The East African Community has unveiled a strategic plan to double its fruit and vegetable exports to $900 million in the next eight years.
In the 2021-2031 strategic plan that was unveiled late last year, the region plans to increase the area under fruit production by five percent, to 10 million hectares, with an eye on the global export market.
If implemented, the intra-EAC trade in fruit and vegetable products would increase from the current $9.9 million to $25 million by 2031.
The region also plans to increase vegetable production by five percent of area cultivated, to 45 million hectares from 32.8 million hectares, with productivity increasing by at least three percent.
“If you look at our Strategic Plan for the years 2021 to 2031, the EAC produces a wide range of fruits & vegetables (F&V), which can be exported to regional and international markets,” said Christopher Bazivamo, the EAC deputy secretary general in charge of Productive and Social Sectors.
“The F&V sector is important to the region due to its multi-sectoral nature of contributing to food security, nutrition and economic development through value addition,” he said.
According to the East African Community Fruits and Vegetables Value Chain Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2031, the volume of EAC trade in the market is about 1.28 million tonnes per year.
The EU accounts for the largest share, at 49 percent of fruits and vegetables imported from EAC.
While East Asia provides a significant market share, at 34 percent, and the sub-Saharan market is at just 12 percent.
The trade in fruits and vegetables between EAC and the EU is estimated at 187,000 tonnes per year and valued at around $455.9 million.
Vegetables and edible fruits account for 95,000 tonnes and 91.000 tonnes respectively, with the proportion of processed and fresh exports at 37.95 percent and 62.02 percent respectively.
Exports to the global market for vegetables increased to $950 million from the current $416 million.
The value of exports for vegetables has increased significantly, from $39 million in 2005 to almost $80 million in 2019.
The major fruits and vegetables exported to the EU are beans, followed by avocados and pineapples.
Other important exports are brassica vegetables, peas, pepper, and leguminous vegetables.
“This sector has the potential for huge investments, and provides an economic opportunity for reducing rural poverty in the EAC,” Mr Bazivamo said. “The most direct contribution is through generating higher incomes for farmers.”
Although the sector plays a significant role in the EAC economies, its overall share in manufacturing is four percent to 12 percent as is the manufacturing value added per capita.
According to the Strategic plan, the sector represents 20 percent to 36 percent of the agriculture GDP in the EAC.
The compounded annual growth rate of the processed fruit juice sectors in Tanzania, was estimated at seven percent, Uganda 12.8 percent, and Rwanda 6.8 percent.
Mr Bazivamo acknowledges that indigenous vegetables have been part of the food systems in the EAC for generations, saying they are the most affordable source of vitamins and minerals required for good health.
“The sector has a significant role in promoting the EAC industrialisation agenda. Thus the market for processed fruits in the EAC is among the most promising, with sector maturity still far off into the foreseeable future,” Mr Bazivamo said.
“Apart from developing the F&V sector for the export market, the traditional fruits and vegetables found in many parts of East Africa have significant medicinal and curative potential.”
The EAC produces a wide range of vegetables, including various unique Asian vegetables, baby corn, baby marrow, beetroots, beans, cabbage, carrots and baby carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, kale, leeks, onions, shallots, okra, peas, potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes.
A wide range of fruits are cultivated, including citrus, mangoes, pineapples, avocado, jackfruit, and guavas.
Fruits suited to temperate climates, especially in the highlands, such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, blackberries, and strawberries, are also grown in the region.
Despite the data for current production volumes in EAC countries being unavailable, older information shows that Uganda is the largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the region, at 5.5 million to six million tonnes per annum.
In Tanzania, the horticulture sub-sector employs about 2.5 million people.
In Uganda, approximately 3,000 small-scale farmers grow fresh fruits and vegetables for export, and many more smallholders base their livelihoods on production for the domestic, regional, and international markets.
In addition, the input supply, transport, marketing, packaging, and handling operations offer other job opportunities.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2021 report, Kenya’s export value of fruits reached a peak of $26.2 million in March 2021.
However, fruit farming has been increasing in Kenya with a number of products such as avocados, mangoes and bananas seeing high sales on the local market.
Recently, more opportunities have been created for Kenyan farmers to access international markets like the UAE and the US.
Other targets in the strategic plan include employment opportunities being created along the value chain to the tune of 4,000,000 direct jobs, by the end of 2031; reduction in post-harvest losses from the current 40 percent to 20 percent; and increase in the proportion of processed fruits from the eight percent to 16 percent.
It also plans to train and support SME entrepreneurs particularly in improving productivity, quality standards linking to the global supply chain, and increase GDP contribution by fruits and vegetables from the current 36 percent to 50 percent.