Hunger for FDI relegates labour rights, conservation to back seat

The growing appetite for investors is pushing countries in the East Africa region to turn a blind eye to labour rights laws and conservation obligations in order to attract multinationals.

And experts warn the long-term danger is that of a region that will have rogue players dominating the corporate scene, trampling on basic rights of the communities.

The revelations emerged even as the world enters the second decade into voluntary UN-endorsed soft power instruments referred to as the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights. They are meant to ensure that states are aware of their duty to protect human rights and prevail upon companies domiciled within their territory to do so.

The UNGPs, which are voluntary, also emphasise corporate responsibility to human rights at all times, especially in conflict-affected areas, and access to remedy for victims of rights abuses.

Remained on paper

For Africa the UNGPs, they have largely remained on paper, with only two countries. Only Kenya and Uganda have pioneered a National Action Plan (NAP) to domesticate and enforce the principles.

“Initially, businesses were not very open to have dialogue with us, said Ms Claris Kariuki, a senior state attorney at the Attorney General’s Office in Kenya.

“From Kenya’s NAP consultations, the common human rights issues that always came up were access to land, access to remedy, environment, transparency and labour,” she told The EastAfrican.

Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique have initiated processes to conclude a NAP. Critics argue that these countries have continued to overlook violations by corporates.

Implementing standards

The revelations emerged during the African Business and Human Rights Forum in Accra, Ghana. Organised by the African Union on October 12 and 13, it was meant to identify progress, gaps and challenges, and pick lessons from the world’s other regions that are already implementing these standards.

Arnold Kwesiga, member of the African Coalition for Corporate Governance argues that that questions remain as to whether poor and weak countries can call multinationals to order.

“We have to question and look at the capacity of the state to regulate and also the capacity of the state to ensure that all affected communities on the ground are part of the process,” he says.

Harriet Asibazuyo, Social Safeguards Specialist at the Gender, Labour and Social Development Ministry in Uganda, says part of the challenge is the number of stakeholders that need to be brought on board, before she rollout.

“This is a complex subject. We need political support to lend weight to this action plan in its implementation.”

Implementation gaps

The problem may be global, but in Africa, implementation gaps and challenges that undermine compliance means multinationals playing by tough rules elsewhere enjoy impunity in Africa.

“In February, the European Union adopted the due diligence protocol, which requires EU companies to undertake due diligence on human rights wherever they operate,” says Oyeniyi Abe, researcher and law lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, UK.

“This has implications for Africa where the state is often silent or indifferent to human rights violations,” adding that the protocol imposes a corporate due diligence duty on large EU and third-country companies to ensure a human rights regime that is universal.

This is especially companies in certain high-risk sectors, such as extractives. Under the EU law, they will be tasked to identify and take steps to remedy actual, prevent or mitigate potential adverse impacts on human rights and the environment in the companies’ own operations, and their subsidiaries and value chains.

In Germany, for instance, whose multinationals have a large supply chain footprint in Africa in the automobile, logistics, infrastructure, energy, mining and pharmaceutical sectors, has already enacted a law, to effect the EU due diligence protocol.

Mandatory rights due diligence

“Our new mandatory human rights due diligence regime has possible impacts and implications for the Africa region,” says Marlene Landes, Senior Policy Analyst, Sustainable Transformation of Global Supply Chains, at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The law, which experts say will be replicated across the EU, has a direct bearing on African businesses, including small and medium sized companies, because suppliers of German MNCs will have to share more information and meet human rights and environmental requirements, as laid down in contracts with their business partners, Ms Landes explains.

The German Due Diligence Act will enter into force next year for companies with at least 3000 employees, and in 2024, businesses with at least 1000 employees will fall within the scope of the law.

A study commissioned by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and published in August this year, says African states are weak and hampered by lack of regulatory clarity and enforcement provisions to call transnational corporate actors to order, when the latter abuse human rights.

Mr Abe, who authored the study, titled “African Union and the State of Business and Human Rights in Africa”, says while the worst cases of human rights violations by corporate entities occur in Africa, such cases are dealt with in the homes states of these multinational companies (MNCs).

“Challenges range from governance of MNCs, weak corporate laws and lack of political will,” he wrote.

Law on minimum wage

Trade unions in Uganda, for instance have for decades pushed for a law on minimum wage, as a labour right, and this culminated in the passing of the Bill into an Act by Parliament in 2019, but President Museveni declined to sign it into law arguing that the current law is sufficient.

Analysts said the president was shielding multinationals, which establish in Uganda to take advantage of a cheap labour pool that would be threatened by signing into law the minimum wage Act effectively leaving companies to determine what to pay workers.

Labour rights activists say this state of affairs, massaged by the UNGPs and a NAP on business and human rights that is voluntary, cannot guarantee adequate compensation for workers.

“We want to see things passed into law [because] the law allows you to hold anyone, even the government, accountable,” says Matthew Parks, Parliamentary Coordinator the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Binding regime of principles

In their statement, civil society actors at the Forum said they want a binding regime of principles that will cure the gaps and challenges in implementation of the UNGPs, and therefore guarantee that businesses respect for human rights.

“While the UNGPs have triggered and facilitated the critical debate on business and human rights, their voluntary and non-binding nature renders them inadequate and ineffective in addressing increasing corporate abuses and enhancing corporate accountability on the continent,” the statement said.

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Kenya’s opposition pushes back Ruto’s plan to promote GMOs

Kenya’s opposition has vowed to push back hard against genetically modified (GMO) food imports into the country, opening a new political battlefront with President William Ruto’s government.

President Ruto, in one of his first major decisions in office, last month, lifted a 10-year-old ban on GMO foods and allowed cultivation of crop varieties developed using genetic engineering technology.

The approval comes in the wake of a biting drought that has exposed three million Kenyans to famine in 23 counties, forcing the government to intervene with relief food. Firms involved in GMO seed manufacturing will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the policy shift that will put pressure on farmers to reduce prices or be forced out of the market.

But opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka have faulted the President’s move, alleging a scheme involving unnamed individuals in government and foreign companies to profit from the current drought and famine that have left about four million people in need of relief food supplies in parts of the country.

Foreign campaign financiers

Mr Odinga, who lost the August 9 presidential election to President Ruto by a narrow margin, released a statement early in the week accusing the ruling elite of seeking to exploit the humanitarian crisis to reward or court foreign campaign financiers instead of mobilising an effective emergency response.

“In this scheme, the worse the pain, the bigger the gain for the shylocks in government,” he said, vowing to mobilise Kenyans to stop GMOs ‘on the farms and in the courts’.

“This situation requires a massive emergency response programme to ensure rapid delivery of food, water and medicine to the millions of people… This required emergency response is evidently missing but instead the government is consumed by politics of survival and the elections of 2027.”

President Ruto has yet to directly respond to the opposition’s pushback against what is understood to be a key plank of his food security agenda, with the most high-profile official comments coming from his new Trade minister Moses Kuria.

Safety concerns dismissed

Speaking during the handover by his predecessor on Thursday, Mr Kuria asked Mr Odinga to withdraw a court case against GMOs, dismissing concerns about their safety.

“We should not be afraid that we are going to die more than the rich countries,” Mr Kuria said.

Kenya boasts some the best regulations and laws on biotechnology research, and cultivation and commercialisation of GMO crops and trade in related products in Africa.

In consideration of the adoption of GMO crops, the Cabinet said it put into mind various expert and technical reports including that of Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Awaiting approval

GM maize testing in Kenya started in 2010 but approval for the environmental release was granted by the NBA in 2016. The scientists completed research on genetically modified maize last year and the material has been awaiting approval by the Cabinet before release for commercial farming

But the technology continues to polarise public opinion in the country amid lingering concerns about human health and environmental safety and the implications of patent controls by Western multinationals on the seed systems in poor countries.

