West Nile food crisis: Restaurants resort to food rationing

todayNovember 17, 2022

By Ronald Orachwun

For someone who has been in West Nile region lately, chances are high that you could have come across a number of stories how several families are struggling to feed themselves for the past few months amidst high or increasing prices of some essential commodities and reduced agricultural productivity.
From the start of the year, the country witnessed a sharp increase in prices of everyday products including; cooking oil, laundry bar soap and fuel prices also increased to roof top level, with several Ugandans who really struggled to make ends meet. For instance, a recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicates that cooking oil, bar soap prices exponentially increased by 21% and 20% respectively since December 2021, while the price of fuel also skyrocketed to over 10,000 shs, with a direct effect on the prices of some agricultural commodities across the country. And the blame went to the long term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. For instance, the current drastic increase in prices of some food stuffs like cassava, maize grains, potatoes, yams, vegetables like; tomatoes, cabbages, onions and several other fruits in most parts of West Nile sub region can still be traced to the increase in fuel prices, making a number of households to go hungry. But that aside, let’s scale down our discussion to the current food crisis in the region. Someone will be right to buy the idea of the long term effect of COVID-19 as the cause of the current food crisis in the region with the farming communities relaxed with their routine business of agriculture.

In some parts of this region currently, you will hardly see food markets selling anything sensible. Famous markets including among others; Panyimur, Nebbi and Parombo in Nebbi district, Paidha and Alangi in Zombo district, Adjumani, Odramacaku, Moyo and others have seen a reduced supply rate of foods with increased prices of the available food stuffs in the different markets. All these have had a direct impact on the feeding lifestyle of members of the community in the region. From those who are lucky and have gone with two meals a day, to those who now struggle to get just one meal only since the beginning of the year. Food prices have climbed to an estimate of over 15 percent over the last year. The cost of living crisis; Livelihood concerns in Uganda
Across a range of commodities, prices of Ugandan consumers have risen sharply over the past 12 months. According to data from Uganda Bureau of Statistics UBOS gathered as part of routine inflation monitoring, prices of food stuffs like; cooking oil rose to 57 percent, maize flour rose to 25 percent, matooke rose to 24 percent. The biggest increase is however in laundry soap which rose to 82 percent. Also, market prices of staple foods have risen sharply, according to the World Food Program WFP market price data base for May 2022. This includes prices of maize flour which has risen to 2,500 shs, sorghum rose to over 2,000 shs, cassava flour rose to over 1,690 shs. These prices are all 30-50 percent higher than 12 months earlier.

According to Twaweza Uganda, many Ugandan households were already experiencing food stress in the second half of 2021. Half of all households ran out of food at some point in the previous month and more than one out of three (37 percent) went for a whole day without eating.
A majority of the households say they are worried they would run out of food (62 percent). These forms of food stress are long standing, which is the norm of many households in Uganda.
This data is based on the organization’s 2021 Sauti za wananchi survey, a nationally representative high frequency mobile phone panel survey public opinions and citizens’ experiences.

Current situation in West Nile
For those who eat out, many of the restaurants in most parts of the region are now rationing the amounts of ingredients in their meals, forcing clients to go without some spices in their meals due to high prices.
Also the rising prices of food crops in West Nile has forced some eateries to start using menu engineering to draw customers’ attention to items with better profit margins or less dramatic price hikes.
“The rising prices of food crops has dealt us a huge blow and now we have adopted a number of strategies to our menu here. We are now reprinting new ones almost every week because prices have been increasing every day. We are doing this to match the ever increasing prices of commodities and we can’t leave our menu to remain the same. We have also resorted to preparing food items that we think can fetch us the money we want. These days we have eliminated some dishes like; beans, generally greens, porridge, black tea and boiled cassava. So for now, we are only dealing in; fish and only tilapia fish because it is cheap, beef, milk tea, snacks and chicken. We think these can fetch us the required money we want”, said Bayoa Galdys, a food vendors along market lane in Adjumani town.
Similar restaurants that I visited in Koboko, Nebbi municipalities, Pakwach and Paidha, Arua towns, shared similar concerns.
Pifua Jane, the proprietor of PJ restaurant in Nebbi municipality said: “Of late we are seriously analyzing sales data and food costs which is helping us to determine which menu items to emphasize, what can determine price increases and which offerings to eliminate. We are doing all these to minimize wastages and also we are looking at dishes which can keep clients coming back. Times are hard so we need to also harden to keep in business”.
Clients speak out
A number of other customers have been able to notice some of these signs in their favorite restaurants in the region.
“I travel a lot and I have been able to recognize that some of the eateries I go to these days don’t have the usual things I used to ask for before. But there is this particular eatery along Arua-Nebbi road at the junction as you head to Vurra customs in Arua district which used to have the usual traditional food but these days foods like cassava, potatoes, pumpkins are no longer on their menu. There are only very expensive dishes like chicken, macrons, and beef. This is what you will get there. The problem is that the low income earners now have a very big problem eating at these places”, said Ayikobua Jude, a resident of Vurra in Arua district.
Experts have also raised nutritional concerns as families and low income earners are often becoming incapacitated to obtain the required dietary ingredients.
Such smaller households facing this nutritional crisis is that of Chandia Bessy, a mother of five and a resident of Toloro village in Moyo district.
“Of course I have been forced to reduce the food rations at home to meet the new challenge. If we have porridge for breakfast, we shall have boiled cassava for lunch and again boiled cassava for dinner or something similar and some little greens, that has been the adjustment for the past two months”, she said.
Nutritional experts are worried that this may lead to a further deterioration in the nutrition situation of the country's population.
Way forward
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, in consultation with the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, should sensitise the public on the importance of undertaking commercial agriculture.
Since agriculture is the major economic activity in Uganda, this can boost farmers’ potential to afford any increase in prices and reduce their sensitivity to unfavourable commodity price changes. Also, investment in commercial agriculture would reduce the country’s over-reliance on imported raw materials for production.
This, according to Wasswa Joel, a Bachelor of Commerce Student, Makerere University.
“The truth is we are losing a lot of money through these small scale businesses such these restaurants which are finding it hard to survive in these hard economic times. They generate a lot of money through taxes to the lower local governments for running activities in these administrative units and I think if we don’t pay attention to them, we are bound to lose more. But also people should be mindful of agriculture as a very important tool for survival and these can be done through sensitization”, he said.

Share this article

Follow us on Twitter
Follow us on Facebook