Will forcing pastoralists to grow crops deliver food security for East Africa?
By DICTA ASIIMWE
- Since the colonial period Uganda have made various attempts to introduce crop farming in Karamoja in response to persistent outbreaks of famine.
- Estimates from OSIEA show that in Uganda, crop production takes up 70 per cent of the government and donor resources invested in Karamoja, while only 30 per cent goes to livestock.
- Nyabushozi in western Uganda and a large part of the Ankole-Masaka Corridor, which is also a semi-desert, used to be occupied by pastoralists, but these communities have since fenced off lands to graze in one place.
Loperkume Lowar, a Karamojong elder, seats us under a tree surrounded by flowering sorghum, which forms a semi-circle around his manyatta.
Inside the enclosure are the family’s two kraals. A tractor lies idle in one of the kraals, its original colour fading. The shiny silver ploughs of this UAU series tractor, which came into the Ugandan market in 2014, suggest it has never been used, a fact Mr Lowar confirms.
The tractor and the sorghum crop represent government’s effort to turn this community of pastoralists into settled crop farmers.
Mr Lowar was given the tractor to act as a lead crop farmer for the community he represented during negotiations at critical stages of a sometimes violent disarmament exercise in a region that has suffered decades of armed conflict.
In spite of the tractor, Lowar’s household still ploughs its small gardens using oxen, an easy choice since he owns livestock. Lowar’s interest in crop farming is low. He dismisses crop farming in Karamoja as a waste of time given the weather conditions.
“Our animals do everything for us. They dig our gardens; provide us with food in form of milk and blood and when we need sorghum, we sell the animals,” he explains.
Mr Lowar’s case is not an oddity around here given that this has been this community’s way of life for centuries.
Governments since the colonial period have made various attempts to introduce crop farming in Karamoja in response to persistent outbreaks of famine.
But according to Mark Ilukol, governments do not yet appreciate the difficulties of making crop production a major source of livelihood in the region’s pastoral communities.
Mr Ilukol oversees a unit for the Karamoja cluster, which the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (Igad) established to support Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan jointly develop the arid and semi-arid ecological zone in which the Karamojong, Turkana, Pokot, Nyangatom and the Topotha live.
Karamoja Minister John Byabagambi portrays the region as one with mixed opportunities, that can support crop as well as animal life — an argument that is met with disapproval among the Karimojong, who are steeped in a way of life that rotates around cattle.
Like many leaders in Karamoja and Turkana in northern Kenya, Mr Ilukol terms as wrong the push for crop production by East African governments and multi-lateral organisations as the best way to make pastoralists food secure.
As proof, Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA) programme officer Francis Akorikin says the most food-insecure and poor families in the Karamoja cluster are those that have heeded the government’s call to make crop production their biggest source of livelihood.
He highlights Napak district, which has adopted crop growing but routinely suffers from hunger. Parts of Moroto district that have focused on crop growing suffer the same problem.
Mr Byabagambi says food aid is needed for 2017 for Moroto and Amudat districts which suffered massive crop failure this year. However, he is optimistic that Napak will not require food aid since sorghum did well this year.
To Mr Byabagambi, the decision to invest in livestock or crop growing is a catch-22 situation. Pastoralists refuse to sell animals even when dying of hunger.
This is one of the reasons that Uganda wants to invest in crop production, so that families can have an alternative food source during hard times.
Estimates from OSIEA show that in Uganda, crop production takes up 70 per cent of the government and donor resources invested in Karamoja, while only 30 per cent goes to livestock.
This year, some 2,800 acres of land was earmarked for the Karamojong to grow food. The government also donated sorghum, maize and beans seedlings. The maize and beans seedlings failed due to the drought that hit the region. After replanting, floods washed away the crops.
Despite these hardships, Mr Byabagambi says pastoralists’ nomadic lifestyle has a negative effect on their stock, since the productivity of these animals is affected by contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, foot and mouth disease, and tick-borne diseases.
“Until we can get the Karamojong to settle like we did in Nyabushozi, we cannot invest in livestock,” he says.
Nyabushozi in western Uganda and a large part of the Ankole-Masaka Corridor, which is also a semi-desert, used to be occupied by pastoralists, but these communities have since fenced off lands to graze in one place.