Geopolitica of GMOs

The geopolitics of GMOs, reflected by the polar opposite positions taken by the European Union and the US on related issues, has also tended to influence policy and political positions in Kenya at any given time.

The current political wars over GMOs mirror those in 2011 when the grand coalition government under then President Mwai Kibaki, faced with a similar food crisis, approved importation of the staple maize grain from South Africa to alleviate a shortage before public health fears fuelled by discredited research findings published in a European journal around the time prompted a ban in 2012.

Ironically, Mr Odinga, as then Prime Minister, publicly backed GMO food imports, labelling critics ‘conservatives’ and urging them to embrace the technology.

Like Mr Kuria the other day, the former prime minister was quite dismissive in his response to opposing views on GMOs.

“The Americans cannot be so negligent as to allow the American people to consume GMO food if it is harmful. Let us not be too conservative because science is moving on. Conservatism is not going to help this country. Alarming statements which are calculated to instill fear…” Mr Odinga said of adverse documents tabled in Parliament on August 3, 2011 by then Naivasha MP John Mututho.

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Free-for-all bush-meat trade adds pressure to wildlife conservation efforts

In June last year, over 180 slaughtered dikdiks were seized by authorities in Akales, Galana Ranch, Kilifi County in Kenya. Five people were arrested in association with the crime.

A few weeks later, three people were arrested at Didima Bula in Tana Delta sub-county, Kenya, with the carcasses of more than 140 dikdiks.

Earlier in May, at least 88 kilogrammes of bushmeat was confiscated between Tsavo East and Tsavo West in Kenya. The meat was likely headed for the capital Nairobi or nearby Voi town, where it would be mixed in with livestock meat as has become custom.

This — killing wildlife for meat — is not confined to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the region in general are in on it.

Wildlife conservationists now say they are worried about the rise in poaching for bushmeat in the region and the imminent destabilisation of wildlife resources. They blame it all on legal and administrative loopholes.

Annual seizure

In Tanzania, official data estimates that more than 2,000 tonnes of illegal game meat is seized annually in the country.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an estimated one million tonnes of bushmeat flows to urban markets each year, according to a recent survey by wildlife conservation bodies.

While in Central and West Africa as much as five million tonnes of bushmeat is consumed every year, according to the study “Bushmeat trade in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,” unsustainable hunting for bushmeat is among the important threats to East Africa’s wildlife.

But the illicit trade in bushmeat — and its commercialisation — which seems to have exploded in recent years, with traders found to earn between $300 and $500 per month, has drawn renewed fears of a sector in peril.

During the period of the study (between November 2020 and May 2021) it was found that 81 percent of the bushmeat catches consisted of ungulates, seven percent primates, five percent rodents, three percent birds, three percent carnivores, and one percent pangolins.

A market in Libreville where bushmeat, including pangolin, is sold. PHOTO | STEEVE JORDAN | AFP

Most hunted ungulates

Of the ungulates, dikdiks, buffalos, impalas, wildebeests, bush pigs, warthogs, zebras, gazelles, elands and hartebeests, were among the most hunted ungulate species for bushmeat exploitation.

According to Kenneth Kimitei, landscape ecologist for the Tsavo-Mkomazi Landscape at the African Wildlife Foundation, “Most of the bush meat poachers in Tsavo are targeting the giraffes to supply Nairobi, Voi, towns in Taveta, and  Tarakea and Rombo areas in Tanzania. Hence the Maasai giraffes in Tsavo are facing a slight decline.”

The Maasai giraffe is listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.

“It may be that right now the other ungulates seem to be in abundance, but if unsustainably hunted like this… other ungulates may be headed down the same road if nothing is done.”

“During the rainy season most of the poaching dies down as most of the people move to farms to prepare for the planting season,” noted Kimitei who operates on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, “but immediately after that there’s a resurgence…. the snares come back in their multitudes mostly July to December when people are idle, not preparing land for planting.”

Triggered by poverty

Although he describes cartel-like syndicates in the trade complete with a chain style business operation from village-based poachers, brokers, transporters and wholesalers, according to Kimitei, poverty is one of the drivers for both commercial and subsistence-driven poaching for bushmeat, as mostly poverty stricken residents seek household income.

“The three main drivers for bushmeat poaching are poverty, unemployment and the impacts of climate change. The climatic conditions in this region are not very favourable for agriculture. And sometimes when they plant crops they end up drying up midway through the season. So food security here is a big problem.”

“But there also exists a class of poachers who do it as a second source of income. For this category this is a quick money-making enterprise.  For instance, a giraffe is also equated to a motorbike in terms of value. It is said that if you want to buy a motorbike all you need to do is to kill and sell the meat of a giraffe.”

Primary source of income

The multi-agency study found that for an estimated 20 per cent of bushmeat traders this is their primary source of income.

“There is a huge problem of lack of awareness of the laws and regulations in relation to bushmeat,” he added. “Others have got cultural beliefs that they have to depend on bushmeat.”

Closely behind, the eland and zebras too are victims to the bush meat poachers.

“The giraffes and elands are the most poached in terms of total body weight, but in terms of numbers, the dik-diks and impalas and small game are the biggest causalities probably because they’re all over and are easy to catch and kill with the snares.”

Kimitei says he is worried the poaching is leading to an ecosystem imbalance that has also been amplifying human-wildlife conflict as carnivores now go after livestock.

“The numbers of herbivores are going down at an alarming rate and sometimes carnivores will go for the docile livestock.”

A man from the Bagyeli Pygmy community in the Kribi region of Cameroon displays captured rats for sale. PHOTO | NABILA EL HADAD | AFP

Bushmeat consumption

Tanzania leads in bushmeat consumption with 83 percent of those interviewed in the survey confirming that they regularly consume bushmeat. In Kenya, the number is 82 percent and in Uganda the number is 78 percent. The survey was carried out in Uganda (in Murchison National Park, Masindi, Kasese, Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park , Queen Elizabeth National Park); in Tanzania (in Kigoma, Musoma, Mkomazi, Dar es Salaam, Mikumi National Park, and Katavi) and in Kenya (in Laikipia Conservancies, Narok, Nairobi, Maasai Mara, Voi and Tsavo National Park ).

In these sites surveyed in the three East African countries, 823 traders of bushmeat were counted.

Traffic — under the Usaid funded project, Connect (Conserving Natural Capital and Enhancing Collaborative Management of Transboundary Resources in East Africa) has been working with Usaid and WWF to collect data on the trends in bushmeat consumption in East Africa, to guide management of wildlife.

Covid-19

According to Kimitei, there has been an upsurge in bushmeat consumption since the onset of Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated poaching of wildlife for bushmeat due to reduced presence of law enforcement and worsened economic conditions for communities living next to or adjacent to national parks and high food prices,” he noted during a recent seminar “The Story Behind Bushmeat” that discussed and highlighted the relationship between rising viral diseases and diminishing animal communities.

“At the height of Covid-19 in 2020, increased cases of bushmeat hunting were recorded. Even though this hunting is illegal in many African countries, including Kenya, killing wildlife for recreation and for food remains common in places such as Tanzania, Uganda and places such as DRC….. there was a marked increase especially during the pandemic, when many lost their tourism income.”

Export connection

Yet, according to Wildlife and Protected areas manager—WWF Uganda, Daniel Ndizihiwe, the threat does not stop at the roaring domestic market for wildlife meat and body parts for traditional medicine.

“Even though a significant amount of this meat is consumed locally, a good chunk also finds its way abroad, especially to Asian countries,” said Ndizihiwe.

He says many communities consume bushmeat because they believe it cures various diseases.

