EAC states should jointly restructure agriculture systems

Monday November 01 2021
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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 as their source of revenue.

East African Community (EAC) member states produce similar products, and much as enhancing food security and rational agricultural and livestock production is vital, there is need to harmonise agricultural policies and programmes for efficient and effective production and market within and outside the community.

Foodstuffs dominate exports within the regional markets, and farmers enjoy improved yields due to somewhat favourable weather. Even so, farmers face weak demand for their products with waning hopes of stronger demand for agricultural products.

The agricultural sector contributes immensely to regional development. In Uganda, for example, the sector’s total employment was averagely 72 percent before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The sector has been given priority in the National Development Plan III (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, fishing and aquaculture. 

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.


On top of common recurrent challenges like the limited use of mechanisation and over-dependence on rain seasons, there are protocols that are not honoured by member states in preference of other regional bodies. 

The East African region needs to invest a lot in irrigation to counterbalance climatic and weather unpredictability. 

East African member states need to jointly come up with measures aiming at improving soils. There is a project in offing to start producing fertilisers in East Africa. 

This could be overdue but when realised, 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. 

The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) notes huge crop losses exceeding 50 percent 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 narrow the yield gap in the region.

How do we market our products beyond production? 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 has just only 37.8 percent of cultivated land of her 241,550 square kilometres (according to World Bank data). Kenya has just 10 percent of her 580,367 square kilometres. 

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 stabilise production by finding solutions to hurdle over the adverse challenges.