The interim, Vice President, Seed Research & Systems Development at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr. George Bigirwa, has said there is need to support small holder farmers in the region to access markets so as to reduce poverty levels in the East African Community member states.
Dr. Bigirwa noted that research organizations continue releasing improved crop varieties and technologies, yet uptake by the majority of farmers remains low because of the markets constraint. 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 small holder farmers if there is ready market. That is the main hindrance to increased production and farmers’ incomes,” said Dr. Bigirwa.
AGRA has supported the development of improved technologies like seed in Uganda and the harmonization processes within East African Community member states for such technologies to be accessed by the farmers.
Dr. Bigirwa, who visited the Ministry of East African Community Affairs recently, said the member states should also play their role in helping their small holder farmers to access bigger markets.
He had led a team of AGRA officials to Uganda to assess the impact of the Regional East African Community Trade in Staples Project (REACTS) II Project, which AGRA funds. The three-year project which started last year May is implemented Kilimo Trust Uganda.
He explained that with ready markets, small holder farmers would sell more produce and expand their enterprises, thus solving household poverty.
“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.
In Uganda the project is supporting the maize and pulses value chains hoping to increase house old incomes by 20% for over 3 million small holder farmers and over 5% of other value chain actors, according to Dr. Birungi Korutaro, the Kilimo Trust country team leader.
“The support is in form of trainings on best farming practices, how to access storage and post-harvest handling technologies, financial literacy, use and access to quality agro inputs, links to off takers, links to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to ensure the produce meets standards needed when trading across the region and help in organizing farmer market days for some beneficiaries, among others,” she added.
According to Korutaro, about 105,000 farming households are expected to be integrated in input and output markets by the end of three years and 120,000 metric tons of produce traded across the region.
Quality of agric produce
Dr. Bigirwa noted that low standards with dirty and broken produce persist. He insisted that quality and standards must be observed for smooth trading in the region.
“Apart from contamination with aflatoxin, there are still quality issues like dirty grain because some farmers still don’t have proper drying facilities, discolored grain, broken grains which affect the quality of the final product,” he 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 donor 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.