KAMPALA – The East African Community has launched the Regional East African Trade in staples (REACTS-II) project that will increase production of staple food to reduce importations from non-member states.
The three-year project worth sh22.2b agricultural covers Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda.
It is aimed at helping 300,000 small holder farmers across the three countries. The project is funded by Kilimo Trust with support from Alliance from Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Speaking at the launch on Monday, the Deputy Prime minister, Moses Ali, presiding over the event said the project was timely as it will provide alternative guaranteed markets for farmers and formalise business in agriculture in the EAC partner states.
“At the moment our farmers are held hostage by the middlemen and Uganda has no arrangement to buy from farmers as it was before liberalisation, in the 80s. We thought that with the introduction of the Warehouse Receipt System, this situation would be addressed,” Moses noted.
He added that this will reap maximum benefits from national and regional trade.
Moses further added that concerted efforts must be made to address the supply side constraints related to quantity, quality and regular supplies at competitive prices compared to imports from outside the region.
He also noted that Kenya and Rwanda always experience an annual deficit of more than 400,000MT and 150,000MT respectively yet Uganda normally has a surplus of food.
“Uganda has a comparative advantage having suitable agro-ecologies for production of maize and beans and a ready market for these products in the neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, DRC and South Sudan,” he said.
He said the governments of Uganda, together with other EAC member states will continue eliminate the challenges to regional trade such as long border procedures for agricultural products, inadequate capacity of customs agencies to assess compliance with standards.
The Country-team leader Kilimo trust-Uganda, Birungi Korutaro said the gaps in regional trade are normally bridged by imports from outside the region.
In 2014, the EAC imported 566,662MT of maize, 86% of which was in form of maize grain and seeds. Kenya alone accounted for 293,073MT of the imports (ITC, 2015).
Birungi said EAC region had a target to raise the share of intra-regional trade in the total regional market for food products to 30%, intra-EAC trade stood at 11% in 2015 (EAC Food Security Action Plan: 2010-2015).
She further noted that the low regional trade is attributed to the supply-side aspects, quantity; quality and regularity of supplies.
But also transport networks, road conditions and other logistic infrastructure, quality storage, means for quality control and other basic value-addition processing facilities.
“There is need to increase focus on agribusiness at the national and Regional partnerships and also private sector players for effective and efficient implementation coordination by taking advantage of synergies,” Birungi added.
What others say
Ambassador Philip Idro, director Upland rice millers Uganda said Africa imported $45 billion worth of food including milk, rice and maize which can be grown within the region.
“We cannot afford losing $45b of food every year. Where does that money go when it comes here? It is just eaten. But that’s 45,000 factories of a hundred thousand dollars which in one year is enough to enough to change industrialisation programme for Africa,” Idro said.
He said a number of people forget about the big regional market within Africa but instead look at the European market.
Josephine Bungei, the chairperson Cheptarit Star Women Group that deals in cereals across the East Africa region argued that some of the agriculture products from East African countries have been found to be of unacceptable quality for human consumption.
“We have been crying over maize that comes from Uganda. It has to be well sorted so that it lacks aflatoxins which often subject it to rejection,” Bungei said.
Ashe noted that once this is improved, we shall be happy.
Maganda Julius Wandera, Minister of state for East African Community Affairs said it is better for the EAC countries to do trade within themselves other than going for markets outside so that we can improve on trade and benefit the local farmers.