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African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture

By The Independent Team

She was in Uganda recently and spoke to The Independent’s Joan Akello and other journalists about why Uganda and other countries need to adopt modern technology to improve agricultural production and food security.

Agriculture can be transformed in Africapling with currently?

I am Ugandan and at the end of year, I always come back. My portfolio covers multiple ministries and sectors such as the agriculture, land, water, and environment. That is why I traverse Africa and outside Africa. I am on leave but I have about 700 emails because everyone wants to associate with the African Union (AU).    AU is becoming stronger despite the challenges in South Sudan.

The African Union has declared 2014 The Year of agriculture and Food Security and Commemoration of 10 years of Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CaaDP). What do you hope to have achieved by the end of the year?

Heads of state and government will meet this January to launch the Year of Agriculture and Food Security.  In June, the heads of state will discuss the theme of the year, which is “Transforming Africa’s Agriculture For Shared Prosperity And Improved Livelihoods Through

Harnessing Opportunities For Inclusive Growth And Sustainable Development”. We  are preparing  studies, we are  reflecting on  the  10 percent allocation to CaaDP  since the principle of CAADP is to have  10 percent  of the   budget  allocated to  agriculture .  So we shall have technical and ministerial meetings with civil society organisations and researchers.   We want to shake the continent and want people to focus on agriculture.

What benefits are in CaaDP for Uganda?

CaaDP was adopted in 2003. Countries are supposed to sign compacts and Uganda signed one.  By 2008 only one country had signed a CaaDP compact.  Now over 34 countries have signed. Countries identify priorities within the sector which must be agreed on by the CSOs, private sector and government. I would like to implore you to ask the ministries of agriculture where they are in implementation since they signed up the CaaDP compact and investment plan. Do they have a seed programme within that investment plan? Did you focus on water for agriculture or irrigation plan? The press should always ask these questions. The countries which have followed CaaDP have done well.  I live in Ethiopia, one of those countries which signed the compact and put in place an investment plan.  They set up an agricultural transformation agency and follow up every activity of implementing the investment plan.   In the past, there were media reports of how Ethiopians were dying from hunger and famine but now they are doing very well.  So my message to Uganda is to implement what is in the plan.  I lobby for countries and what I lobby for, countries get. Some have; such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia. I will not specify whether Uganda got money because it depends on whether a country is implementing CaaDP.  We want to see Uganda benefiting from responding to CaaDP and investing in agriculture. But this requires investment plans. There are many areas Uganda can benefit from urbanisation, improvement in the standards and quality of products in Uganda.  Uganda can also benefit from the East African market. Uganda must have an adaption and food security plan for it to be credible to receive this support.

The theme of the 2013 CaaDP Day “Africa feeding Africa” set the scene for reflecting on how to improve agricultural production to eradicate hunger and poverty in the continent. In Sub -Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of adult mortality and morbidity. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), estimates that by 2020 the epidemic will claim the lives of 20 percent or more of the population working in agriculture in many Southern African countries. What are you doing to ensure that AU does not misfire in promoting food security in the continent?

Our cardinal principal is to be peaceful. The majority of countries in Africa depend on agriculture. Everybody knows that Africa is going to be the most hit by climate change. So AU leads in the negotiations because Africa has a very big stake in climate change. We are receiving support for adaption e.g. adaption plans and global food security fund. There are many challenges for Africa social health- related and our behavior. But we have to continue. For instance in Uganda, the HIV/AIDs epidemic exists and people are dying from all sorts of diseases such as malaria but the population continues to surpass this.

How can a common African benefit from your office?

It is through the trickledown effect whereby a common person will benefit from our trainings, extension services but only at the national level.

In Rwanda, the price of fertiliser is lower than the one in Uganda because of the grand use of fertiliser. The common person will benefit if the country is able to tackle the challenges.

Currently, there is a mixed reaction over the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) bill in parliament. What is your view on this Bill?

Uganda is technologically behind. Everything has good and bad elements.  I think the scientists have not educated the masses properly.  We have been eating GMOs such as the beans we call Kawanda composite, bananas, and maize.  Why should you take garlic from China which is by the way a GMO? Ugandans have to open their eyes.  The problem we have is with the terminator seed which destroys other seeds. We shall remain poor and import food from other countries if we do not adopt modern technology. We shall starve. Let us build our capacity to regulate so that we are able to move ahead. Otherwise we cannot do without modern technology.

