Death toll from Uganda floods rises to 21, many more ‘feared dead’

The death toll in the weekend flooding triggered by heavy rains in eastern Uganda has risen to 21, the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) said Monday.

Esther Davinia Anyakun, Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, said seven of the dead were found in Mbale District, while three were found in Kapchorwa late Sunday.

URCS spokesperson Irene Nakasiita said 11 more bodies were retrieved from the River Nabiyonga on Monday morning, which brings the number of dead to 21.

“The rains have caused a lot of havoc that is beyond individual and community capacity. We ask the general public to leave all the potential waterways both in hills and valleys, landslide-prone areas; we don’t want to lose more lives,” the minister said.

The URCS said heavy rains had displaced thousands of people, and more than 1,000 households had been affected in neighbouring districts, while four others had been put on high alert.

The country’s meteorological department warned about the northern, eastern and midwestern parts receiving heavy rainfall in August two days before the incident occurred.

n Sunday, police and the military were called in to help in the search and rescue operations in Mbale, where stranded residents could only watch helplessly as their belongings were washed away by the floodwaters.

Mbale City resident commissioner Ahamada Waashaki on Sunday told AFP that “many more people are missing and feared dead.”

“There is a lot of destruction, roads cut off, buildings submerged as a result of heavy rain that started last night until this morning,” he said.

Rivers burst their banks

He said the situation deteriorated after the Nabuyonga and Namatala rivers burst their banks, causing flooding across most parts of the city.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja visited the scene of the disaster in Mbale, which lies about 300 kilometres (180 miles) northeast of the capital Kampala.

“Police and military marine forces will be coming to help in the rescue and search for dead bodies as we provide relief to the affected population,” her office said.

Floating bodies

Two local reporters told AFP they had seen bodies floating in the muddy brown floodwaters before being removed by police.

Several cars were also washed away, along with household goods and personal items as residents moved to higher ground for safety.

“In the past we experienced flooding but not the level of lives lost and destruction of property seen this time,” Waashaki said.

Nabbanja suggested environmental damage caused by human activity was to blame.

“I believe this disaster would have been avoided if people did not encroach on river banks,” she said in video shared by her office.

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The death toll in the weekend flooding triggered by heavy rains in eastern Uganda has risen to 21, the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) said Monday. Esther Davinia Anyakun, Minister […]

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Congo auctions 30 oil blocks amid environmentalists warning

Licensing rights for 30 oil and gas blocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo went up for auction on Thursday, opening parts of the world’s second-biggest rainforest to drilling that could release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

President Felix Tshisekedi presided over the launch of bidding at a ceremony in the capital Kinshasa. Attendees included representatives from France’s TotalEnergies and several domestic companies, although spokeswoman from the French oil giant said the company would not participate in bidding.

“The launch of the tendering process… speaks to our desire to put our resource potential at the service of our country,” President Tshisekedi said, arguing that fossil fuel production would boost development in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is in a context where fossil fuels including crude oil and gas are at the centre of global issues of peace and stability because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”

The President said modern drilling methods and tight regulation would minimise the ecological impact and denied that Congo was going back on commitments to protect its forests.

But environmental activists said drilling in the designated areas would inevitably have steep consequences. Several of the proposed oil blocks overlap with peatlands, swampy areas that hold billions of tones of carbon.

Simon Lewis, a leading researcher on Congo’s peatlands, estimated this month that drilling in the blocks proposed by the government could release up to 5.8 billion of tonnes of carbon, more than 14 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.

“In a zone where there are peatlands, any industrial exploitation means the explosion of a carbon bomb,” said Irène Wabiwa Betoko, who leads Greenpeace’s Congo Basin project.

Read: Greenpeace opposes DRC oil and gas project

Two of the other oil blocks overlap with Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas on the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu said bids to participate in production-sharing contracts with the government would be accepted over the next six months for oil blocks and three months for gas blocks.

Asked on Tuesday whether Congo might forego drilling in exchange for compensation from richer countries, presidential adviser Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu was skeptical.

He cited the example of Ecuador, which requested $3.6 billion in 2007 to offset revenue lost by not drilling in its Yasuni National Park. The initiative was scrapped in 2013 after it brought in less than four percent of the requested amount. Drilling began three years later.

In addition to 27 oil blocks, the rights to extract methane gas from three blocks in Lake Kivu are up for auction.

