With a British government grant, Ugandan and Tanzanian farmers will be assisted to access lucrative markets for food grain, especially in Kenya, writes RICHARD M KAVUMA.
Farmers in the Teso sub-region are set to benefit from a new project that aims to boost grain exports to Kenya.
Farm Africa, the lead agency for the FoodTrade project supported by a £3m grant from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), said the regional initiative will benefit around 70,000 farmers in Uganda and Tanzania.
Farmers will be supported to “improve post-harvest practices, access post-harvest technology, and improve storage practices and facilities”, improving their chances of selling more produce for better prices. The project intends to use the online trading platform G-Soko.
In Uganda, the project seeks to help 12,000 farmers in the Teso sub-region. These will include 2,000 members of the Katine Joint Farmers Co-operative Society (Kajofaco), linking otherwise-remote smallholder farmers to high-paying buyers, especially in Kenya.
Since 2007, Katine sub-county, one of the poorest areas in Uganda, has been supported by development initiatives backed by Guardian readers. Kajofaco was borne out of the Katine project, and last year the co-operative started borrowing against a £60,000 deposit fund which came out of money raised through the Guardian’s 2013 Christmas appeal.
With support from Farm Africa, Kajofaco is running three enterprises: produce trade, an agro-input store and a savings and credit venture for nearly 800 registered members. Through the FoodTrade project, Farm Africa will train Katine farmers in best practices in harvesting, drying, sorting and grading grain and three staple crops – maize, rice and beans.
Farmers will also receive equipment such as tarpaulin, moisture meters and silos to operate village aggregation centres from which grain can be sold.
“Farm Africa will contribute towards the price of this equipment, and will also ask farmers to contribute, to encourage a sense of ownership and to promote the long-term sustainability of the [Katine] project,” said Libby Plumb, Farm Africa’s head of brand and content.
Agriculture is the major economic activity for three-quarters of Ugandans. But most of the farming is subsistence. President Yoweri Museveni has made modernisation and commercialisation of agriculture his mantra, but the country still lacks successful models for mobilising disparate farmers with modest acreages to tap into the existing regional and international market for produce.
The biggest beneficiaries from this stalemate have been middlemen who buy the produce cheaply and sell it for a handsome profit. The new Farm Africa project aims to help rural Ugandan and Tanzanian farmers to produce high-quality grain, handle and store it well and market it to get top prices.
“Guardian readers’ support for Katine, one of the poorest regions of Uganda, left a lasting legacy by helping farmers there to form a co-operative so they can achieve higher prices by selling their produce in bulk,” said David Ogwang, Farm Africa’s project coordinator in Uganda.
“Farm Africa’s new project will build on this success and help the co-operative access a lucrative export market and further increase their incomes.”
Of particular interest will be the markets in Kenya, whose thriving economy, large population and inferior arable capacity make it a big food importer. World Bank data shows that only 10.2 per cent of Kenya’s land is arable, compared to 15 per cent for Tanzania and 34 per cent for Uganda.
“While Tanzania and Uganda produce a surplus of staple foods, Kenya only grows enough to feed itself one year in every five,” Farm Africa said.
“Until recently, high tariffs on trade within eastern Africa have meant that in Kenya importing crops from outside Africa has been cheaper, but recent policy developments have removed barriers to regional trade.”
Farm Africa says it will work with partner NGOs to support farmers in storing their surpluses of rice, maize and beans in local aggregation centres linked to warehouses approved by the East African Grain Council (EAGC). This will open the way for their produce to sell for better prices on the regional market.
Kajofaco is a member of the EAGC and has applied to have its produce store certified as a warehouse. Farm Africa believes that if the farmers’ groups can be assured of better prices, they will be encouraged to open up more land and produce more, which will raise household incomes and lift living standards.
“By incentivising farmers to grow bigger surpluses and making regional trade easy and affordable, this project will help lift tens of thousands of grain farmers in Tanzania and Uganda out of poverty as well as taking eastern Africa a step closer to agricultural self-sufficiency,” said Steve Ball, Farm Africa’s country director in Tanzania.
Speaking by telephone from Katine, Mary Aleto, the Kajofaco secretary manager, said the association members have received news of the new project with excitement.
“We recently held our AGM where we were told about it and the community were very happy because of the opportunities it presents to improve our farming,” Aleto said.
She said that for a long time Katine has had large unfarmed swaths largely because commercial farming has failed to take off – because of poor returns and shortage of labour for opening up land. But once communities know about the immense opportunities for good prices for their produce, she is hopeful that people will produce more.
“I told the members that we are willing to give them seeds on loan, but I want each of the member’s household to give us at least one bag of produce per season,” Aleto said, adding that Katine would not make an impression on regional markets if its productivity remained low.
Kajofaco also hopes that each member will pick at least one key crop to pay more attention to. Aleto said most farmers in the area grow a little bit of several food crops; and while this is good for a balanced diet, it does not generate enough surpluses to attract large buyers.
This story was first published by www.guardian.co.uk