Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UPE still under-valued

By Alex Ouma Okello (email the author)

Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 00:00

At Okol Primary School in Omot sub-county in Pader District, class sessions under trees or tents is common. One of the pupils described it as “very hot.” “Some children come from as far as four kilometers to school because of their desire and willingness to learn but the harsh and unfriendly school environment scares them away,” the head teacher Mr Ben Robert Omech claims. Okol PS has no classroom structure except for tent that was supplied by Unicef.

Mr Omech adds that since the start of the first term of 2010, his school has registered an increase in enrolment from 150 to close to 300 children but he worries about the retention of such children in such conditions.

Difficult environment
Mr Omech laments that the children often drop out when they find the school environment unfriendly; they face rude teachers, lack of seating facilities, lack of class rooms, lack of playing facilities and latrines, among others. Studying under trees exposes the children to several risks; falling branches, harsh wind, sunshine and dust, rainfall and interruption, that affect learning, unlike in schools that have fully fledged learning facilities. This typical condition partly justifies the difference in performance between a child who studies at Chadwick Namate PS in Entebbe, Kampala Parents or Bat Valley in Kampala and a pupil who studies at Okol or Latebe Primary Schools in Pader and Kitgum respectively.
The inequality in performance between town and village schools, northern and southern schools and the eastern and western schools in the recently released PLE and UCE results for 2009 only emphasizes the fact that government needs to do a lot to improve performance and attainment of quality and regional education equality.

Although many agree, there is very little evidence to show that a UPE graduate in Sironko, Rakai, Kaliro or Manafwa can develop sustainable livelihood means and escape poverty and hunger. Secondly, the government itself has failed to make real commitment to uplift the status of rural schools in order to improve performance and quality.In the year 2000, 189 heads of states and at least 23 international organisations signed the UN Millennium Declaration on eight development goals at the summit in New York. One of the pledges was to achieve universal primary education; ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. Reports by the government of Uganda and other international development agencies indicate that the country’s education system has been effective and successful over the last five years and that it is serving as a model for many African countries. However, education practitioners have cited the question of quality and regional inequalities in education as real obstacles that need to be addressed.

According to The Millennium Development Goals report 2008, achieving Universal Primary Education means more than full enrolment. It also encompasses quality education, meaning that all children who attend school regularly learn basic literacy and numeracy skills and complete primary education on time, the report says. Government should focus on addressing UPE policy gaps; namely on infrastructural development, particularly in conflict or disaster affected regions, lifting of staff ceiling and recruitment of more teachers, capacity building for local authorities, equipping schools with sitting facilities, erecting teacher houses and offering more funding for running school programs.

The writer is a Senior Project Officer – Education with the Norwegian Refugee Council

Article is also available online at:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will the G-20 devise solutions to Africa's food problems?

About three weeks ago, members of the Great 20 developed nations, popularly known as the G-20 held their annual summit, where they agreed to triple aid meant for African nations. South Africa was the sole African representative at the summit. The event came nearly six months after thousands of the world’s population gathered in their respective cities to celebrate the International World Food Day.
It is also important to recognize the fact that one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) centers on hunger fight and poverty eradication. Leaders who attended the Millennium Summit 2000 (on behalf of their respective citizens) committed themselves to reducing the number of people experiencing extreme hunger and poverty by half, come 2015.

Development analysts, however, look at this global projection as a myth than reality. They argue that such a goal can only be achieved (especially in developing countries) of governments commit themselves to revitalizing their economies and improving agricultural sectors. So what efforts are being put in place to make this initiative a success, many may wonder?

In 2004, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) did a research through an essay competition based on the theme; “Global food basket for Africa.” The research aimed at providing lasting solutions to Africa’s world food problems. IFPRI needed ideas that would be used to persuade African governments, in a bid to fight the global challenge of soaring food prices.

However, a 2006 World Food Program (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 over a million of population in war-affected areas remained food insecure. This year, the global food challenge was felt worldwide. Global climatic changes, coupled with poor agro-fuel policies from the west soared food prices, with Africa’s population feeling the real pinch. No wonder the issue of high food prices topped the agenda during the 2008 millennium challenge meeting held in New York.

The meeting, according to sources who attended, called for a worldwide concerted effort towards addressing the global catastrophe, ahead of the 2015 millennium deadline. Sudan, among other nations that participated in the meeting, pledged to commit itself in the fight against rising food prices. Despite the numerous meetings and conventions held in addressing these global problems, very little actions are usually taken. Yet actions, like they say, speak louder than words. But what could be the way forward?