Vincent Rouget, the Africa director at Control Risks, a London-based consultancy, said Congo’s government was hoping to take advantage of high oil prices and fresh Western interest in alternatives to Russian fuel.

“But the combination of environmental risks, regulatory uncertainty in the sector, the huge logistical challenges of highly remote exploration, and on top of it all Congo’s higher political risk premium, will likely make many majors unwilling to commit,” Rouget said.

Previous efforts by Congolese governments to boost output beyond the roughly 25,000 barrels per day it has long produced along its Atlantic coast have run into these same challenges.

Tshisekedi’s government says Congo has 22 billion barrels of crude reserves and it is targeting production of 200,000 barrels per day.

But even if investment does pour in, critics say there is no guarantee it will benefit the Congolese people.

Congo is already a mining powerhouse, producing large amounts of copper, cobalt, gold, and diamonds, yet it remains deeply impoverished, due largely to corruption and misgovernance.

Two of the blocks on auction near Lake Albert in the east were stripped from Israeli investor Dan Gertler last year. Gertler is under US sanctions for alleged corruption in Congo’s mining sector. He denies any wrongdoing.

Gertler was in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony, a Reuters reporter said.

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Licensing rights for 30 oil and gas blocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo went up for auction on Thursday, opening parts of the world’s second-biggest rainforest to drilling that […]

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Africa’s real food problem is households are too poor to purchase it

ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and Mozambique’s 53 percent, Leo Kemboi and Emmanuel wa-Kyendo explain.

This is part 5 of our food and politics series.

Part 5: The recent food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 supply chain shocks has led people back to discussing the African food problem. Africa’s real food problem is a demand-side problem.

African households, both rural and urban, are relatively poor. Their low incomes restrict the access they have to food markets. For the African rural household, food problems comprise both climate shocks and market shocks.

Climate shocks affect both the supply of food and the source of income for rural households. Market shocks that result in increased prices also make it more difficult for both rural and urban households to access food. Many discussions, however, don’t sufficiently address the matter because they are framed largely as a supply-side problem.

Pundits lament that African farmers do not grow enough food. In practice, the selection of crops that African farmers grow faces intense global competition. Furthermore, variations in national productivity are great. Many international institutions that work on food and agriculture are focused on supply-side solutions of different flavours.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem, institutions including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa Export-Import Bank (AFREXIM), and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have proposed supply-side interventions to resolve Africa’s food problem.

The AfDB is a multilateral financing institution. AFREXIM is a pan-African multilateral trade finance institution. AGRA is a promoter of technology and financing solutions for Africa’s productivity problem.

Read: AfDB arm releases $5.4 million for Somalia food security

At the nation-state level, proposals for African food sovereignty comprise another set of supply-side solutions that are usually import substitution by another name.

To evaluate the food systems and their dynamism in East Africa, it is important to understand the nature of food production, which can be classified into homestead production where production is on a small scale, and labour intensive while large-scale production is capital intensive and application of more scientific methods.

Smallholder farming is practised by a sizeable portion of East African households, who primarily grow cereals that are highly competitive on a global scale. Low incomes per unit are a result of stagnant productivity in countries like Kenya and the surrounding region over the past 20 years.

fishing
William Kiarie feeds goldfish at his Green Algae Highland fish farm in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, central Kenya. This project is a beneficiary of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to improve agriculture and food security across the continent. PHOTO | AFP

Zero alternatives

Smallscale farmers automatically experience income shocks and food shocks when weather shocks cause the yield per unit to decrease. On the other hand, because there are no market alternatives available to them, middle-class and higher-income earners only experience access issues.

The food systems problem and how it affects the food market in sub-Saharan Africa can be defined through a variety of factors; economics, environmental, innovations, political factors, and degree of urbanisation.

Historically, it is unheard of for any country to have attained self-sufficiency in all different categories of food. How income causes problems in the food system is something that is not always obvious in the public affairs field. Households plug into the food market using income, which determines largely whether they face food shocks or not.

If a household deals in the livestock economy, income earned from the sale of livestock allows families to use that income to buy food, and this explains why there are famines whenever the rangeland economy is affected by weather as is currently happening in the Horn of Africa and parts of Uganda like Karamoja and northern Kenya.

Environment

The second factor that shapes the food system is the environment which includes climate change and natural resources. A large portion of Horn of Africa nations’ agriculture is rain-fed and vulnerable to weather shocks, which have been made worse by climate change, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that the climate shocks in the recent past have been frequent.

