Jessica Bagenda uplifts hungry souls through food banking

The term food banking is something that many Ugandans are not familiar with. When you talk about banks, minds will run straight to financial institutions.

But not with Jessica Bagenda, who believes food banks can be a permanent solution to the hunger problem. Bagenda left her job at Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) to co-found Haba na Haba (Little by Little), an NGO to support the poor and vulnerable who cannot afford food, write Devon Ssuubi and Timothy Nsubuga.For the longest time, hunger has always been the biggest problem facing African countries since time immemorial, with over 282 million people thought to experience hunger in Africa.In 2022, over 2,000 lives were lost due to hunger in the Karamoja sub-region, and a lot of poor Ugandans continue to go without a meal in a day across the country. For Bagenda, her goal is to avert food insecurity crises through charity. In just seven years, she has impacted on thousands of people, mostly the poor and vulnerable communities that face hardships to afford daily meals.These include elderly people and children in Acholi quarters as well as organisations such as Dwelling Places, which rescues street children, and Missionaries of the Poor, among others.Haba na Haba also supports communities and schools in Uganda through various initiatives such as food distribution, school feeding programmes, nutrition awareness, and partnering with organisations not only to provide immediate relief by giving them food but also focus on long-term solutions for food availability.


When they are going for food rescue, they just don’t drop by someone’s market stall and ask them to help donate food.“We have to first create awareness about the importance of reducing food loss and waste at any waste point. Waste points are places where food is lost or is wasted. For example, in Uganda, one of the biggest waste points are the fresh food markets. As you might realise, there is a lot of rubbish, but a lot of it is food waste. So, you know, food is like a cloth, and you have to keep in mind that every two days you are getting fresh food in the markets,” she says.Bagenda adds that after getting access to the fresh food that has not been sold off in the market, they collect the food in clean containers.  The process of food rescue also involves getting permission from the market authorities so that they create awareness among the vendors.Their main areas of operation include Nakasero market, Owino market, Ntinda market and Ggaba landing site.“We also rescue food in Seguku market, Kajjansi market, and in markets in Jinja,” she says.They also have partnerships with other NGOs that help in the food rescue process, and each of these NGOs has a target population that they feed.“For example, an NGO can be responsible for feeding the orphans and has the capacity to get other orphans from the community; in other instances, the NGOS we deal with help feed the disabled and vulnerable members of the community.“So, when you rescue the food, we have it sorted because it needs to be arranged into different items.  We weigh it and distribute it to the NGOs that need food supplies,” she adds.“We supply food to the NGOs three days a week, and the food items comprise vegetables, fruits, and other varieties of food. The vegetables and fruits in most cases, are the food items that are needed by the NGOs because they help build the immunity of the people, which means a reduction in hospital bills.”


Bagenda’s 20-year career with URCS really helped her get firsthand insight into how people struggle to get food on the table. She says her inspiration to co-found Haba na Haba with Raymond Seguya has its roots in a combination of personal experiences and empathy for those facing food insecurity.She says Seguya had encountered challenges in selling his agricultural produce due to market saturation, thus leading to significant food waste. This experience of seeing huge amounts of food thrown away to the dumps when they are not sold was an epiphany moment for both of them, realising that many people in the community faced struggles of hunger yet a lot of food goes to waste in the markets.This sparked the idea of creating an organisation to help alleviate hunger by reducing food waste in society.“Our shared vision of rescuing surplus food from markets and redistributing it to those in need reflected a commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of others. By leveraging our backgrounds and experiences, it was possible to establish Haba na Haba as a platform for addressing food insecurity and promoting sustainable solutions to food waste challenges in Uganda,’’ she says.They embarked on thorough research and collaboration with organisations like the Global Food Banking Network. The journey led them to Egypt, where they partnered with the Egypt Food Banking Initiative to pilot a similar approach in Uganda.So, in 2017, they launched the Food Bank initiative in Uganda and its early activities focused on school feeding programmes and raising awareness about hunger alleviation solutions.“We engaged with schools in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono, offering guidance on nutrition balance, food production and energy-saving practices in kitchens,” she recalls.Bagenda adds that her family initially had doubts and concerns about her choice to leave a stable job for the unknown territory of starting a new organization. However, she emphasised that her passion for her purpose in helping the hungry made her gain support from her family, especially her late husband.She adds that the encouragement she got from the Food Bank Network and others wanting to be part of Haba Na Haba helped her stay motivated and committed to her mission. Despite the initial reservations, Bagenda’s family ultimately stood by her decision and provided the necessary support for her to pursue her vision of making a difference in the community through Haba na Haba.


Bagenda says their biggest challenge is people’s lack of awareness in terms of understanding what a food bank does, and the process of food rescue being alien to most people.She adds that they have few logistics, especially when it comes to transportation of the food. Incidentally, she says their biggest financiers are the market vendors who provide food items free of charge and so far, have given the organisation food worth Shs 400 million.Bagenda adds that there is cost-sharing with NGOs that receive food items, where the NGO contributes a percentage to transporting the food while Haba na Haba covers the rest. Additionally, individual well-wishers and market vendors contribute by providing food or financial support.Just before the second wave of Covid-19 in 2021, Bagenda states that Haba na Haba had an opportunity to be part of the Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiative. Through this initiative, the organisation managed to distribute food aid to families in need. Specifically, Haba na Haba distributed 5,000 food boxes to families facing food insecurity.


Bagenda mentions that her involvement in food banking has made her more accommodating. Witnessing the level of vulnerability in communities and schools served has really installed in her a deeper sense of empathy and understanding towards those in need.On the other hand, she states that since she left active employment, this has helped her to homeschool her children and also given her more time to serve in the church.

In fact, Bagenda envisions Haba na Haba increasing its levels of sustainability and potentially having a large storage facility and modern farmland to ensure continuous food production and availability during times of need. Bagenda aims for the organisation to be more responsive and interconnect with vulnerable communities.

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