Government rolled out the Agriculture Financing Fund in the central bank for farmers. But there are reports they are not benefiting from this fund. What has AU done about agricultural financing?

By putting money in the central bank, the government means good for agriculture but what it does not do is to have a structural approach to the use and accessibility of money and how it can benefit the people. You have to ensure that the farmers are educated on how to come up with proposals. Like Ethiopia, you can even have a transformation agency that helps farmers to ensure that credit lines are identified, follow up on the use and challenges such as interest rates, to ensure that commercial bank rates are in consonance with what government wants. Otherwise the money will remain unused. In fact, we have engaged central banks through the African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA).

Central banks are very important but there is need for more players; the Investment Authority or the agriculture ministry. You cannot just put money there and say come and access it. Our poor farmers will not be able to access that money.   The commercial banks will charge the rates they want because they think agriculture is risky. We also need to identify the catalysing elements which are going to help the investors.  We have a programme where we bring foreign investors to partner with the locals because we have realised that our small scale farmers find challenges in marketing and standards setting. You cannot access international markets unless you have set standards, produce in quantity and package well. We can see some of this in the supermarkets here. Just the cosmetic is important. This is what we are propagating for at the continental level but the actions are at the country level; we leave this for governments.

The EAC countries have up till October this year to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) with the European Union but critics say this deal is unfair to the Africans because developed countries protect their own agricultural sectors with high import tariffs and offer subsidies to their farmers. How can AU ensure that the continent does not lose out from signing such trade agreements?

It is not good to have fractured agreements. Most of these countries like EU want Africa fractured, not to speak together. But if African countries agree that we do not want EPAs, it will not happen.  We have to work on infrastructure development so that we can trade more with our selves. We are working on Intra-Africa trade. Why should we import an equivalent of about US 40 billion dollars of food to Africa and yet some of this food is going out? So we can trade by producing this food and then sell it within Africa.  AU has a Program called Program Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA). PIDA covers four sectors: transport; energy; Information Communication Technologies (ICT); and trans-boundary water resources. We focus on projects that will increase intra –Africa trade and agriculture.

Recently, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the chief executive officer of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) said job creation for young people is mainly through tapping into agricultural development and has rolled out a programme, Rural Futures to tackle youth unemployment. What is your plan to tackle this issue?

This is another opportunity for countries to focus on attracting the youth into agriculture. The youth will not go into agriculture unless we have modern technology.  You have seen how they have embraced the mobile phone and the like.  So governments must invest in making agriculture attractive for the youth and this will automatically create more jobs for them.

Uganda is among the Africa countries that benefit from the U.S. sponsored African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) but why do you think her once vibrant textile industry is failing today?

Uganda has not worked on our cotton. How many hand mills do we have?  We are really lazy yet Ethiopia’s textile industry is thriving. Ethiopians are producing their own clothes and also exporting to America. Currently Ethiopia is clothing the Ethiopian army; you can find about 2,000 workers in a factory producing for the American market. They have a structural approach to issues; plan and implement. Ethiopia also has very good leather. They plan and implement.

Where do you see the future of Africa’s agriculture sector in the next three years?

I would like to focus more on impact on the country level, moving towards a transformed agricultural sector.  Sustainability, a better livelihood for the people. A lot is happening in many countries. Africa.  In the past, Rwanda used to call me monthly to check some of their projects. Now, she has reached take off, they are even exporting avocado.   Tanzania has just mapped out the Southern corridor to grow what Kikwete called the ‘rice Africa needs’ from Tanzania. The same is happening in Mozambique. I believe that if more effort can be put in, agriculture can be transformed in Africa.

What satisfaction have you derived from this job since 2008?

When my term in office expired, I was re-elected as one of the most- hardworking at AU. This is one of the things I derive satisfaction from. I like the work I’m doing. I see positive responses from countries and the fact that agriculture has continued to be top of the agenda in Africa.  Even our partners give me a lot to spend that I cannot manage to exhaust the money. All these satisfy me.  However, with the discovery of resources especially oil, African countries have to compete and prioritise carefully. I do not think you can starve your stomach in order to drill oil

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