Climate shocks effects on agricultural productivity manifest themselves both directly and indirectly through unprecedented rainfall patterns, droughts, flooding and outbreaks of pests and diseases.

The unfavourable effect of temperature and rain variance on agricultural production results in uncertainty in food sufficiency in the region. Floods and droughts are harmful to agricultural production that cause food problems in the region that is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture.

Available land

In terms of natural resources, the proportion of total land that is suitable for agriculture determines the type of food system a country has. Agricultural land refers to the share of land area that is arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pasture.

According to data from the World Bank, Uganda has 72 per cent of its land used for agriculture, compared with Kenya’s 48 per cent, Tanzania’s 45 per cent, Ghana’s 65 per cent, Malawi’s 60 per cent, Burkina Faso’s 44 per cent and Mozambique’s 53 per cent. This means that already the food system is constrained by the natural conditions of a country.

The degree to which agriculture can be mechanised is determined by additional natural resource factors like water availability and terrain. Because Uganda and Tanzania have more water resources than Kenya, they have a comparative advantage over Kenya when growing crops that require a lot of water. If Kenya makes investments in capital-intensive irrigation systems, it may be able to compete.

The paradoxical relationship between low productivity and excessively low incomes makes up the third factor. In the East African region, some minor improvements to the seed and animal breeding systems have been made but have been slowed by required resources. This is constrained by the correlation between those innovations and the amount of capital that each nation’s agricultural sector can amass and deploy to improve productivity.

Political factors

The fourth factor that is important is the political factors that affect food systems, including public policies, conflicts, and general governance of the economy. To illustrate this, public policies in Kenya on food are built around guaranteeing high income to producers at the expense of the consumers. This kind of food regime has made Kenyan food expensive compared with other countries.

For example, the benefit incidence of the fertiliser subsidy in Kenya is appropriated by suppliers and big farmers, while smallscale farmers are not able to appropriate the same benefit. The subsidy is smaller and has not been able to cover all farmers. This is a market distortion generated by political action.

The fifth factor that shapes the food system is demographic, which include the degree of urbanisation. Some of the factors such as the rural-urban dimension, affect incomes and preferences (which include tastes).

The urban folk in East Africa like other African countries consume more rice, wheat and its derivatives relatively compared with rural areas.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem from the supply side, some international organisations have proposed some supply-side interventions.

One of the principles that has impacted food security on the continent is the idea of African food sovereignty. Sovereignty is an idea that is difficult to argue against. In Africa, an argument that runs against state sovereignty is a political loser, for it can be construed to be an argument for Africa’s perennial bogeyman — colonialism. Yet, the term sovereignty hides bad policy ideas from scrutiny.

Food sovereignty is the idea that a country should be fully sufficient in the production of its food basket and that anything less is tantamount to a breach of sovereignty.

Essentially, Africa should produce its coffee, tea, rice and chicken. The phrase makes it seem the smart, obvious and foundational approach to food policy.

In other words, the need to import agricultural products is an unacceptable vulnerability. Other states may use the so-called over-reliance on, say, grain imports to starve the importing country for political purposes.

Market shocks are anxiety-inducing events that tend to cause a clamour for security-oriented policy responses. Anxiety is the domain of the populist.

Economist and prominent theorist of the classical school of David Ricardo proposed that comparative advantage is the principal argument for international trade. That is, countries specialise in the production of one good or a set of goods — say agricultural products — because they can produce it more efficiently than any other nation can.

Countries then trade those goods in which they have a comparative advantage for the goods in which they have no comparative advantage.

The principle reveals that countries that produce goods for which they lack a comparative advantage incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation.

By the principle of comparative advantage, consumers get the cheapest goods at the highest quality possible. International trade allows Kenyan consumers to buy Ugandan bananas and Malaysian palm oil. Absent specialisation or trade, consumers would have a limited choice between pricey, possibly lower-quality goods. Bye-bye palm oil.

Furthermore, a country that tries to produce all the goods represented in its food basket must forego the use of land, labour and capital for the production of other goods.

If African countries must engage land, labour and capital in pursuit of African food sovereignty, they must incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation in the production of other goods.

Kenya cannot meet its demand for bananas at the same quality and price that Uganda can, for it has an abundance of water and rich soils Kenya lacks.

