Agriculture is one of East Africa’s most important sectors, with about 80 percent of the population of the region relying on it directly and indirectly for their source of revenue.
Each member of the East African Community has got a contribution as regards the progress of the region. In this regard, for the pattern, when it comes to peace and stability in the region and Africa at large, Uganda plays a leading role as regards fighting terrorism and consolidating peace.
Additionally, Uganda is home to more than 1.5 million refugees as a result of internal conflicts in neighboring and far distant countries. Each county’s recognizable contribution to regional development is prized. However, when it comes to agriculture, a lot is begging.
EAC member states almost produce the same products, and much as enhancing food security and rational agricultural and livestock production is vital, there is need to harmonize agricultural policies and well streamlined joint programs for efficient and effective production and market within and outside the Community.
Foodstuffs dominate exports within the regional markets, within farmers enjoying improved yields due to somewhat favorable weather. Even so, farmers face weak demand for their products with waning hopes of stronger demand for agricultural products.
Before Covid-19, the EAC region was the fastest-growing economic bloc in Africa, with growth projected at 6.2 per cent in 2019, increasing from 5.9 per cent in 2018. This performance is accredited to the growth in the services and agriculture sectors.
The Agricultural sector contributes immensely to regional development. In Uganda, for example, the sector’s total employment was averagely 72% before the Covid-19 pandemic. The sector has been given priority in the NDPIII structures along the lines of Traditional Cash Crops (coffee, cotton, tea, cocoa, tobacco, sugarcane), Non-traditional Cash Crops (maize, rice, beans, soya beans, palms, and horticultural produce), Livestock (11.4 million cattle, 12.5 million goats, 3.4 million sheep, 3.2 million pigs and 37.4 million poultry birds – according to the 2008 census), Fishing and aquaculture (contributing 12% of agricultural GDP of Uganda).
Anyway, despite this decipherable growth in the agricultural sector entirely as a region, local farmers still face many challenges from intensified non-tariff barriers, shortfalls in the trade balance of power, that contradict the EAC Common Market commitments.
African countries produce 38 percent of their crops from approximately 7 percent of their cultivated land on which water is managed. This suggests that additional investment in irrigation would pay large benefits.
East African member states need to jointly come up with measures aiming at improving soils. There is a project in offing to start producing fertilizers in East Africa. This could be overdue but when realized, farmers will be able to match the challenge of poor soil fertility which is now among the key constraints to improving farm productivity and farmer livelihoods in the region.
Integrated soil fertility management and water systems are effective solutions to poor crop yields. However, lack of an integrated financial boost coupled with limited access to financial information means that smallholder farmers do not adopt better techniques.
In Uganda, the Agriculture Cluster Development Project (ACDP), which is a partnership project of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and the World Bank, financed by the International Development Assistance (IDA) of the World Bank, was declared effective in January 2017. However, one would need to know the number of farmers that have been made aware of such a project or/and have benefited from it.
The Center for Agriculture and Bio science International (CABI) notes huge crop losses exceeding 50% in East Africa due to the increasing frequency and severity of pest outbreaks (insects, pathogens and weeds). Effective joint surveillance and forecasting of outbreaks will undoubtedly help provide a timely and effective response to such outbreaks and will narrow the yield gap in the region.
How do we market our products beyond production? Do farmers get access to information about new trends in production and market plus custom rules and regulations in the region? Are the agricultural ministries and departments of the member states collaborating with the regional body through their representatives in finding solutions to challenges?
Despite the growing need for food driven by the ever growing population in the region, market for agricultural products (within and outside the region) is yet to exhaust its full potential. Improving economic infrastructure such as roads and making better use of information technology are crucial to boosting market of agricultural products across the region (with unexploited market) and outside it.
Member states should reform land ownership with agricultural productivity and inclusiveness in mind. East Africa has a big chunk of uncultivated land. Uganda, singled out, has just only 37.8% of cultivated land of her 241,550 km2 (according to World Bank data). Kenya has just 10% of her 580,367 km2!
The EAC has got an important role to play if the region is to increase agricultural productivity and expand the market for agricultural products to stabilize production by finding solutions to hurdle over the adverse challenges.
Head of Communications and Media Relations
Ministry of East African Affairs in Uganda