50 Years of Independence: EAC’s Agricultural Sector Growth

50 Years of Independence: EAC’s Agricultural Sector Growth

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From November 4-8, Uganda hosted the 2013 International Symposium and Exhibition on Agricultural Development in the East African Community (EAC) Region. Scholars, business leaders and government officials gathered together at the Serena Hotel in Kampala under the common theme: “lessons from the past 50 years and prospects for the future.”

Over five days, members of the public and private sectors, agriculture workers and academics, connected with each other to share ideas and information. The event consisted of various workshops, seminars, exhibitions and a high-level roundtable discussion.

The symposium was organized by the EAC Secretariat, Kilimo Trust, ASARECA, MEACA-Uganda and MAAIF-Uganda. The main objective of the symposium, according to the program, was “to articulate an EAC Regional Vision of Agriculture for the future as a modern and vibrant sector that fully takes advantage of the region’s endowment with resources…coupled with the ever increasing global demand for food and agricultural products.”

In addition to agriculture being an important piece of national economies, agriculture is a crucial sector in the EAC partner states as most East Africans are dependent on small scale farming.

“It is estimated that between 70 percent to 80 percent of the labor force of the EAC is involved in the food sector in one way or another,” Mr. Timothy E.O. Wesonga, Senior Livestock and Fisheries Officer in the EAC, explained in his keynote paper. “Between 24 percent and 48 percent of the GDP of the partner states is attributed to the agriculture sector.”

Unfortunately, agriculture in the EAC has struggled to keep up with the demand for products and technology used in other areas of the world.

“During the 50 years since independence, the EAC countries moved from a food surplus to a food deficit region,” Shellemiah Keya (University of Nairobi, Kenya) and Patrick Rubaihayo (Makerere University, Uganda) stated in their paper. The professors encouraged the adoption of new technologies, better infrastructure, and a stronger focus on efficient water use to improve productivity.

ASARECA, one of the event organizers, also takes a multipronged approach to agricultural development. An African-led organization that brings together experts from a variety of fields, ASARECA funds research and runs programs on high-value crops, livestock and fisheries, resource management and biodiversity.

“The exhibit this year was a success, bringing all these people together,” an ASARECA representative told AFKInsider at the exhibition.

Since agriculture plays such an important role in East African economies, it stands to reason that improvement in the agricultural sector will have an impact on individual and national wealth.

“The symposium is about discussing the issues involved with moving farmers from normal agriculture productivity to market, to enterprises for profit,” explained a Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS) exhibitor.

One of the growing challenges facing agricultural development in the EAC is the impact of climate change. ASARECA, along with other initiatives, is tackling climate change adaptation by developing drought-resistant crops, investing in water management, teaching pastoralists how to keep livestock healthy in drought and conserving agrobiodiversity by preserving plant species and sharing genetic resources between countries.

The great potential of the agricultural sector in the EAC, coupled with the need for improvement, continues to fuel lively discussion and fresh ideas among experts across different fields and from all over the world. “The challenge of the region,” stated Wesonga, “is therefore to close the gap between the current production and the region’s potential in the coming decades.”

The timing of the 2013 symposium marks several important milestones in East Africa.

“The events of this week are designed to help us reflect on the progress we have made in agriculture during the 50 years since all the EAC Partner States earned independence. We are also meeting at a time when the continent’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) is marking ten years of implementation,” the organizers’ welcome read.

“Furthermore, we are gathered here in Kampala at a time when we are only two years away from the target year (2015) for the EAC Partner States to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs),” the welcome stated.

Uganda will once again be the hub of agricultural dialogue in December 2013, when Kampala will host the East Africa Agribusiness Investment Summit and Awards. This event will take place on December 10 and 11 at the Kampala Serena Hotel.