Policies of food sovereignty also assume that access is a matter of food supply. The Russia invasion of Ukraine has caused a sharp drop in the supply of specific grains.

Demand-Incomes ratio

Curiously, only the poorest consumers of this grain have felt the sharp increase in prices. Not-so-curiously, the wealthier consumers are relatively less affected. But this is not the way the problem is framed in Africa’s policy-making centres. Rather, policies seek to correct the lack of supply through interventions that will increase domestic supply.

These policies would go further by restricting foreign supply. The effect is that domestic suppliers are subsidised at the expense of domestic taxpayers and domestic consumers. In other words, African food sovereignty is import substitution in all but name.

In truth, food access is a demand-side problem. More precisely, food access is an income problem. This means that it is not the abundance of food that determines whether consumers get it but the levels of income.

The Russia invasion of Ukraine and other food crises of the present and past have had greater effects on poorer households the world over because those households are too poor to continue purchasing food at high prices.

In the short term, African nation states should respond to food crises with cash transfers to the most affected. A country like Kenya can reach its affected population with precise cash transfers through tools like M-Pesa.

Read: OBBO: Business people, you can take food to our hungry at a profit

In the long term, lowering barriers to trade and instituting policies that are conducive to structural transformation and economic growth would result in rising incomes that would then allow those consumers to access the foods they can afford.

African food sovereignty is a vehicle for state rents waiting to happen.

Africa’s food security problem can be resolved primarily through interventions that raise African household productivity and incomes.

When smallholder farmers encounter climate-related shocks, crop failures result in less food and lower incomes. They have less crops to sell and little money with which to buy food.

Spending a bulk of their income on food, urban households are also vulnerable to international food market shocks. Supply side solutions alone will not overcome the problem that African households are too poor to purchase food.

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ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and […]

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The smallholder farmers feeding the long food supply chain in Rwanda

Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in East Africa, but one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. It has the highest bean consumption per capita globally, followed by Burundi, and is the second-largest per capita consumer of bananas.

On a Thursday afternoon, under the scorching sun, hundreds of farmers lined up in Kigali’s suburb, Mulindi, known to be a junction of cheap fresh food from different parts of the country.

Energetic and enthusiastic, they got down to the business of selling fresh from-the-garden foods. Among them was Charles Mwizerwa. He isn’t a farmer. He is an innovator who had showed up to present different solutions to the challenges the country’s agricultural sector has faced for ages.

An agronomist and researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Mr Mwizerwa talked about an application called ICT4BXW, which, he said, has helped smallholder farmers across Rwanda combat banana disease.

“Over 8,000 smallholder farmers have downloaded the app, and they teach others about the information they find there. The ICT4BXW is an ICT-based tool with information in Kinyarwanda that acts like an early warning system to provide real-time data on the incidence of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt disease,” Mwizerwa said.

He added that farmers who do not own a smartphone can call 845 toll-free and learn about banana farming and how to fight diseases.

“This will increase food security in the country. About 20,000 farmers have used the platform,” he said.

Morris Haragirimana, another innovator, has gone in a different direction. He has developed a solar-powered irrigation system that he sells to farmers in his home area in Bugesera at Rwf 60,000 ($59).

“This drastically reduces the cost of production for farmers. It has made irrigation possible in some remote areas where electricity has not yet reached. This system is durable and farmers who buy it no longer need to worry about electricity or fuel bills. It is environment friendly and requires little maintenance,” Mr Haragirimana said.

Harvest Day

But these are only a small representation of what is happening behind the curtains in the struggle to feed 12 million in the predominantly agricultural country, where 72 percent of the working population is employed in agriculture.

Largely a subsistence agricultural country — much like the rest of the East African Community partner states — there is now talk of a “silent agricultural revolution” taking place in Rwanda.

Every first Friday of August, Rwandans gather in their communities to celebrate the National Harvest Day, Umuganura — meaning “thanksgiving day.” It is a century-old practice, and the food is communally shared in a large flat basket to reflect Rwanda’s food production.

The food mostly includes beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, maize, green vegetables, cassava, and sorghum cake — the most productive crops in Rwanda, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Rwanda, ranked the highest in bean consumption per capita globally, with an average resident consuming 34.8kg, is followed by neighbouring Burundi, where an average person consumes 31.5kg. The country also consumes a lot of banana, which is grown at different levels by at least 90 percent of households, according to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Rwanda is ranked the second-largest consumer of banana in the world, with an average Rwandan consuming about 227kg of banana per year, according to the Helgi Library which utilises data from the FAO corporate statistical database (Faostat) .

