Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Poverty and Hunger Worsening Primary Education

by Alex Ouma Okello

Growing food insecurity has become a serious concern in north and eastern Uganda over the recent months, caused by high food prices due to limited supply and overwhelming demand, quarantine on animal movement as a result of foot and mouth disease and prolonged dry spell.
The World Food Day this year will also mark the ninth commemoration of the global millennium target, following the signing of the UN Millennium Declaration by 189 heads of state in New York in 2000.

Two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) centre on hunger fight and poverty eradication and increasing access to Universal Primary Education by 2015. Leaders who attended the Millennium Summit 2000 committed themselves to reducing the number of people experiencing extreme hunger and poverty by half, come 2015. Development analysts, however, look at this projection as a myth.

They argue that such a goal can only be achieved if governments commit themselves to revitalising their economies and improving agricultural sectors. So what efforts are being put in place to make this initiative a success in Uganda?

A 2006 World Food Programme (WFP) report estimated that 854 million people worldwide hardly met their daily food needs, while a quarter of the African population could hardly afford a meal. In the same year, another independent report estimated how nearly 100,000 of the Northern Uganda population remained food insecure.

Uganda, it has been noted, made significant steps in poverty reduction according to the 2007 Millennium Development report. For instance, poverty levels in Uganda reportedly reduced from 56 per cent in 1992 to 31 per cent in 2006. Meanwhile, the same report says the proportion of the population unable to meet the recommended food caloric intake increased from 58.7 per cent in 1999 to 68.5 per cent in 2006, and the poor still spent over 70 per cent of their income on food.

But what could be the biggest problem for Uganda in the wake of this? The wave of hunger that has hit north and eastern Uganda poses a great challenge to achievement of UPE. In 2005, the WFP and the government school feeding programme in north and north eastern Uganda largely contributed to increased enrollment and retention of pupils. Uganda has made significant improvements in overall primary education enrollment and was on track for achieving the 2015 goal.

Despite other constraints to UPE, the growing food insecurity has become a genuine concern. In Labwor Oyeng Primary School in Kitgum, several children do not attend school on regular basis because of hunger.

There is an overwhelming need for government to introduce programmes to increase food and nutrition securities in schools to encourage academic attendance and concentration in school.
Interesting strategies would also be for government to encourage establishment of school gardens, introduce school farming in the curriculum to teach children basic agricultural skills and train teachers with practical vegetable gardening to enable them manage school gardens.

Okello, Alex Ouma. 2009. Poverty and hunger worsening primary education. Uganda: Daily Monitor. On-line. Available from Internet, accessed Wednesday 09 September 2009.

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