The First Lady and Minister for Karamoja Affairs Janet Museveni has urged leaders at all levels in Karamoja to sensitize their people on food utilization and the importance of storing some of the food they produce during the good harvests instead of selling it all off.
She said if each family in Karamoja had stored some of the food they got from the bumper harvest of the last good season, the recent long dry spell in the country would not have had a very big pinch on the people of the region because they would have food to feed on instead of waiting for aid from elsewhere.
The Karamoja Affairs Minister said this during a meeting she convened for leaders from the seven Districts of Karamoja on Tuesday at Morulinga State Lodge to discuss with them the food situation in the region.
The leaders she met included District Chairpersons, Resident District Commissioners, Chief Administrative Officers, Sub County Chairpersons, plus the District Production and District Health Officers.
Of recent some media have been reporting people in Karamoja dying from famine due to the long dry spell.
However, the leaders in Karamoja revealed that sometimes they try to inform those media houses that their reports are not correct because many families have been able to cope apart from the most vulnerable who have also received some food aid from Government.
The leaders added that sometimes elderly people who drink the local brew of Waragi when they are hungry become disabled and they have bad eating habits, therefore those are some of the cases that suffered a lot with the food shortages.
Janet Museveni said that even other areas in the country have been experiencing this dry spell, but unlike the Karimojong, people elsewhere know how to sustain themselves when this happens.
Therefore the onus is on the leaders of this region to educate the communities on how to sustain their families through the different seasons of the year. This she said entails growing sufficient food and storing some for the bad days.
“We must also implement our regulation of 1 acre of cassava per family. This requires more sensitization to our people”, she said.
Janet Museveni said that with God providing the rain and Government providing the oxen and ox-plough plus quick maturing seeds, Karamoja had gotten out of the disaster area, but it is disappointing that only a single dry spell takes back the people to begging just because they failed to store some of the harvests for a bad day.
“Worse still, even the food that was sold did not leave the money in the house to buy food; instead it was used to buy Waragi”, she lamented.
She cited Kotido District which had done well in food production last year but they sold off all the food to South Sudan and are now crying for lack of food.
“We need to start a campaign in each district of Karamoja against families selling off all the harvests so that they can put some grain in the family granaries which would come in handy when the climate changes”.
She encouraged each family to have a granary to store their food. “You don’t have to wait for Government to construct for you granaries. Each family can construct their own granary as was the culture of the Karimojong and other people in the country.
She called for the registration of the vulnerable families in each District to ensure that they are planned for in such instances and so that even when the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness brings food, it can be quickly distributed to those members of the community who truly deserve it.
She also advised the leaders to go out in the field to assess and properly plan for the rainy season which has started and opens the door for production again. “We have to ensure that we get Karamoja out of that disaster area”, she emphasized.
She implored the media to rally in the transformation drive for Karamoja instead of only portraying the Karimojong negatively.
About the food situation in their respective Districts, the leaders from the seven Districts of Karamoja reported crop failure due to the long dry spell. Karamoja did not receive any serious rain from June to October this year. They thanked Government for the relief food.
Among the recommendations that the leaders made to address such situations in future included changing the mindset of the people of Karamoaja about food production and storage, educating the communities about the weather patterns, sensitizing the families on food utilization and good nutrition, advocating for the growing of perennial crops like cassava and introduction of other food crops like sweet potatoes, introduction of better breeds of cattle in the region that would produce enough milk to help address the challenge of malnourished children and families.
They also pledged to continue with the battle against alcoholism which is a big problem in all the Districts and has led to many cases of child neglect and deaths
The Karamoja Affairs Minister later also held a separate meeting on the issue of the food situation in the region with the Development Partners working in the area.
They discussed the different interventions regarding food production, storage, nutrition and plans for improvement and building the resilience of the people of Karamoja.
In a report read on their behalf by the WFP Coordinator for Karamoja, the development partners recommended training on climate change resilience, looking at quick maturing crops for the coming rainy season, standard guidelines on management of severe malnutrition cases and encouraging information sharing between the humanitarian agencies and Government.
Janet Museveni thanked the organizations contributing to the transformation of Karamoja but advised them against scattering their resources in large areas and ending up not making the desired impact.
“If each organization would make an impact where they work, then Karamoja would change”, she argued.
“Mindset cannot change overnight, it will need education, perseverance and patience to teach the Karimojong and uplift them because their victory will be our victory”, the First Lady counseled the organizations.