According to the study, while 85 percent of those who consume meat do it as food, 10 percent consume it as medicine and five percent as both food and medicine.

International trade pangolin

“Pangolins in Africa, and in Uganda, specifically, have been traditionally hunted for bushmeat and traditional African medicine. However, there is growing evidence of international trade taking place with Asia as the main destination. Both the legal trade data from the CITES Trade Database and the recent seizure data from within Uganda show an increasing demand for pangolin scales,” he said.

The Ugandan NGO NRCN and UWA report 20 seizures of pangolin scales from 2012 to 2016. In 2015, about 2,000kg of pangolin scales was seized in Entebbe International Airport together with 700 kg of ivory destined for Amsterdam.

“As a region, we’re looking at mitigating the problem using national bans in bushmeat trade and consumption,” he said noting that Uganda with the help of WWF was supporting ex-poachers under the Reformed Poacher Groups associations to undertake appropriate entrepreneurial projects of their choice in exchange of poaching for bushmeat.

“The projects include commercial beekeeping and resource use agreements to be able to exploit certain resources within the parks in a more sustainable manner under collaborative management partnerships to reduce dependence on wildlife for meat.”

“But the limitation is in scaling up to other places where the crime is also high,” explained Ndizihiwe.

Inadequate research

Although he said investigations had not established association to bushmeat yet, Ndizihiwe, said “the (initial) Ebola case in Uganda could have originated from the consumption of bushmeat. We know that originally this disease came from primates and we know that most of the communities in Uganda eat primates.”

This April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) urged countries to suspend the sale of live wild animals at food markets – saying it was the source of more than 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans, and the suspected culprit behind the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed over 6.54 million people worldwide, and counting.

A joint report by the WHO and Chinese authorities last year demonstrated the Covid-19 pandemic was caused by the spillover of disease from animals to humans.

“And the more humans and animals come into contact with each other, especially when humans eat infected animals, the more likely it is that additional diseases will emerge. Currently, diseases such as HIV, Ebola, Covid-19, Marburg, Swine Fever, Monkeypox, Simian Foamy and other forms of Covid such as SARS-CoV-1 and now SARS-CoV-2 are all disease that whose transmission to humans was believed to be from wild animals,” said senior project manager, wildlife and trade, Dr Daniel Mdetele, a scientist who works for Traffic International East Africa, while addressing consumption of bushmeat and its association with zoonotic diseases.

“We need to have an alternative source of protein for communities that mostly rely on bushmeat. As well as alternative livelihoods for those relying on it for income.”

He explained that the high incidences of the viral and zoonotic diseases emerging from Asian countries can be attributed to the high consumption of bushmeat, noting that Asia and Africa are all regions along the Equator and are hotspots for pathogens as the climatic conditions favour and survival multiplication of these zoonotic pathogens.

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In June last year, over 180 slaughtered dikdiks were seized by authorities in Akales, Galana Ranch, Kilifi County in Kenya. Five people were arrested in association with the crime. A […]

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Tea volumes at Mombasa auction dip as drought ravages the region

The volume of tea auctioned at the Mombasa bourse has gone down significantly, with officials warning the trend may worsen in the next decade due to erratic weather.

Latest figures from the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) show the volume of tea offered on the auction dipped by almost 500,000 kilogrammes in the last trade, the second time in a row the quantities have declined in less than a month.

EATTA managing director Edward Mudibo said the decline in volume of tea offered for sale at the Mombasa auction was as a result of ongoing drought.

“Kenyan tea contributes about 60 percent of tea traded in the auction followed by Uganda at eight percent. Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania come third, fourth and fifth respectively. The total volume traded for Sale 39 was 407,913 kilos less than Sale 38, which was as a result of ongoing drought,” said Mudibo.

During the last sale at the auction, the average price increased to $2.27 from $2.25 in the previous sale.

Demand was reduced for the 181,340 packages (12,077,628kg) on offer, with about 120,480 packages (7,952,000kg) being sold, and 33.56 percent of packages remaining unsold.

Last month, Rhoda Ruto, a senior researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation’s Tea Research Institute warned that tea production will be affected by increased temperature as a result of global warming.

“More effect of climate change on crops will be felt in Kenya’s tea sector as an increase in temperature beyond 23.5 degrees Celsius would significantly reduce yields of the cash crop,” she said.

Climate change has the potential to significantly affect smallscale farmers’ livelihoods.

Extremely low temperatures also affect tea production, with frosts cutting yield per bush.

Ruto, however, noted that climate change will enhance the suitability of tea production in areas where the crop is today not grown, especially the higher altitudes around Mount Kenya.

Kenya’s temperature will rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2050, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The country will experience extreme rainfall events, especially in the Rift Valley region.

Kenya’s yearly and monthly rainfall and mean air temperatures are expected to increase moderately by 2025, according the report, which will impact the very taste of tea.

Tanzania has also witnessed a decline in tea production over the past three years according to recent data.

Statistics from data aggregation portal Statista show that Tanzania produced 20,400 tonnes of tea in 2020/2021, a five-year low compared to 27,000 tonnes (2016/2017), 34,000 tonnes (2017/2018), a peak of 37,200 tonnes in 2018/2019 and 28,700 tonnes in 2019/2020.

Tanzania affected

According to the Tanzania Public Tea Company (Tatepa), a leading exporter of tea from Tanzania, production is being effected by weather patterns.

The firm said in a report that its subsidiary, the Wakulima Tea Company (Watco), decreased production due to climate constraints and as a consequence it made financial losses.

“During the year tea production decreased by three per cent as compared to 2018. This was due to weather conditions in 2019. The average selling price of $1.67 per kg was lower than last year’s price of $1.90 kg. The lower price was due to lower world prices,” said the firm.

Tatepa made a loss before tax of Tsh715 million ($305,444) in 2019 compared to 2018 where it garnered a profit of Tsh898 million ($383,621).

The listed firm also experienced bad debts amounting to Tsh452.9 million ($193,508) and disposed of its Kyimbila Tea Packing Company, also on a loss basis that year.

Tatepa is involved in growing, processing, blending, marketing and distributing tea. It three subsidiaries are Watco, Kibena Tea and Chai Bora.

While Watco and Kibena grow and process the commodity, Chai Bora is involved in blending, packaging and marketing of packed tea for local and export.

Tanzania exports fermented and partially fermented tea to Britain, South Africa, Russia, Pakistan and Poland among other countries.

Other major tea-producing countries including India, Sri Lanka and China are also facing rising temperatures and extreme weather that could affect their tea production, the FAO report noted.

Kenya is the largest producer of black tea in the world while China leads in green tea production.

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IMF warns of looming recession in 2023 as shocks persist

The International Monetary Fund has warned that a global economic recession could be apparent next year if the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks persist in the near term.

The projections for the growth rate of the global output (Gross Domestic Product) this year remain 3.2 percent as earlier predicted, down from 6 percent in 2021, and is forecast to reduce further to 2.7 percent in 2023.

Read: Brace for impact, some of East African woes are self-inflicted

The global slowdown is a result of the Russian war in Ukraine, rising costs of living caused by persistent and relentless inflation pressures, and the reduced economic activity in China due to consistent lockdowns, dimming the global growth prospects, IMF said.

“The 2023 slowdown will be broad-based, with countries accounting for a third of the global economy expected to contract this year or next,” said Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, IMF’s chief economist and research director.

“The worst is yet to come, and for many people, 2023 will feel like a recession. Despite the slowdown, inflation pressures are proving broader and more persistent than anticipated.”

Read: East Africa’s economic recovery prospects facing headwinds

Global inflation is expected to peak at 9.5 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and is broadening beyond food and energy, IMF said.

