Leaders, farmers call for creation of regional food security commission

Tuesday September 23 2014

Experts say hoes cannot till enough land to produce food for both consumption and commercial. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Civil society and business leaders have urged East African governments to create a food security commission at the East African Community Secretariat to eliminate hunger. The body, they say, will also help reduce environmental degradation and generate income for the EAC populations through agriculture.

Speaking at the 3rd Annual Secretary General’s Forum for civil society and business leaders, experts recommended that a commission should be created and given enough resources to develop agriculture as a business. The speakers pointed out that hunger in the European Union was eliminated after integration. 

Research done by Kilimo Trust, a civil society organisation that operates in the five EAC partner states, found that rice is the most traded produce in the region — but at only 5 per cent annually. Increased production of rice and allowing free trade would provide income and save the region $500 million that is spent on imports annually.

In Tanzania, for instance, restaurants in the north buy Irish potatoes 2,000 kilometres away in the south, yet the produce is available only 150 kilometres away in Rwanda and Burundi.   

“Officials in Tanzania sometimes ban movement of food outside their districts,” said Prof Nuhu Hatibu, chief executive officer of Kilimo Trust. Prof Hatibu said countries that ban the movement of food have failed to realise that over 50 per cent of food crops grown in the East African region are sold and not consumed.

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Banning the movement of food crops within the region, Prof Hatibu said, denies farmers access to a bigger and a competitive market. The commission would also stop the wastage of resources that governments in East Africa invest in making their countries self-sufficient on food. 

Prof Hatibu attributed insufficient food, which hit the region from time-to-time to lack of innovation to boost food production. He noted that the region and its donors have also ignored important policy interventions, which would change the face of agriculture on the continent.

For example, governments in East Africa allocate a lot of resources for unnecessary research while little or no effort is invested in moving the population away from using a hoe — a tool that was used by slaves in the 18th century.

Hoes, according to experts, cannot till enough land to generate enough food for both consumption and commercial. Mechanisation is necessary but governments and donors have continued to support manual agriculture inputs, Prof Hatibu added.

“Why should you invest lots of money in researching a drought resistant maize variety that can survive in Machakos (one of dry counties in Kenya) when you can easily buy the maize from central Uganda, where it grows effortlessly? The people of Machakos would spent their time producing something that can easily thrive in that environment. Then the money from this activity would be used to buy maize,” he says.

In the 2014/2015 financial year, Uganda allocated some resources to conduct research on maize varieties that are resistant to drought and plough gardens for the Karamojong, who are pastoralists.

The National Agricultural Advisory Services will teach households in northern Uganda how to grow bananas. Bananas are not traditionally grown by many communities in northern Uganda.

Survival of crops

All these attempts in adapting crops that don’t survive in the environment of the given areas destroy the ecosystems without offering sustainable food sources. Instead, sometimes drought or rains destroy the crops before maturity. 

Jason Braganza, a senior analyst at Development Initiatives however, said as a means of eliminating poverty, it is important that peasants who can’t produce enough food are helped to venture in different income generating activities. Failure to do this means living a critical mass of the population in poverty.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the world population is expected to rise from the current seven billion people to nine billion by 2050, putting more pressure on land to feed the rising population.