Friday, 10 February 2017

Questions from the Audience: Food Availability in Uganda

The other day I posted a picture on Facebook as part of a promise to my friend Matt in response to his frustration about the high cost of a single piece of fruit back home. Since it was my usual market trip the next day, I told him I’d snap a pick with the estimated price tag and send it to him.

The contents of this picture cost me about $11 Canadian dollars.
After posting this picture, I was asked about how the locals fare if they aren’t able to grow their own food. I haven’t responded to this yet, because I think it deserves a little more than just a quick response on social media.

So, here it goes!

Uganda is an extremely fertile country. That food insecurity is rampant in this country never ceases to dumbfound me. There are eight different agro-ecological zones throughout the country, which means that a variety of crop scan be grown, with some areas doing better than others in one crop over another. In addition to its fertile soils, Uganda is also blessed with two rainy seasons. That means that each year provides to opportunities to produce and harvest food – basically two peak Annapolis Valley growing season per year!

That being said, approximately 80% of the working population is employed – formally or informally – in the agriculture sector. The majority of farming operations in the country are at the subsistence or small-holder (under 3 acres) level, although there has been an expansion of the commercial market over the last number of years. However, in relation to food security in the country, it’s more an issue of access rather than availability.

Now, with that in mind, let’s tackle the actual questions at hand – Are the people finding it expensive who live there? Are they eating poorly if they are not growing their own food?

The short answer is yes and no. Given that the majority of households are engaged in food production on some level, it’s more a challenge of what people are eating rather than if they have enough to eat… although that, too, is an issue.

To take a quick step back, the average Ugandan meal consists of two parts – food and soup or sauce. Food is basically starch, which in Uganda can be rice, matooke (I variety of plantain), sweet potato, cassava, “Irish” potato, millet, or my least favourite thing in the history of food except maybe eggnog – posho (basically instant potatoes, except made with maize flour). Greens, pumpkin, and cabbage are also generally included here. Soup is where the protein comes in. The options here include beef, goat, chicken, fish, beans, or peas. There is also sometimes an option for g-nut sauce, which unless you have a peanut allergy, I would recommend you never turn that stuff down – it’s incredible, especially on matooke!! The actual soup bit of the soup usually has onion, tomato, carrot and green pepper. To have a meal with any of these options costs anywhere between $1.25-4.00, depending on where you are*.

A pretty typical Ugandan meal.
Photo credit: Emily Murray

Back to the questions!

Food items like posho and millet actually have quite a bit of nutritional value, although it’s far from providing all the necessary nutrients. These are the main staple foods, with rice and matooke closely following. The former two also tend to cost a bit less, or at least that’s what I’m told. As noted previously, many Ugandans operate at least in the subsistence level, so food is generally available to them… but the range of what is available is often limited, as many of the extras are sold in the markets or at the commercial level. I should also probably mention that a number of fruits are grown here, as well, such as pineapple, passion, a variety of citrus, watermelon, and papaya to name a few. If you’re interested in the cost differences, check out this blog post written by a fellow Canadian also living in Uganda**.

However, one of the biggest challenges as of late is the result of an absent rainy season. This past year, the second rainy season simply did not happen. This led to a good number of crops failing across the country! This also meant that food insecurity increased, as limited supplies are available and their cost begins to increase. The good news, though, is that the rains seem to be on track for the first round this year, at least. But whether or not last year’s trend will continue or worsen is another story!

But, to answer your questions, the cost of living is relatively low – especially compared to Canada! While people generally make less, many services are also less***. Food, is also a lot less, provided you’re not only buying Western selections, which can sometimes be costly, such as cheese, nuts and Heinz Ketchup (and preferably not all mixed together!). Therefore, because food costs are less, people can usually sustain themselves nutritionally on what they make. In other words, as long as the rains cooperate, and the harvests are good, there is plenty of food for everyone!

-the Orange Canadian

*Interestingly, it is most expensive where I currently stay now, rather than in Kampala!
**Actually, she replaced me at my original source of employment in Uganda!
***I had epic dental work down last week that cost me less than $30… I have had some great dentists in Canada, but that visit was by far the best dental experience of my life!

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