Like throughout many African States, Uganda has a critical issue pertaining to development of infrastructure. Due to lack of investment in roads, market prices of raw foods are extremely high in comparison to the amount fetched by farmers of their produce. Moreover, the introduction of Western style supermarkets, combined with high imports of processed foods culminates in a melting pot of dietary deficiency as well as underdevelopment of the Ugandan food industry. How can it be fair that a country that produces such a vast amount of food, agriculture contributes to 36.3% of GDP, is having to shell out its revenue on the processed-version of the same product? Clearly, the lack of investment in roads is inhibiting its food security, thus holding back its overall development. Food security is defined by the World Food Summit as “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” However, the rise of Chinese investment in African states, specifically through its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative, could prove pivotal in fighting this easily remedied injustice.
Roads- the crux of the problem
The state of infrastructure in Uganda is at dire lows; currently, there’s approximately 144785km of road network in Uganda- but only 4% of these are paved in comparison to the swathe of gravel and earth roads present. Consider this: people travelling from the Northern Kaomoji region towards the capital, Kampala, could be faced with a 3 day journey instead of the standard 1– due to the impact of heavy rain and the state it would leave roads in. When considering about food distribution, it’s obvious this could vitally impact not only the time taken for food to reach hubs for trade, but also the quality of food itself.
Food security is therefore at a low due to a combination of factors. Firstly, there is a key issue in the trade of raw food. Taking the case study bananas, it is important to look at the supply chain when considering the impacts on food security. A typical farmer will sell a medium size banana at an average of US$0.8, to intermediaries, who will then sell to traders at around US$1.6. From here, there is a vast mark-up in price to urban citizens, who will be purchasing bananas at US$6.7. Clearly, this represents a massive challenge to the food security of both smallholders in the region (assuming this is a similar situation for other raw food goods) and consumers. As goods need to travel a long distance, large trucks are vital to combat the effect of roads in the area. This obviously puts the smallholder at a disadvantage, as the profits they reap aren’t enough to pay for transport.
As well as this, 60% of the roads in Uganda are considered under-maintained, and as previously mentioned, the impact of heavy rain makes frequent road use impossible. Clearly, this presents an economic and social problem by denying smallholders the ability to sell their goods, and consumers have less food available. The increase in price for consumers is the result, further eroding their disposable income.
Moreover, inter-village transport itself is compounded by the impact of bad road infrastructure, so the farmers are left with little choice but to take up the option from intermediaries and brokers; is it just for the hardworking citizens who produce the food to be rewarded by such a meagre monetary amount in comparison to traders? The ability to buy and sell food is crippled by poor infrastructure.
People may like to think that issues linked to colonialization are no more, yet that evidence paints a completely different picture. The inability to transport food efficiently directly links to a lack of Western-style industrialisation. Therefore, combined with tariffs from the EU restricting the sale of processed goods, Uganda currently exports more raw goods then it does the processed kind. With poorly developed infrastructure, it is currently untenable to produce processed goods, due to the high cost of exporting goods, as well as the negative impact the dirt roads have at the intra-national transporting stage. The food security of the region therefore decreases: as Uganda is producing less processed food, there is a higher dependency on foreign goods to provide for the needs of its citizens. Moreover, as the agricultural sector is underdeveloped, there is a smaller pool of money available to workers as they’re producing raw goods. Lower wages mean a lower ability to provide food for themselves.
China’s development drive
Silently, China has been increasing its levels of involvement in African states, with the OBOR initiative key to ensuring the infrastructural playing field is levelled out. Xi Jinping himself has highlighted how inadequate infrastructure is the “biggest bottleneck” towards African development. 20 of the 65 countries who have signed up to the initiative are from Africa, with current investment being worth US$900 billion. Evidently, the opportunity is there for Uganda to increase the quality of its roads. Moreover, the loans provided by China are done on a basis more favourable than Western style loans; conditionality would not inhibit Ugandan development as past Western loans attempted with structural readjustment.
As seen by Figure A1 and Figure A2, the levels of infrastructure directly correlate to the cost to export and cost to import. Consider the impact an improved network could have for Uganda: by increasing the amount of paved roads, it would be possible to export goods at a higher value to those that could be imported. Moreover, it could further allow the development of industries in Uganda. This boost to the economy could provide more development in infrastructure, meaning further jobs could be provided in both the food industry and construction work itself. Therefore, with an increased amount of potential income, citizens would have the benefit of better food security. Food would be more affordable due to increased funds and more easily transportable to remote areas. For small business holders in rural areas, the effect of raising a larger profit from their total yield could help finance technological advancements in agriculture. Clearly, with more food available combined with a strong developing agriculture industry, the impact on food security in Uganda, for both urban and rural citizens, is bountiful.
Sustainability could also be considered were investment to occur. By creating new roads and developing the processed food industry, there would be a reduced carbon footprint for Ugandan food if imports were to decrease. Environmentally friendly agricultural techniques could be developed were there to be a more readily available pool of money for farmers themselves. This could range from promotion of biofuels to providing technical assistance for sustainable management of natural resources. With climate change having the ability to affect crop yields, a green-drive would further allow increased food security; saving the planet saves agricultural livelihoods.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Clearly, OBOR has large-scale potential in its ability to deliver food security for Ugandan’s. The creation of developed roads could critically lead to the development of the Ugandan food industry, so the reliance of importing food is mitigated. Additionally, I’m sure if you were to ask small-holders if they wanted a fairer price for their food, and the ability to develop their produce they’d bite your hand off at the prospect of the idea. In itself, the loans provided by China has development potential that could help restructure world power relations in a manner that significantly affects Uganda. Challenging existing norms by development being Chinese based instead of Western, with loans more structured towards development of Uganda in comparison to past Western dictation, food security would inherently be increased if the Ugandan government had a larger investing capacity, on the back of a stronger economy. The development of roads may seem minor in ensuring Ugandan’s have ample opportunity to fair food, nutritionally, economically and sustainably, but OBOR can crucially ensure this path can become a reality.