EAC partner states should modernise agriculture

The East African Community needs to harness its untapped agricultural potential by modernising the industry with agricultural processing technologies, an expert panel at the ongoing Agribusiness Forum in Kigali, has said.
A farmer uses a tractor to plant maize seeds.  Experts at an ongoing forum say mechanisation will transform the agriculture sector.   The New Times/ File.
A farmer uses a tractor to plant maize seeds. Experts at an ongoing forum say mechanisation will transform the agriculture sector. The New Times/ File.

The East African Community needs to harness its untapped agricultural potential by modernising the industry with agricultural processing technologies, an expert panel at the ongoing Agribusiness Forum in Kigali, has said.

The Agribusiness Forum is a pan-African forum held annually to discuss and share successful projects and business models in the agricultural industry.

Yesterday, a panel of agricultural experts from the East African Community (EAC) discussed the need for agricultural processing, which is the physical or chemical transformation of raw products into agricultural commodities.

Little processing

“We want to modernise the agriculture sector and specifically we believe agri-processing will lead us to transform the agricultural industry,” said Moses Marwa, Principal Agricultural Economic, EAC.

All five EAC partner states – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda– are largely agrarian economies. Over 90 per cent of staple food products traded within the region are primary processed products.

There is very little agricultural processing in Africa, meaning many countries face huge post-harvest losses of perishable food products. Processing locally grown agriculture commodities could open up new opportunities for the agriculture industry in Africa, experts say.

“There’s a big potential for doing secondary and tertiary processing,” Marwa said.

Developing post-harvest processing techniques can keep food fresh longer which makes it easier to transport across borders, thus enhancing trade and business opportunities.

“Post-harvest handling is really the key to enhance agri-industries,” said Fiona Lukwago, Assistant Director of Kilimo Trust, Uganda.

Modernising the agriculture industry in East Africa would help achieve food security, develop new employment opportunities and train a skilled labour force to operate and maintain advanced machinery and technologies.

“Much as we have these aspirations there are a number of constraints,” Marwa said.

Specifically, there is an inadequate supply of raw materials due to low productivity, even though 67 per cent of arable land in Africa has yet to be cultivated. There is also the issue of poor infrastructure, such as lack of access to electricity in rural areas and low capacity for utilisation.

To successfully bring agricultural processing to East Africa, Lukwago identified a need for manufacturing and supply of equipment, such as continuous lines and automated machinery, as well as technologies for standard and quality testing that are easily understood by farmers.

She also highlighted the importance of a skilled labour force in order to properly utilise and maintain advanced technologies.