Food shortages are a case of one step forward, two steps back

When it comes to shortages of basic things the week goes weak. One of the best ways to ruin the day of a breadwinner is by starting their day with that nagging reminder of things that have run out in the home like groceries, gas, and prepaid electricity among others.

When it comes to shortages of basic things the week goes weak. One of the best ways to ruin the day of a breadwinner is by starting their day with that nagging reminder of things that have run out in the home like groceries, gas, and prepaid electricity among others. Sometimes the head of the home will throw a mini tantrum asking why he was not told earlier or whether those reminding him/her think money grows on trees.

The anxiety caused by shortages of basic goods is hard to hide. Even at the personal level, the discomfort that engulfs you when you enter a restroom for a substantial time and you realise midway that resources needed for you to clean up are insufficient, maybe enough to trigger cardiac arrest.

 

At the corporate level, we have seen enough stories of empty shelves in the region’s biggest retailer Nakumatt Supermarket. The supermarket, that spread its wings across the region, is going through some cash flow problems with some of their stores even closing down totally.

 

A while back, parts of Rwanda and Uganda were having severe food shortages but these were mainly rural areas so the elites were not so moved with the few news stories on the issue. Then the problem got closer to home. The prices for sugar in Uganda and for maize flour in Kenya started rising by the day causing discomfort to urban palates.

 

The rise in sugar prices is now more of an event than a crisis. It happens sometime each year and happens everywhere. Sometimes it is because the ever growing numbers of sugar processing factories decide that it is such a cool idea to shut down for maintenance all at the same time. The responses to this dilemma are always a plea for more free land to grow sugarcanes or permission to import tax free sugar from other parts of the world like Brazil or from neighbouring countries which may not even be having any surplus sugar in the first place.

In Kenya, the government has addressed the maize flour crisis by importing maize from South Africa and putting it in supermarkets. This being an election year in Kenya, it is not difficult to mistrust the government on how it has handled the crisis and how it probably intends to benefit from it come polling day, after all, a crisis is an opportunity that should never be wasted if you are in politics.

In Rwanda, the dry season is about to show up and many will have to worry about the water shortages that always tag along. Just like the food shortages mentioned above, the investment in resolving the issue hardly ever matches the growing population that will need more and more of the food or water. A clear state of one step forward and two steps back.

It is quite disturbing that one moment we are chest thumping about grand infrastructure projects like multi lane roads, brand new airplanes, standard gauge railways, and smart cities and yet we still fail to fix the basics like feeding our people or ensuring that those with access to piped water can always expect it to flow from their taps regardless of the season.

Are we not the region with some of the biggest fresh water bodies in the form of lakes and rivers? Why do we still struggle to move water from these huge water bodies to people’s homes and gardens to irrigate crops and therefore ensure food security? Is this too much to ask of our engineers, agriculturalists and, of course, the policy makers in government? All these questions pop up in my head because I also worry about waking up to no water at home or being unable to afford my cherished Maganjo maize flour.

And as the 18th Ordinary East African Community Heads of State Summit was happening in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania my mind was also worrying about the fact that there have been cases of Ebola reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is hard not to worry about such developments when you know that DRC shares a border with Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. I pray that this is handled effectively and that in the meantime we have health check points at points of entry into other countries from DRC.

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