Africa’s problems appear to be more complex in realty. Notably, over relying on foreign aid, poor governance, civil wars versus internal displacement, drought, flooding, use of backward (rudimentary) technologies and the limited efforts towards environmental conservation simply paint a negative scenario the MDGs achievement. Comparatively, where as farmers in developed nations used modern farming techniques of production and marketing, their counterparts in developing countries like Sudan remain obsessed with rudimentary methods mainly for subsistence and local market consumption.
Interestingly, however, international events usually host governments from the developing and developed nations discussing the same agenda. That’s absurd. The grievances of a farmer in the US, Turkey or Canada, are not the same as those of a rural farmer in South Sudan’s rural locations of Torit, Wau or Rumbek. Ideologically, how would one expect conclusions made at world summits to address the problems of the ordinary man in Sudan’s remote areas? Your guess is as good as mine.

By Ouma Alex Okello

Article also available online at:

Food Insecurity in Acholi needs many interventions

Yona Okori, 78, a resident of Padibe sub-county in Kitgum district believes that the current wave of hunger in Acholi sub-region is because the Acholi no longer store food in the granary (dero).

He says in the 1970s until the early 1990s, many communities in Acholi produced and stored a lot of food in the dero. “The dero protects food and seeds very well, there is no doubt it would enhance food security in post war northern Uganda,” says Ochora Ocitti, an elder and a development worker in Kitgum.

However, he adds that food production is the prime factor, for one can only store what they have produced.

Agriculturalists and food security experts, however, look at this belief as a myth unless farmers can have access to adequate land for production and inputs that can improve yields.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation report for 2009 revealed that more than 50% of the Acholi IDP population have resettled in their villages or are in transit camps, but access to land has increased by only 30%. Limited access to land, inputs and market will continue to undermine crop and livestock production.

Today, WFP estimates that more than a billion people, one in every six human being, may be suffering from under-nourishment.

Uganda is among the countries with a very high global hunger index score and the northern Uganda statistics could be worst.

Joyce Alaroker, an agriculturalist in northern Uganda believes that part of the solution to lack of food in the northern region is total rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure and reducing gender inequality. Women need to have more access, control and ownership of land, she says.

Lack of food in Acholi sub-region is compounded by the fact that farmers do not have access to adequate inputs, adequate land for cultivation, bad weather, limited access to information coupled with rigidity on the use of traditional farming methods.

Despite these conditions, reports from northern Uganda also show that the workforce currently being engaged in agriculture is so low. In most transition camps or return villages, many men have abandoned their traditional roles of providing for their households.

Engaging in heavy drinking of alcohol, the recent deaths in Gulu as a result of heavy alcohol consumption clearly showed this. Low workforce limits the scale of production.

Government needs to invest in education to ensure sustainable food security. An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report for 2009 indicates that higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women.

High rates of hunger are also linked to health and survival inequalities between men and women. Reducing gender disparities in key areas, particularly in education and health, is thus essential to reduce levels of hunger.

Agriculture productivity will also increase if the capacity of farmers is built. Rural communities in northern Uganda need to be facilitated to return to their villages (not by RDCs and LC 5s forcefully demolishing huts but by opening roads to villages, setting health facilities and equipping them with drugs, giving farmers hoes or ox-ploughs and seeds and erecting classroom structures for schools in return sites) so that they can have adequate access to land.

New knowledge or technologies related to primary production, processing and commercialisation can positively affect productivity and the livelihoods of farmers. Unfortunately for Uganda, the government Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and its birth child NAADS have not delivered much. An assessment of the impact of NAADs on the rural livelihoods by IFPRI revealed that there have been no significant differences in yield growth between NAADS and non NAADS sub-counties for most crops.

On the other hand, the level of adoption of new technologies even in the NAADS sub-counties is still low.

It has also been noted that NAADS appears to have more success in promoting adoption of improved variety of crops and some other yield enhancing technologies than in promoting improved soil fertility.

This raises a lot of doubts about sustainability increases in production, the report says. The LC1 of Alenyo south ward in Wangpit parish, Padibe East sub-county in Kitgum revealed that his community is getting very little out of NAADS. He said the sub-county officials and politicians could be the real people benefiting from the programme.

Over the recent years, the Government has come out with seemingly good pro-poor policy frameworks, notably the failed NURP, NUSAF, PEAP, PMA and UPE but the implementation and success still remain miserable.

The Government should consider a number of strategies to solve the food problem. Parts of the strategy should be for the Government to contract non-profit organisations with proven records of high integrity to implement government programmes.

Article also available online at: