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Uganda warns of food insecurity due to prolonged drought

By Ronald Ssekandi KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- The Ugandan government on Tuesday warned that its population was slipping into the food insecure phase due to the prolonged dry spell that has led to crop failure.

In a new report launched here dubbed National Food Security Assessment, an estimated 69 percent of the country’s population is minimally food insecure.

“These households still have food stocks from the second harvest that are expected to last for the next two to three months,” the report launched by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said in part.

The report also showed that 26 percent of the total population is facing stressed food insecurity meaning that the population just has enough food and is unable to afford some essential food expenditures.

It also showed that 10.9 million people in the country are experiencing acute food insecurity situation, of which 1.6 million are in a crisis situation.

“Food security across the country is deteriorating. The current food insecurity situation, when compared with the last two reports of November 2015 and July 2016 shows an increase in the percentage of the country’s population that is in Phase 2 (stress level of food security),” the report showed.

It said the increasing demand for food in external markets and the influx of South Sudan refugees into Uganda has worsened the situation where by the poor households cannot afford food from the market.

Rugunda said the government has earmarked 25 billion shillings (7.1 million U.S. dollars) to purchase relief food for the food stressed population.

“It (government) is in the process of procuring 6,000 metric tonnes of maize floor and 1,400 metric tonnes of beans. Deliveries of relief food to populations severely affected in Karamoja, Teso, Bukedi and the cattle corridor is on-going,” he said at the function attended by donor agencies and diplomats.

Vincent Ssempijja, minister for agriculture said government has procured seeds to distribute to the population now that the rains have started. He warned the population to use the food they have sparingly.

“Government is working with development partners to ensure that we are not going to reach emergency and famine,” he said.

According to the World Bank, it will give Uganda 14 billion shillings (4 million dollars) under the cash for work program in the semi-arid region of Karamoja to enable the population to use the money they have earned to purchase food.

“More than 170,000 Ugandans can benefit and another 130,000 Ugandans are already supported through the ongoing initiative,” Christina Malmberg Calvo, the World Bank Country Manager said.

She said the bank will fund other activities aimed at boosting agriculture production.

Hilary Onek, minister of relief disaster preparedness and refugees, said the government is now going to concentrate on sustainable measures to avoid a repeat of such food crises.

He highlight the measures as increased use of irrigation as opposed to depending on rain fed agriculture. Government will improve on post-harvest handling noting that farmers lose up to 40 percent of their harvest due to poor handling.



Crop destroying worms attack Uganda

KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- The Ugandan government on Tuesday announced an outbreak of crop-destroying worms in the east African country.

Vincent Ssempijja, minister of agriculture, while speaking at the launch of the country’s food security situation report urged farmers to remain calm as measures are being sought to fight the worms.

“We had prepared early enough and our teams have been deployed to assess the outbreak and define the necessary control actions,” Ssempijja said.

According to the state owned New Vision daily, the unknown strain of worms have been identified in at least 20 districts that are known for maize production.

Scientists, according to the paper, are carrying out research on whether the unknown strain is the same as the fall armyworm that has ravaged farms in at least eight African countries.

Armyworms derive their name from the habit of marching in large numbers like an army, as they search for food. The pests eat leaves and stems, leaving only rickety stalks and brown residue as they move from one crop to another.

The armyworms come to Uganda as the country is suffering the effects of a long dry spell that led to crop failure causing a food crisis.

Experts warn that if there is no immediate action, the worms may exacerbate the food crisis as they destroy crops.

Fall armyworm is a relatively new pest from the Americas, whose presence on the African continent was first reported in Sao Tome and Principe around January 2016, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The agency says the pest is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73 percent depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, especially when it has reached an advanced larval development stage.



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