Although 75 percent of Rwanda’s agricultural produce comes from smallholder farmers, the sector employs about 70 percent of the population and contributes to around 30 percent of the country’s GDP.

In addition to the challenges of climate change and the fact that 90 percent of Rwanda’s terrain is sloppy, which makes it prone to soil erosion and land degradation, the UN reports that 81.3 percent of the country’s population is food secure.

Also read: Warning over hunger crisis gets louder in E. Africa

Food production

However, Rwanda’s food production is only a drop in the ocean of what the East African region produces, although production still varies.

Tanzania, for instance, contributes more than 80 percent of the total rice production in EAC, with the rest of the members supplying 20 percent, according to the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan.

Take Uganda, for example, 89 percent of the population is food secure. The FAO describes its population as still having normal access to food from own production as food prices in the market are affordable and have an “acceptable food consumption score” and can afford at least three meals per day of a diversified diet.

In contrast to Kenya, 36.5 percent of the population is food insecure. Kenyan farmers, whose crops depend on rain, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to drought and the unpredictability of weather patterns resulting from climate change, although this is a shared problem. Nevertheless, agriculture accounts for 65 percent of the country’s export earnings, and provides employment for more than 80 percent of the Kenyan population.

Although Rwanda’s population is generally food secure, the 2021 Global Hunger Index ranks Rwanda 98th out of the 116 countries, with a score of 26.4.

“Rwanda has a level of hunger that is serious,” the report says, an outlook compounded by data that shows that stunting has been a persistent issue in the country, despite efforts to eradicate, or at least reduce, it.

The UN estimates that 800,000 Rwandan children under five are stunted. Although the rates of chronic malnutrition among children under five decreased from 44 percent to 38 percent, rates are still too high. It is estimated that 18 percent of children between six and eight months are stunted, and 49 percent for children aged 18-23 months are stunted, with children in rural areas are more stunted than those in the city.

Part of the reason for stunted growth in Rwanda is high poverty rate, where more than 30 percent of the population is under the poverty line. Farming, perhaps unsurprisingly, has become one of the frontlines in the battle against poverty and hunger.

Agriculture jobs

One of the high-profile figures in this fight is Gerard Sina, 59, who has created more than 280 full-time jobs and 600 part-time jobs in Rulindo District, where he was born.

Mr Sina, who started his business when he was only 20, has also built a school in his home area, with the nursery to secondary sections, where learners study free, even those in boarding school.

His successful career started from his parents’ sweet potatoes harvest in 1983, whose puree Sina used to make his famous Urwibutso doughnuts, kick-starting his success and the transformation of the area where he was born.

Mr Sina, who works with more than 3,000 farming families, also offers free seeds, fertiliser, training and buys crops when ready for harvest. His flagship, “Akabanga,” a chilli pepper oil, has gained attention for himself and the country, and is probably one of the most well-known Rwandan products globally.

Many pieces have been moved to solve the Rwandan agricultural puzzle. One of them is seeds. After years of spending millions of dollars on seed imports, Rwanda says it has reached its target of becoming a self-sufficient in seeds supply. It is no longer importing maize, soybean and wheat seeds.

Before 2017, it depended on imports to meet its need for these seeds, bringing 3,000 tonnes of hybrid maize seed, 800 tonnes of wheat and 700 tonnes of soybean every year. Well up to 463,500 farmers now have access to improved seed. One of the many who moved the pieces is the pan-African agricultural organisation the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

In 2009, AGRA, through a grant, supported Rwandan maize farmers with the first hybrid seeds and, later, partnered with the Rwanda Agricultural Board in capacity-building of local seed companies under a project named “Securing Early Generation Seed for Emerging Seed Industry in Rwanda.” Before then, the country relied on imports.

One of the beneficiaries of the programme is Norah Kamashaza, 36. She has two farms in the Eastern province; one in Bugesera and another in Nyagatare, but she also rents out land to grow maize. Now, she has a significant market in the Eastern province, and sometimes also sells her produce through the government-owned “smart nkunganire” platform, where dealers search for stock and buy at a wholesale price.

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Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in East Africa, but one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. It has the highest bean consumption per capita globally, followed by Burundi, […]

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