By Ronald Ssekandi
KAMPALA, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Uganda on Wednesday launched an East African regional agribusiness initiative targeting to boost household incomes of over 100,000 smallholder farmers.
A similar initiative is already running in neighboring Kenya and Rwanda where over 200,000 smallholder farmers are set to benefit.
Julius Wandera Maganda, Uganda's minister of state for East African Community (EAC) affairs, told reporters that the objective of the five year project dubbed Regional East African Community Trade in Staples (REACTS) is to create structured linkages between farmers and the market, both domestic and regional.
As the linkages are being created, the 6 million U.S. dollar project will also strengthen the farmers' capacity to access inputs like seed, fertilizers, agrochemicals, technologies and finance.
The project, according to Maganda, will be run by government in partnership with private sector and civil society organizations like Kilimo Trust and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Maganda said while Uganda has the capacity to feed the east African region, there are no structured linkages between the small holder farmers and the market.
"This program will directly increase incomes of over 100,000 smallholder farmers by at least 20 percent. Out of these beneficiaries, 40 percent will be women, 30 percent youth," he said.
He noted that at least 120,000 metric tonnes of agricultural products, valued at over 60 million dollars will be traded under structured trade arrangements nationally and across the EAC borders. The EAC economic block brings together six countries namely Uganda Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.
REACTS is focusing on farmers who are cultivating maize, pulses, rice and potatoes.
FOOD TRADE DECIFIT
Intra-regional trade in agricultural products in the EAC region is still low and is mainly informal. For instance, Kenya and Rwanda always experience an annual deficit of 400,000 metric tonnes and 150,000 metric tonnes of maize respectively and yet Uganda is mostly a surplus producer of maize (137,000 metric tonnes per annum), according to figures by Kilimo Trust.
The organization says the gaps in regional trade are normally bridged by imports from outside the region. For instance, in 2014, the EAC imported 566,662 metric tonnes of maize, 86 percent of which was in form of maize grain and seeds. Kenya alone accounted for 293,073 metric tonnes of imports.
The EAC Food Security Action Plan for 2010-2015, showed that whereas the EAC region had a target to raise the share of intra-regional trade in the total regional market for food products to 30 percent, intra-EAC trade stood at 11 percent in 2015.
Nuhu Hatibu, the Regional Director for AGRA told Xinhua in an interview that the food deficit can be addressed.
He said the REACTS program will among others build market systems that support value addition, aggregation and quality enhancement.
"If we increase value addition even by 10 percent, all that increase will go to the small holder farmer," Hatibu said, noting that through structured trade, there will be transparency which will stop middlemen from taking the entire bulk of the profit.
"Our ambition is for every farmer to know where their products are being sold and how much," he said.
He noted that if all this is implemented successfully, farmers will have more reason to increase their production from subsistence to commercial.
"The farmers we are going to handle need to start smiling because by expanding the reach of their products to different markets, the profitability that they expect to get will expand."