The Interim Vice President – Program Development & Innovation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr. George Bigirwa, has said there is need to help smallholder farmers in the region to access markets to reduce poverty levels in the East African Community (EAC) member states.

Bigirwa noted that research organizations continue releasing improved crop varieties and technologies, yet uptake by the majority of farmers remains low because of the constraint of the market. The result is that they cannot adopt these new innovations and technologies as well as improved crop varieties for fear of wasting their efforts.

“Technologies that will increase production have been developed and even shared among farmers, but we know that those technologies can only benefit smallholder farmers if there is a ready market. That is the main hindrance to increased production and farmers’ incomes,” Bigirwa said.

He added that they have supported the development of improved technologies like seeds in Uganda and the harmonization processes within the EAC member states for such technologies to be accessed by the farmers

Bigirwa, who visited the ministry of East African Community Affairs recently, said the member states should also play their role in helping their smallholder farmers to access bigger markets. 

He had led a team from Nairobi, to assess the impact of the Regional East African Community Trade in Staples Project (REACTS) II Project, which his organization funds through Kilimo Trust.

“With assured markets and improved technologies, we can easily improve their incomes and food security. 

It is along those lines that AGRA agreed to support the REACTS project because we know that one of the key bottlenecks is to do with markets,” he added.

Quality of Agric produce

Bigirwa also insisted that quality and standards must be observed for smooth trading in the region adding that low standards with dirty and broken produce still persist. 

“Apart from contamination with aflatoxin, there are still quality issues like dirty grain because some farmers still don’t have proper drying facilities, discoloured grain, broken grains which affect the quality of the final product,” he added.

In Uganda, the project is supporting maize and pulses value chains hoping to increase house old incomes by 20% for over 3 million smallholder farmers, according to Dr. Birungi Korutaro, the Kilimo Trust country team leader.

“The support is in form of training on best farming practices, how to access storage and post-harvest handling technologies, financial literacy, links to off-takers, Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to ensure the product meets standards needed when trading across the region,” she added.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs (MEACA), Edith Mwanja, commended the REACTS project saying it has helped some farmers improve. 

She said the government of Uganda has contributed $6.4million over a five year period and called for donour support to raise an addition of $1.2 million.

“We believe that in the next five years, there will be increased use of structured markets and more trade volumes in beans and maize that meet regional market standards. And I believe this will have improved the livelihoods of Ugandans in more than 25 districts,” Mwanja said.