Should the war in Ukraine persist, inflation continue to broaden and the dollar continue to appreciate, IMF says, there is a 25 percent chance GDP growth could drop to below two percent and a 10 percent chance it could reduce to 1.1 percent.

Read: Africa facing recession, a first in 25 years says World Bank

“Increasing price pressures remain the most immediate threat to present and future prosperity by squeezing real incomes and undermining microeconomic stability,” Mr Gourinchas said.

The growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to drop to 3.6 percent in 2022 down from 4.7 percent last year.

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The International Monetary Fund has warned that a global economic recession could be apparent next year if the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks persist in the near term. […]

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East Africa divided on GM foods as Kenya lifts ban

Kenya’s decision on October 3 to allow cultivation and importation of genetically modified (GM) maize for mass consumption elicited mixed reactions in the country and East Africa, and exposed the incoherent policies on GM technology in the region.

While President William Ruto’s administration sees it as a means to unlock a supply line of relief food, easing hunger for millions of people in the country and the Horn of Africa, agriculture lobbies are urging caution, with some demanding that the government reverse the decision.

Read: Is Kenya finally ready for rollout of GM crops?

Kenya’s Cabinet said the decision to lift the 10-year ban was in response to the worst drought to hit the country in 40 years, which has left more than three million people on the verge of starvation.

But activists protested the move, raising concerns over the safety of GM foods.

“Food security is not just about the amount of food but the quality and safety of food,” said a joint statement signed by a dozen groups, including Greenpeace Africa. “Our cultural and indigenous foods have proved to be safer, with diverse nutrients and with less harmful chemical inputs.”

Kenya, like many other African nations, banned GM crops over health and safety concerns and to protect smallholder farmers, who account for the vast majority of rural agricultural producers in the country. But it faced criticism over the ban, including from the US, which is a major producer of GM crops.

On Monday, a statement issued by President Ruto’s office said the decision was “a progressive step towards significantly redefining agriculture in Kenya by adopting crops that are resistant to pests and disease.”

Read: Tanzania steps up vigilance on GMOs as Kenya okays biotech foods

Also read: East Africa divided on GM foods as Kenya lifts ban

It said the Cabinet had considered expert views and technical reports, including by Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority before arriving at the decision.

But the lobbies say the move was made without public participation and that it “essentially curtails the freedom of Kenyans to choose what they want to eat.”

“We demand that the ban be immediately reinstated and an inclusive participatory process be instituted to look into long-term and sustainable solutions to issues affecting food security,” they said.

They added that lifting of the ban opened up the market to American farmers using sophisticated technologies and highly subsidised farming that risks putting small-scale farmers in Kenya out of business.

Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, contributing more than 20 percent of its GDP.

Dr Ruto was elected to the top job in August on a promise to turn around Kenya’s stuttering economy and tackle inflation. Within weeks of taking office in September, he reduced the price of fertilisers to improve crop yields in the midst of the drought that has affected 23 of the 47 counties.

Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, pushing millions across the Horn into extreme hunger.

Read: Kenya rules out GMO maize imports to tame cost of animal feeds

Tanzania opposition

Without a binding regional policy on GM technology, Kenya’s neighbours are scrambling to tighten controls, considering the porous borders.

Tanzania’s Agriculture minister Hussein Bashe said Dodoma was firmly opposed to the use of biotechnology in food production and would impose stronger measures to prevent GM food or cash crops produced in “neighbouring countries” from finding their way into the country.

Dar es Salaam-based lobby African Organic Network (AfroNET) said Kenya acted without properly considering the long-term ramifications of GM technology on the collective health of its citizenry.

“They have taken a wrong approach to such a contentious issue. It is not simply about ensuring food security in times of drought, as they seem to think,” said Constantine Akitanda, AfroNET spokesperson.

Kenya is the second country after South Africa to back out of an African Union resolution to adopt organic agriculture instead of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) methods to minimise the effects of climate change.

Read: East Africa region urged to adopt GMOs to boost food security

According to Akitanda, South Africa has been trying out GM farming for the past 25 years but is “only now realising that the hopes and dreams they had when they started have not materialised.”

“Kenya is now on course to also learn the hard way. The WFP [World Food Programme] stipulates in its own guidelines that any food crops it endorses for exchange between countries must be non-GMO, which means Kenya may have to forget about exporting any of its own farm produce,” he said.

On the argument that GM crops could help alleviate food scarcity, Akitanda added: “Africa has enough arable land to produce sufficient food without deploying unnatural methods to boost production.”

He said African countries need to withstand external pressures to embrace GM technology.

Observers say Kenya’s rash decision is informed by the need to open a window to receive relief food donations from countries that have authorised GMOs, such as the US.

The approval is meant to allow imports of GM maize that are readily and cheaply available on the market to help in lower the price of flour, which has hit a high of Ksh240 ($2) for a two-kilo packet after the new government dropped a subsidy scheme that Dr Ruto termed unsustainable.

Cancer link

The ban on GMOs was announced by former Health minister Beth Mugo in 2012, after a journal by French scientist Eric Seralini claimed that the crops had a link to cancer. The journal was, however, recalled two years later on grounds it was not conclusive on the matter.

Read: Uganda parliament passes biosafety Bill on GM products

GM maize testing in Kenya started in 2010 but approvals for the environmental release were granted by the National Biosafety Authority in 2016.

The scientists completed research on GM maize in 2021 and the material has been awaiting approval by the Cabinet before release for commercial farming.

Attempts by the East African Community (EAC) to legalise GMOs hit a snag back in 2013 as it emerged that partner states were at different stages in the formulation of biosafety policies and legislation.

Kenya and Uganda are leading the region in embracing agricultural biotechnology. Tanzania has formulated a policy for biosafety legislation and regulation but has been slow in allowing practice.

In Rwanda and Burundi, biotechnology research and development is mainly confined to conventional techniques and traditional biotech applications.

Regional law

The EAC prepared and submitted the draft regional Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy to the Council of Ministers in 2014 during the 30th Ordinary Council of Ministers session.

Read: EDITORIAL: Let’s base GMO debate on tech equity and not food security

The ministers made recommendations, including establishing a biotechnology and biosafety unit at the Secretariat to provide logistical, administrative and support to the policy framework. The matter is yet to take off.

“The meeting took note of the reports of the national consultations and made the following observations: capacity on the implementation of the national biosafety framework in application of biotechnology is inadequate,” says the EAC Regional Biosafety Report of 2013.

“However, lack of awareness, education and stakeholder participation is required for effective implementation of national biosafety frameworks.”

With maize being a staple in the region, scientists argue the GM maize can yield double what farmers are getting from the traditional breeds, given that it is drought-tolerant and can withstand pests and diseases.

Read: Comesa warns on Indomie noodles after Egypt recall

Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute in Kenya, says the decision to allow GMOs was long overdue.

“GM maize is cheaper than the conventional one and once we start importing, it will lower the cost of food locally,” said Dr Njagi.

He said GMO imports will help address the high cost of animal feeds, which have for the past three years remained at a historic high.

The waiver on GMO imports would allow millers to import other non-conventional materials used in making feeds, such as soya.

Comesa policy

In the wider region, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has put in place a legal framework for GM produce.

In September 2013, the Fifth Comesa Joint Meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources endorsed a proposed common policy on biotechnology and biosafety, taking into account the sovereign right of each member state.

Comesa member countries are signatories to the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety but are at different stages of implementing the requirements, especially establishing their national biosafety regulatory frameworks, and adopting GM crops.

Read: Caution over gene-modified wheat offering

Comesa has a regional risk assessment mechanism for the sharing of information, resources and expertise.

The Cartagena Protocol, in force since September 2003, is an international agreement that aims to ensure safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology to protect biological diversity and risks to human health.

It establishes a procedure for prior informed agreement to ensure countries have the necessary information to make decisions about the importing of LMOs into their territory.

