of related strategies to deal with this context would emphasize crops which are not likely to be sold for cash income; would maximize the spread of crop harvests and crop storage so food is available throughout the year; would prioritize the crops that are culturally regarded as ‘women’s crops’; would secure women’s ownership of part of the cereal harvest for storage. What would have to go with these strategies is a policy of involvement and participation. The participation of women and the poor is essential. The strategies listed above can be considered as a range of suggestions, with community groups being invited to develop particular projects relevant to their own experience and desires. Projects should not depend upon the continued supply or purchase in advance of agricultural inputs; cash for this is what is most lacking. Projects should not be targeted at the already middle class with the aim of increasing the productivity of local commercial agriculture – this will do nothing for the poor.
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