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Food shortage a wake-up call, irrigation is way to go

Many parts of the East African region are facing severe food shortage after prolonged drought resulted in crop failure and diminished livestock productivity, leading to skyrocketing food prices.

In its latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns that food prices are rising sharply, putting a strain on many households in parts of Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity, said Mario Zappacosta, FAO’s senior economist and coordinator of the Global Information and Early Warning System.

In Uganda, the FAO report says, maize prices are up to 75 per cent higher than the year before. Somalia’s maize and sorghum production has dropped by 75 per cent, leaving 6.2 million people (more than half the population) facing acute food shortage.

In Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent, a situation mitigated by imports from Uganda, according to the FAO report. In war-torn South Sudan, food prices are two or four times higher than last year’s levels.

Poor and erratic rainfall in many parts of East Africa, leading to reduced farm output, is obviously to blame. However, also to blame is the failure of many an African government to prioritise modern farming methods in the face of changing weather patterns.

It is quite embarrassing that countries that have been stable and peaceful for long periods, and are moreover endowed with fertile soils and fantastic climate – like Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – should suffer food shortage in this era.

This could well serve as a wake-up call. Once bitten, twice shy. When countries with growing populations such as India and China suffered severe food shortages in the past, they rallied and embarked on green revolutions that turned them into significant food exporters. It’s time for African countries to do the same.

The faster we realise that the era of rain-fed agriculture is well behind us, the better. Uganda was able to feed its exploding population, now estimated at 35 million, without significant irrigation all these years because rainfall was adequate and consistent. The same can’t be said today.

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