According to proponents of GM technology, the immediate benefit for Kenya could be unlocking billions of shillings for firms involved in the GMO industry.

Roy Mugiira, chief executive officer of the NBA, the regulator, welcomed the decision by Kenya’s Cabinet saying, “In the coming few days, we will be issuing guidelines on importing or growing of these varieties.”

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President Ruto unlocks GMO billions as Kenya okays biotech foods

Kenya’s Cabinet has unlocked billions for firms involved in the genetically modified organisms (GMO) industry after it approved the farming and importation of biotechnology crops in a major policy shift that seeks to make the country food secure and contain runaway prices.

President William Ruto Monday chaired a Cabinet meeting that lifted the 2012 moratorium that restricted importation or open cultivation of GMO crops, making Kenya the second country in the continent after South Africa to allow biotechnology foods.

The approval comes in the wake of a biting drought that has exposed three million Kenyans to famine in 23 counties, forcing the government to intervene with relief food. Firms involved in GMO seed manufacturing will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the policy shift that will put pressure on farmers to reduce prices or be forced out of the market.

The approval is meant to allow imports of GMO maize that are readily available in the market at a cheaper cost to help in lowering the price of flour which has now hit a high of Ksh200 ($1.65) for a two-kilo packet as the new government drops the subsidy scheme, which Dr Ruto termed as costly to the economy.

In consideration of the adoption of GMO crops, the Cabinet says it put into mind various expert and technical reports including that of Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force to review matters relating to Genetically Modified Foods … the Cabinet vacated its earlier decision of November 8, 2012, prohibiting the open cultivation of genetically modified crops and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations.

“Effectively lifting the ban on Genetically Modified Crops, by dint of the executive action open cultivation and importation of white (GMO) maize is now authorised,” reads a Cabinet memo.

Scientists argue the GMO maize variety can yield double what farmers are getting from the conventional breeds given that they are drought tolerant and can withstand pests and diseases.

Timothy Njagi, a research fellow with Egerton University-based Tegemeo Institute, says the decision was long overdue.

“GMO maize is cheaper than the conventional one and once we start importing it will lower the cost of food locally,” said Dr Njagi.

Dr Njagi said GMO imports will also help in addressing the high cost of animal feeds, which have for the last three years remained at a historic high. The waiver on GMO imports, he said, will now see millers import other non-conventional materials used in making feeds such as soya.

Roy Mugiira, the chief executive officer of the NBA, which is the sector regulator, welcomed the move by the Cabinet. “In the coming few days, we shall now be issuing guidelines to be followed in importing or growing of these varieties, but I can say that it is now legal to have GMO crops in the country,” said Dr Mugiira.

The ban on GMOs was announced by former Health Minister Betty Mugo in 2012 after a journal by French scientist Eric Seralini claimed that these crops had a link to cancer after a mouse that was fed on it developed a cancerous tumour. The journal was, however, recalled two years later on grounds that it was not conclusive on the matter.

GM maize testing in Kenya started in 2010 but approval for the environmental release was granted by the NBA in 2016. The scientists completed research on genetically modified maize last year and the material has been awaiting approval by the Cabinet before release for commercial farming.

Read: Kenya rules out GMO maize imports to tame cost of animal feeds

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Erratic weather, global crises push cost of food to record high levels

Governments in East and Horn of Africa have rolled out food aid programmes to communities hit hard by inconsistent weather patterns and global crises that have pushed food costs beyond the reach of many.

This week, Kenya launched a relief food programme for communities trapped in a cycle of four failed agriculture seasons, and Uganda had already been distributing relief food to people in Karamoja regions.

UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha)is predicting the likelihood of a fifth failed crop season. Uganda, which has generally enjoyed above average food production from its arable fertile soils, having two harvest seasons annually, is now increasingly facing food challenges due to less erratic and less predictable rains and unprecedented prolonged dry spells.

According to the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), some rainy months now have only 18 wet days compared with 20 previously which impacts on food yields.

According to meteorological information, 40 per cent of all rainfall received in Uganda is influenced by natural features such as wetlands and forests, which have been encroached on and destroyed by developers for housing or peasants for farming and others decimated for firewood and charcoal.

Hilary Onek, the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, says the Ugandan government has been forced to provide food to areas that have “had pockets of hunger,” costing upwards of Ush19 billion ($4.9 million) in the past three months alone.

According to the Meteorological department, the country steadily been receiving less rainfall over the past 16 years. However, there are those that argue that the food shortages being currently experienced in the region is also effects of bad national policies, rather than the weather.

In Kenya, President William Ruto flagged off relief food to drought-stricken counties on Tuesday, but admitted it was only a short-term measure.

The programme is targeting 3.5 million people. Kenya’s Meteorological Department has declared severest drought in 23 out of the 47 counties.

And Ocha’s National Drought Early Warning data for September 2022, says 10 counties are under an alarming drought phase with at least 4.35 million people in danger.

The Horn of Africa, including parts of Kenya, is facing the worst drought with at least 20 million people in immediate need of food. This includes Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and South Sudan, and Djibouti and Eritrea

Kipkorir Arap Menjo, the director of the Farmers Association, a lobby for local food producers, said Kenya’s maize growing regions are expecting a harvest early October. But even in countries touted as having almost sufficient food supplies, like Tanzania, prices are soaring and limiting access for many.

As countries struggle to get cheaper grain from traditional sources like Russia and Ukraine, world prices and growing world demand is making the situation harder in the region.

According to the Bank of Tanzania, the price of maize alone has more than doubled over the past year, hitting Tsh87,383 ($37.66) per 100-kilogramme sack in July compared with Tsh43,371 ($18.69) in the same month last year. Other key basic foods like rice and beans have also registered sharp price increases.

In its latest monthly review report for August 2022, the BoT says wholesale food prices had increased “mainly due to low harvests associated with delayed short rains and a high demand for food from neighboring countries.”

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Tanzanian wanted in Kenya for killing colleague over ugali

Kenyan police are looking for a Tanzanian suspected of stabbing his colleague at a gold-mining site in Narok in a dispute over a bowl of ugali.

Narok County Police Commander Kizito Mutoro said the two men were having supper after a long day at the Got Kabong mines in Transmara West on Thursday when the incident happened.

“It was reported that while they were taking the meal, an argument ensued between Mr Mungare Busene, 27, and another only identified Magige, 23, (both Tanzanians) over ugali they were eating,” Mr Mutoro said.

It is believed that Mr Busene picked up a kitchen knife and stabbed Mr Magige in the left leg, inflicting a serious deep injury.

“Mr Magige was rushed to Lolgorian Level Four Hospital, where he was pronounced dead while undergoing treatment,” Mr Mutoro said.

After the attack, the suspect went into hiding.

Police are investigating the incident and are pursuing the suspect.

The body of the victim was taken to the mortuary at the same hospital.

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Kenyan police are looking for a Tanzanian suspected of stabbing his colleague at a gold-mining site in Narok in a dispute over a bowl of ugali. Narok County Police Commander […]

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Campaigners want health funding cuts reversed amid Africa crises

Global leaders have been challenged to reverse funding cuts to vital health services for women, children and adolescents caused by Covid-19, conflict and climate change.

Civil society groups and health professionals, speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, said there was an urgent need for targeted investment in programmes and policies to tackle the devastating social and economic impact of crises, including the food crisis in Africa and the conflict in the Democratic of Congo (DRC).

 “It is essential for citizens to be heard at the highest levels of government and leadership. Leaders need to understand what people want, and to play their part as champions in creating robust and responsive health systems and communities,” said Helen Clark, the board chair of Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), at a breakfast meeting on Thursday.

