The East Africa Community (EAC) Treaty emphasises agriculture. In fact, agriculture was introduced in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the recent Conference of Parties (COP23).
This will enable developing countries to work towards more sustainable agricultural activities that would reduce greenhouse emissions.
The EAC’s Investment Promotion & Private Sector Development estimates agriculture’s contribution to the region’s GDP at 36 per cent.
Similarly, the Treaty acknowledges the important role of agriculture in agro-processing and value-addition, which are key drivers towards food security.
The region’s agro-industrial sector comprises manufacturers of food, beverages and tobacco; textiles and clothing; wood products and furniture; paper and paper products; and rubber and rubber products among others.
Agro-processing contributes to food security in several ways. For instance, it helps in preventing post-harvest losses by giving foodstuffs a longer shelf life and ensuring availability throughout the year.
It also improves quality of food. Agro-processing technologies such as food fortification ensure that food has the required nutrients to ensure nutrition security.
It is also a major source of employment through forward and backward linkages. The income from such employment facilitates access to food.
Lastly, agro-processing promotes a shift from subsistence to commercial agriculture and thus, can enhance availability of food.
Where cash crops are given priority over food crops, the income can be used to buy food.
For the region to sustainably develop agro-processing, member States should ensure that the quality of produce is locally, regionally and internationally competitive and outdo imports on costs and quality.
The producers should tap into climate-aware value chains in order to adapt to climate change effects.
One option would be to promote climate-change resilient crops such as banana and cassava which would guarantee an uninterrupted supply of raw materials even cases of drought and floods.
Practical examples can be drawn from Makueni and Busia, as well as Kisii and Meru in Kenya where cassava and bananas farmers are delivering raw materials to agro-processors all year round.
Supply-side constraints such as dilapidated infrastructure, power blackouts or lack of grid connectivity in remote areas further hinder the advancement of agro-processing and need to be keenly addressed.
Other key impediments include lack of appropriate technology, human resources, finance, underdeveloped distribution channels and non-tariff barriers. Partner States should formulate policies and strategies that support their manufacturers to overcome such challenges.
On the demand-side, low income levels of the majority of the population within EAC are the leading causes of the slow turnover of locally processed goods.
There should be deliberate efforts by Partner States to increase visibility and demand for locally processed goods through aggressive marketing campaigns.
Collins Owegi is an Assistant Programme Officer of Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Nairobi.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.