BY Solomon Lubambula
As the country joins the rest of the globe to mark the World Food Day (16th of October), Food rights activists in Uganda have stressed that failure to ensure universal access to agricultural extension services, is a matter of human rights violation.
The activists argue that there are two human rights issues that should keenly be considered and observed as we celebrate the World Food Day. That is, the right to food and the right to information.
Launching a series of activities seeking serious interventions aimed at combating hunger and malnutrition, activists said the best approach would be ensuring accessibility of agricultural extension services for all farmers in the country. They believe extension services would empower farmers to be in a position to produce more food and subsequently the right to food would be observed.
This comes at a time when about 900 million people across the global are undernourished, while the situation of hunger and malnutrition in Uganda is not so different. Activists expressed their disappointment that government is concentrating more on new technologies in the agricultural sector and neglecting the human resource that actually directly produces the food.
The crusaders of food rights believe that if the country is to increase food productivity and cultivation of nutritious foods for the population, there is need for all farmers to be guided on what to grow, where and when, and this can be done through the agricultural extension services.
In an interview with The Unwanted witness, Kirabo said that, no doubt matters of food and agricultural are Human Rights issues that governments must take as priority. Agnes Kirabo a food rights activist says that although technological development in agriculture, mechanical and seed technology has advanced over decades this has not resulted in an increase in food availability and stability.
This is why people centered actions such as those related to improving technical capacity to produce and handle food as well as those eating the food and focusing on building institutional capacity to deliver on food availability remain an aspect for engagement.
The number of farmers accessing extension services is declining over time, according to the National development Plan with only 14% of farmers having been visited by an extension worker in the last 12 months, this is in tandem with the decline in the total agricultural funding .
For example the period 2001/2002 to 2012/2013 has seen a decline in the agricultural budget as a percentage of the National Budget from an average of 4.6% to 3.2% which is below the 10% share that Uganda pledged to allocate sector under the Maputo Declaration.
Kirabo says that the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) has not addressed the issues instead it has made access to agricultural extension more discriminative , only a few farmers in a sub county and parish leaving the majority without access to this critical aspect of food production, productivity and utilization.
She urges that NAADS would not fully address the matter of agricultural extension because it is largely funded by the development partners who would have conditions pegged to the funding for their special goals. Kirabo also states that 70% of the funds for the NAADS programs actually end up doing administrative work at the secretariat in Kampala and only 30% reach the farmers. So it is incumbent upon government to fund the program in order to get its desired goals.
Activists too blamed government for not taking up its full responsibility of allocating sufficient funding to the sector and providing agricultural extension to all farmers which is translated into violation of the right to information.
She adds that provision of Agricultural extension is increasingly becoming discriminative which is detrimental to the country, household food and nutrition security. And this also in away violates the right to food. This is coupled with the absence of the Food and Nutrition law in the country which has resulted into violation of the right to food and hence the increasing number of stunted children, focusing less on hard to reach areas and special groups including women, youth among others.
Activists recommend that government should prioritize provision of agricultural extension beyond technology since this has been the missing link leading to low food production and improvement of existing technologies. As government considers reforms in the NAADS program, consultations should not be a board room issue but a country wide issue allowing people across the board to debate especially farmers.
In order to overcome, the challenges of food security and nutrition, activists also called on Parliament to consider debating and urgently pass the Food and Nutrition Bill that has gathered dust since it was shelved way back in 2009.