Covid-19 has led to food price hikes and the overall rise in the cost of living in most African countries. Some countries have been limiting access to food and other essentials, even if food is available at increased prices in local markets.

Read: Drought-ravaged Horn of Africa in need of funding: envoy

About 5.5 million children in East Africa are facing high levels of malnutrition due to the compounding effects of Covid-19, intense drought, and the Ukraine crisis. About 97 million more people are living on less than $1.90 a day because of the pandemic, increasing the global poverty rate from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent.

Data from the World Health Organisation, for instance, shows that in 2021 alone, 25 million children did not receive the basic vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis on account of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

Further, conflict in Africa increased women’s mortality by 112 deaths per 100,000 person-years which translates to a 21 percent increase above the baseline.

The DRC continues to witness one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises arising from conflict. More than 27 million people face severe and acute food insecurity, with nearly 5.5 million IDPs forced to move sometimes several times. Some 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in neighboring countries.

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Kenya’s Ruto: Climate crisis ‘Africa’s biggest problem’

Kenya’s President William Ruto on Wednesday asked continental colleagues to see the climate crisis as Africa’s biggest problem, suggesting more financial focus on taming its effects.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the President indicated while the world should focus on rebuilding from the Covid-19 pandemic and other crises, Africa may find itself hurt more by climate change, in spite of contributing the least of its causes.

“While these are important issues affecting the entire world, the greatest challenge that connects our world is Climate Change: unfortunately, due to many pressing concerns, CoP27 has not been given the prominence it deserves,” he told a gathering of African leaders at the continental meeting of the 3rd Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

The Committee is expected to push for one voice for the continent ahead of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (CoP27) due in Egypt in November this year.

Africa produced under four percent of greenhouse gases, the pollutants that have caused global warming over the past decades, contributing to irregular climate such as frequent floods, longer droughts as well as the spread of pests like desert locusts.

Adaptation funding

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current African Union chairman, said Africa must be given its adequate share of resources to adapt to climate change.

“It is legitimate, fair and equitable that Africa, the continent that pollutes the least and lags furthest behind in the industrialisation process, should exploit its available resources to provide basic energy, improve the competitiveness of its economy and achieve universal access to electricity,” President Sall told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. 

“We see adaptation funding not as aid, but as a contribution by industrialised countries to a global partnership of solidarity, in return for efforts by developing countries to avoid the polluting patterns that have plunged the planet into the current climate emergency,” he said.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, developed countries are to raise $100 million annually for mitigation programmes in developing countries. The pledge has never been fulfilled, however.

An earlier dispatch from Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had indicated President Ruto would insist on more focus on climate change because Kenya sees most other problems tied to it. According to President Ruto, African countries have already been doing their bit to ensure mitigation, including 10 percent of GDP annual allocations.“

African countries will need financial and technical support for a just transition to low carbon, clean technologies to drive our industrial and productive sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure development and job creation.

“It is my hope that we will, at CoP27, call for enhanced adaptation efforts, fulfilment and implementation of pledges.

“Building resilience to address the multiple crises and risks, while ensuring the impact of climate change on Africa remain high on the global political agenda, and must remain a priority for CAHOSCC.”

President Ruto gave his maiden speech to the Assembly, as head of state, on Wednesday night. Watch here

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Africa set for fertilizer boom as food crisis remains critical

A fertiliser boom is breaking out across Africa as calls for food security gain momentum amidst a widespread continental food crisis.

With an estimated 346 million people on the continent negatively impacted by a severe food crisis, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the use of fertilisers has become more central, even as environmental and green farming activists call for caution.

The global production of fertilisers is responsible for around 1.4 percent of annual CO2 emissions, and fertiliser use is a major contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, according to Carbon Brief.

World consumption of the three main fertiliser nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus expressed as phosphate, and potassium, is estimated to have surpassed 186 million tonnes, up by more than 1.4 percent since 2015.

That said, Africa has barely used fertilisers. Only six percent of Africa’s cultivated land is irrigated, and the average fertiliser consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 17 kilogrammes of nutrients per hectare of cropland, according to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra). 

That is only a drop in the ocean when compared with a world average fertilizer consumption of 135kg/ha.

At the just-ended AGRF Summit in the Kigali, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, urged Africa to increase fertiliser use, irrigation and thermal power in order to ensure food security.

“I recently inaugurated a fertiliser plant in my country… and I for one would not abandon thermal power,” he said, much to the amusement of the audience at the Kigali Convention Centre.

Cost for going green

“We have all the resources necessary to ensure food security for our countries and all the inputs for fertilisers security. Africa must be allowed a reasonable transition, but if they [international green energy agencies and governments] want us to leapfrog to their level, they must pay the cost.”

Zimbabwe, which suffered a failing economy and sanctions imposed by Western powers for two decades, now offers a rare example on food security policies and programmes.

For example, with multiplied irrigation and fertiliser use, the country has increased its wheat production from a three-month supply to a 15-month supply, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.

“So the wheat crisis emanating from Ukraine does not affect us now,” President Mnangagwa said.

“Our wheat came from Ukraine and our fertilisers from the Russian federation. We have introduced a model that says that we need to have food security by exploiting domestic resources, and we have solved that big problem.”

Magic bullets?

Much as there is no single silver bullet to make Africa self-sufficient in food and cease to be a net importer, fertiliser use and irrigation are touted as key tools. But such projects cannot happen without good leadership.

Enock Chikava, the director of Agricultural Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says that “trial and error” farming — which is practised across Africa — is not sustainable. He argues that leaders across sub-Saharan Africa are largely to blame for not adopting the so-called “green revolution of Africa.”

“If there is anything close to being a silver bullet that guarantees food security in Africa, it is good leadership. We can outsource technology but we cannot outsource good leadership.

‘‘We need leaders who understand the need to prioritise modern agriculture and deliver the Green Revolution,” he said.

Tanzania is among those that have acted fast. The government introduced a three-year programme that will see the construction of dams for irrigation in each of its regions – to cover an area of up to 360,000 hectares.

The country is also constructing a second fertiliser plant – expected to be completed by the end of 2022 – to benefit the 65 per cent of its population that are engaged directly in farming.

“Productivity in agriculture in Tanzania has remained low due to low technology and limited use of fertiliser. We still depend on the vagaries of weather…we still have huge post-harvest losses to the tune of 30 per cent,” Philip Mpango, Vice President of Tanzania said.

Chilli bucks in Rwanda

“But we now have a fertiliser factory under construction and soon we shall have two, to cover up for the deficit in fertiliser use. We also increased our budget allocation to agriculture from an average of around $125 million per annum, to $404 million, targeting research, irrigation, seed multiplication and training.”

Rwanda President Paul Kagame, however, sees the possibility for greater diversity in Africa to agriculture.  He argues that Africa has enough biomass and resources to shift to organic farming, and stop being too exposed to external shocks.

“The food crisis is a serious one and in order to deal with it we need to develop a sense of urgency…to treat food like a business,” he said during the AGRF summit.

“If you look at the crisis in Ukraine, the whole of Africa suffers because we cannot get wheat or fertiliser. All these are lessons we should learn from; but these lessons have been here for a long time. We need to act quicker.”

Rwandan chilli farmer Diego Twahirwa has benefitted from agribusiness. In 2019 he signed a $500 million deal to supply 50,000 metric tonnes of chili annually to a Chinese firm, GK International.

Twahirwa’s company, Gashora Farm, also exports chilli products to Europe.

“I have now expanded into Zimbabwe, where we have about 2,000 hectares to grow chilli in partnership with a Zimbabwe company,” Twahirwa told The EastAfrican.

“At our Gashora Farm, we use modern farming technology, and irrigation and fertilisers to ensure that the effects of climate change do not affect us much. It may not be easy at the start but eventually agribusiness pays off massively.”

