Uganda: How land grabs are causing food insecurity
As prices of food commodities continue to skyrocket, many families in Uganda are struggling to have a meal that can take them through the day. For John Settimba, a community land rights defender in the Mubende district, chances to pull this off for his family of 13 are limited.
Mubende district is 149.6 kilometers from the capital Kampala. The major economic activity in the district is agriculture with an emphasis on food crops like sweet potatoes, beans, cassava, maize, bananas, ground nuts, etc. Cash crops include coffee and tea.
The selfless defender who has been pushing back forced eviction being masterminded by one George Kaweesi since 2018 reports that his one-and-a-half acres of sweet potatoes and cassava garden have been sprayed with chemicals by laborers of the evictor.
Settimba a resident of Kawuula village, East Division in Mubende district says, all food crops have dried up in a day after being sprayed, leaving his family with no hope for food from his garden instead to buy food markets.
“I have been using Shs. 30,000, which is equivalent to (8.15 USD) to buy food every day for my family since 2018. Late last year, I decided to use my land to grow sweet potatoes and cassava. Unfortunately, they have been destroyed before harvest” Said Ssettimba.
On Friday 06th January 2023, one and a half acres of cassava and sweet potatoes were sprayed by casual laborers in the night hours.
According to the defender’s wife, on reaching their garden, she found the plantation had been sprayed and had started to dry up. She added that she reported the matter to the area police but the police declined to register the complaint because she failed to pay money.
According to Ssettimba’s wife, this is not the first time the Kaweesi’s laborers have sprayed his crops. In 2022, the defender’s banana plantation was caused to dry after spraying, explaining that these attacks are carried out at night.
“He always tells us he wants to use my land and that we should vacate. He has prohibited us from carrying out any activity on our land, causing my family members to starve. We had about 22 acres, but he has taken 11 acres. But also, we cannot use the remaining piece of land since he targets crops grown on it before harvest.” The defender explained.
Ssettimba further explains that Kaweesi’s acts of impunity have forced him to seek employment (to be hired as a laborer by other farmers) to support his family.
“This is embarrassing because the money I get is too little, and I cannot afford to buy enough food to feed my family, which would have been easier if I was using my land.” The defender added.
In 2018, one George Kaweesi, with help of Mubende district police and private security firms carried out a forced eviction of over 3500 villagers in Kambuye, Kikono, Kawula, Kyabaana, Kanseera, and Lwensanga. Nonetheless, Ssettimba’s family survived the storm. Ruins of the evictions have been outgrown by the wild, but his house which is saddled by Kaweesi’s land is a remnant of that violent eviction. He has refused to give up despite repeated harassment and threats.
According to Witness Radio’s data, Mubende district is one of the forced eviction hot spots in the country, witnessing high levels of violence and criminality related to evictions. For years, Witness Radio has reported millions of people being evicted from their land by wealth investors without prior consultation, compensation, or resettlement.
However, Mr. George Kaweesi denied the accusations of land grabbing and spraying the defender’s land. He said, “I paid every squatter and they vacated, but Ssettimba refused. I have never grabbed his land and am not aware that my men sprayed his garden.”