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How to tackle long-term hunger in Uganda and elsewhere

The hunger summit held at Downing Street on the last day of the Olympic Games was hailed by commentators as a great opportunity to focus attention on the world’s most vulnerable children.

A host of world leaders and representatives from industry and international development agencies attended the summit chaired by David Cameron to discuss new courses of action to tackle malnutrition. They were asked to commit to helping reduce the number of children affected by stunting from malnutrition by 25 million before Brazil’s Olympic Games in 2016.

Measures aimed at meeting this goal were announced after the summit, including new investment in research projects on drought-resistant and vitamin-enriched crops involving multinational private-sector companies. There will also be greater support for pioneering technological approaches, such as the use of mobile phone technology to track hunger spots, which is currently being used in Kenya under a programme sponsored by Save the Children.

But experts acknowledge that much more needs to be done if the numbers of children suffering from malnutrition are to be reduced, particularly in the field of agriculture, where programmes are needed to build the resilience of poor communities. As agencies and governments have discovered with regions such as Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, it’s no solution simply to ship in food supplies year after year to impoverished communities.

Uganda’s Karamoja region became completely dependent on food aid after decades of help from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Now the organisation has scaled back shipments of food aid and changed the focus of its operations there. Around 150,000 extremely vulnerable households are still supported directly, but this is down from 1 million in 2009. Now, assistance is mainly provided through a cash or voucher-based food scheme, which aims to create employment as well as tangible improvements in the region’s infrastructure, health and agriculture sectors.

For example, through one WFP scheme (called the Karamoja Productive Assets Programme) cash-for-work incentives have helped to build over 70 dams and plant 300 acres of trees, as well as to increase the planting of crops and the improvement of roads. Providing easier access to markets for farmers is a key element in helping rural communities become more self-sufficient and boosting a region’s long-term future. And as in many other places of Africa, Karamojan small-scale farmers rely on erratic rains in between long dry spells. The building of dams and irrigation schemes is therefore essential to ensure water supplies for agriculture. With the continuation of careful, ongoing and organised investment in the region, this part of Uganda could soon show what’s possible to improve the lives of poor rural communities and tackle malnourishment. As one district information officer proudly boasted to IRIN “Karamoja is soon going to be the food basket for Uganda”.

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