Rwanda targets to reach agricultural exports of $1 billion, up from $465 million made in 2018/2019.

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Ruto to rally African leaders on climate change

enya’s President William Ruto will use his maiden trip to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York to rally African peers to raise their voice on the danger of climate change.

Africa is expected to be take the biggest hit from climate change.

Dr Ruto is expected in New York on Tuesday afternoon to attend the 77th UN General Assembly. He will be travelling from London where he had attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.

A tentative programme from the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Ruto will meet African heads of state to discuss climate change and its effects, including the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa and flooding in Sudan.

“In his capacity as Coordinator, President Dr Ruto will also chair a meeting of the Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Crisis (CAHOSCC),” said a dispatch from the Ministry on Monday.

“The 77th UNGA coincides with the worst drought in the Horn of Africa with many countries in the region, including Kenya, are experiencing unprecedented effects in the last forty years.

“At the United Nations Headquarters, Kenya will seek to promote its foreign policy at the multilateral system including enhancing participation in the quest for realisation of SDGs and global leadership in emerging issues including climate change.”

Dr Ruto is scheduled to address the General Assembly for the first time as head of state, although he had given a speech here in 2016 then as Deputy President representing President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to the schedule of speeches publicised by the UN, he will speak in the afternoon on Wednesday just after the Slovenian representative.

US President Joe Biden will kick off the speeches and will be followed by representatives from Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Zambia, Libya and Moldova.

As is tradition, leaders converge in New York every September for the UNGA where they give speeches, hold bilateral meetings and attend mini conferences on issues important to their countries.

This year’s UNGA theme is “A watershed moment: Transformative solutions to interlocking challenges”, under which leaders are expected to discuss the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the global energy crisis, climate change, and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his inauguration speech last week, Dr Ruto promised to place climate change among priority items to deal with.

“Among the central concerns of my government will be climate change. In our country, women and men, young people, farmers, workers and local communities suffer the consequences of climate emergency,” he said, suggesting he will encourage alternatives to fossil fuels.
“Africa has the opportunity to lead the world. We have immense potential for renewable energy. Reducing costs of renewal energy technologies make these the most viable energy source. We call on all African states to join us in this journey.”

Egypt is due to host the upcoming UN Conference of Parties (Cop27) on climate change in November. And African countries have demanded financial backing to pledges meant to lower temperature rise and for technological transfer to help adapt to changes. 

At the UN, Kenya is finishing its final year as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and Dr Ruto is expected to meet with various leaders whose countries sit on the Council.

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IMF roots for cross-border Africa trade to stem rising food insecurity

The International Monetary Fund is appealing to African countries to open up their local markets to commodities from their regional peers as a long-term solution to persistent food shortages.

Last week, the fund released a policy paper urging countries to expand cross-border trade to better deal with the rising food crisis on the continent.

According to the paper How Africa can Escape Chronic Food Insecurity amid Climate Change”, only 15 percent of food imports into the continent are from neighbouring countries.

“African countries have not lifted most of the restrictions even though it could benefit both net food importers and exporters from trading with one another,” states the document authored by a team of African economists.

The report underscores the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a step in the right direction, noting that opening up of markets would further reduce trade costs by 16 to 17 percent.

“In the context of climate change, greater regional trade integration can enhance food availability and affordability,” the paper says. “Combined with resilient storage and transport infrastructure, it can facilitate sales of one country’s bumper harvests — that may have gone to waste — to a neighbouring country facing shortfalls.”

Also read: Africa losing 15pc of GDP growth to climate change

The economists called for robust fiscal, monetary, and financial policies to improve the affordability and accessibility of food products. They are also recommending targeted interventions such as social cash transfers to allow families and small businesses to invest in resilience-building equipment and technology.

According to the paper, the targeted interventions are “more effective at containing inequality than agricultural subsidies”.

Digitalisation has also been encouraged, to improve farmers’ access to early warning systems, mobile banking and other platforms to buy farm inputs and sell output, enabling small-scale farmers to a wider market in the continent.

Financing

Access to credit and financing from private markets for small-scale farmers and traders also needs to be improved to better position Africa as a food-secure continent.

“In the interim, micro-finance or public-private partnerships can help provide credit to people who currently don’t have access through banks,” the authors state, adding that developing the required financial markets to improve access could take time even as the risk is urgent.

The IMF paper follows an earlier report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which stated that the war in Ukraine and other economic shocks on the continent have pushed nearly half of its population to the brink of starvation.

The July 2022 report showed that 124 million people in Africa are already starving, 300 million more are at risk of food insecurity and several others spend majority of their household budget on food.

The food crisis on the continent, according to ECA, results from a mix of economic shocks instigated by the conflict in Eastern Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic, and natural calamities like droughts and floods occasioned by climate change.

ECA recommends the utilisation of the African Trade Exchange (Atex) platform, which was created in May this year in collaboration with the African Development Bank, African Export-Import Bank and the AfCFTA secretariat.

The Atex platform aims to ensure Africa’s supply chain resilience by enabling trade of major agricultural commodities and inputs imported from Russia and Ukraine, consequently improving their price stability.

According to the IMF, climate change is intensifying food insecurity, and Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic are also adding to food shortages and high prices.

The fund notes that climate events, which destroy crops and disrupt food transport, are disproportionately common in the region.

According to the fund one-third of the world’s droughts occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and Ethiopia and Kenya are enduring one of the worst in at least four decades.

Countries such as Chad are being severely impacted by torrential rains and floods.

The resulting rise in poverty and other human costs are compounded by cascading macroeconomic effects, including slower economic growth. Supplies and prices are especially vulnerable to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa because of a lack of resilience to climatic events, food import dependence, and excessive government intervention.

Most people live in rural agricultural and fishing communities that can’t afford infrastructure to protect them from adverse weather. For instance, they depend on rain to water their crops, as less than one percent of arable land is irrigated.

Weather-sensitive domestic food production results in heavy reliance on imports, with some 85 percent coming from outside the region.

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Uganda farmers, millers seek ban on maize exports

Ugandan farmers and millers are seeking a ban on the export of maize so as to retain husks used for the manufacture of animal feeds.

Following the disruption of grain supplies from Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the Moscow invasion, countries in East Africa have been competing for the limited maize stock for consumption and producing animal feeds.

The government estimates the country will produce about 2.5 million tonnes of maize this year, down by half, due to poor rainfall.

Agriculture Minister Frank Tumwebaze said the farmers and processors want the government to only allow the exportation of maize flour. “Their argument is that this would bring in more value and also make animal feeds available and cheaper,” he said.

Mr Tumwebaze said the government would study the impact of such a ban.

Uganda is a major source market for Kenya, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Inflation rises as East Africa battles high food costs and polls anxiety

The East African region is facing a wave of inflation as disruptions in the global supply chain continue and prices of essential commodities rise.

In Kenya, the region’s largest economy, inflation hit 8.5 percent this week — the highest in 62 months —from 8.3 percent in July, on a surge in food and fuel prices.

The Kenya shilling also continued to tumble, partly blamed on jitters around the presidential election results dispute, which has seen former prime minister Raila Odinga challenge the victory of Deputy President William Ruto, who was pronounced president-elect on August 15.

The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate and his running mate Martha Karua filed a petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election on August 22, claiming the election was manipulated to favour Ruto. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict on September 5.

Read: Anxiety in East Africa as Kenya Supreme Court settles election dispute

On August 31, the shilling had fallen 0.03 percent to Ksh120.05 against the US dollar as the apex court began hearing submissions by the petitioners challenging the declaration of Ruto as president-elect.

Foreign reserves had fallen to $7.6 billion— equivalent to 4.39 months of import cover — during the week ending on August 25, from $7.74 billion, equivalent to 4.46 months of import cover, during the week ending July 28.

This breaches the region’s convergence criteria that demands that countries maintain their foreign currency assets above 4.5 months’ worth of imports cover— which is one of the conditions for implementing a single currency regime.

In February, the shilling traded at Ksh113 against the US dollar.

Food, fuel prices

Foreign currency dealers at pan-African foreign exchange firm AZA Finance warned that the political instability in the country would continue to weigh heavily on the local currency in the coming days, possibly surpassing the Ksh120 level against the greenback. Market research report by property consultancy firm Knight Frank predicts that the Kenyan currency will depreciate a little further but stabilise by the fourth quarter (October-December).

Also read: More pain for Tanzanians as fuel prices soar

Besides the uncertainty in Kenya, the war in Ukraine has also triggered a spike in crude oil prices that have fuelled inflation in the region.

According to monthly data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the country’s inflation figures have been on an upward trend from a low of 5.1 percent in February before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted supply chains, pushing up global energy and food prices.

The situation has been compounded by the removal of a government food subsidy that had seen the price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour fall to Ksh100 ($0.83) from Ksh240 ($2). On July 20, outgoing President Kenyatta announced the fifth stimulus package of his regime focusing on food subsidy to cushion households from hunger. The one-month subsidy elapsed after the General Election of August 9.

In August, oil-marketing companies warned of another fuel crisis due to the government’s failure to honour its obligations under the state-funded fuel subsidy programme. The marketers are demanding a huge Ksh65.06 billion ($542.16 million) from the government, an amount which has been in arrears for three consecutive cycles (June, July and August).

In Uganda, the monthly inflation as measured by Consumer Price Index for August increased to nine percent from 7.9 percent registered in July, despite government interventions to lessen the hardship.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) blames the rise to high prices of foods like plantain (matooke), which has risen from Ush709 ($0.187) per kilograme to Ush802 ($0.212), compared with an average of Ush493 ($0.130) at the same period last year.

Transport costs

Aliziki K. Lubega, the UBOS Director of Economic Statistics, said the cost of transport, a direct result of higher fuel prices, had also increased from 7.3 percent in August 2021 to 8.7 percent in August this year.

“The rise in transport inflation is specifically attributed to long-distance bus fares, which increased to minus 9.5 percent, from minus 27.8 percent,” she said.

She added that monthly petrol inflation increased by 4.5 percent last month from the 7.6 rise registered in July.

Ms Lubega noted that solid fuels inflation increased to 4.7 percent from minus 0.8 percent in July and charcoal, which rose to 4.8 percent in August, from minus 0.7 percent the previous month.

Prices for fresh milk also rose from Ush1,825 (0.482) in July to Ush2,050 (0.542) per litre in August, UBOS report shows.

Other increases in the prices of food were noted in commodities like fish from Ush11,603 ($3.06) to Ush13,339 ($$3.527) per kilogramme; dry beans from Ush3,607 ($0.95) to Ush3,805 ($1.006); maize flour from Ush3,343 ($0.88) to Ush3,421 ($0.904); fresh cassava from Ush827 ($0.218) to Ush914 ($0.24); and green cabbages from Ush810 ($0.214) to Ush1,012 ($0.267).

This rise in inflation comes at a time when government intervention saw an increase in the central bank rate to nine percent in August, from 6.5 in June.

Read: Uganda increases key rate for third time in a row

The central bank also provided exceptional funding to maintain access to money by supervised financial institutions and aided borrowers that were affected by Covid-19 pandemic as they provided credit relief measures that permitted loan rescheduling for a year.

Other inventions are prioritising debt servicing and other statutory obligations and focused expenditure on growth by enhancing sectors with higher multiple effects in economy to support recovery, create jobs and have high impact on poverty reduction, Mr Ggoobi explained.

Globally, inflation in the Eurozone hit a record high of 9.1 percent in August fuelled by soaring energy costs exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

The United Kingdom currently has the worst inflation of all the G7 countries, hitting 10.1 percent in the 12 months to July.

In the US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said on August 26 that the monetary policy could be kept tight ‘for some time’ to stem the rising inflation

The US central bank has so far overseen three consecutive rate increases of 75 basis points to deal with high inflation.

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The East African region is facing a wave of inflation as disruptions in the global supply chain continue and prices of essential commodities rise. In Kenya, the region’s largest economy, […]

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Africa’s real food problem is households are too poor to purchase it

ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and Mozambique’s 53 percent, Leo Kemboi and Emmanuel wa-Kyendo explain.

This is part 5 of our food and politics series.

Part 5: The recent food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 supply chain shocks has led people back to discussing the African food problem. Africa’s real food problem is a demand-side problem.

African households, both rural and urban, are relatively poor. Their low incomes restrict the access they have to food markets. For the African rural household, food problems comprise both climate shocks and market shocks.

Climate shocks affect both the supply of food and the source of income for rural households. Market shocks that result in increased prices also make it more difficult for both rural and urban households to access food. Many discussions, however, don’t sufficiently address the matter because they are framed largely as a supply-side problem.

Pundits lament that African farmers do not grow enough food. In practice, the selection of crops that African farmers grow faces intense global competition. Furthermore, variations in national productivity are great. Many international institutions that work on food and agriculture are focused on supply-side solutions of different flavours.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem, institutions including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa Export-Import Bank (AFREXIM), and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have proposed supply-side interventions to resolve Africa’s food problem.

The AfDB is a multilateral financing institution. AFREXIM is a pan-African multilateral trade finance institution. AGRA is a promoter of technology and financing solutions for Africa’s productivity problem.

Read: AfDB arm releases $5.4 million for Somalia food security

At the nation-state level, proposals for African food sovereignty comprise another set of supply-side solutions that are usually import substitution by another name.

To evaluate the food systems and their dynamism in East Africa, it is important to understand the nature of food production, which can be classified into homestead production where production is on a small scale, and labour intensive while large-scale production is capital intensive and application of more scientific methods.

Smallholder farming is practised by a sizeable portion of East African households, who primarily grow cereals that are highly competitive on a global scale. Low incomes per unit are a result of stagnant productivity in countries like Kenya and the surrounding region over the past 20 years.

fishing
William Kiarie feeds goldfish at his Green Algae Highland fish farm in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, central Kenya. This project is a beneficiary of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to improve agriculture and food security across the continent. PHOTO | AFP

Zero alternatives

Smallscale farmers automatically experience income shocks and food shocks when weather shocks cause the yield per unit to decrease. On the other hand, because there are no market alternatives available to them, middle-class and higher-income earners only experience access issues.

The food systems problem and how it affects the food market in sub-Saharan Africa can be defined through a variety of factors; economics, environmental, innovations, political factors, and degree of urbanisation.

Historically, it is unheard of for any country to have attained self-sufficiency in all different categories of food. How income causes problems in the food system is something that is not always obvious in the public affairs field. Households plug into the food market using income, which determines largely whether they face food shocks or not.

If a household deals in the livestock economy, income earned from the sale of livestock allows families to use that income to buy food, and this explains why there are famines whenever the rangeland economy is affected by weather as is currently happening in the Horn of Africa and parts of Uganda like Karamoja and northern Kenya.

Environment

The second factor that shapes the food system is the environment which includes climate change and natural resources. A large portion of Horn of Africa nations’ agriculture is rain-fed and vulnerable to weather shocks, which have been made worse by climate change, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that the climate shocks in the recent past have been frequent.

Climate shocks effects on agricultural productivity manifest themselves both directly and indirectly through unprecedented rainfall patterns, droughts, flooding and outbreaks of pests and diseases.

The unfavourable effect of temperature and rain variance on agricultural production results in uncertainty in food sufficiency in the region. Floods and droughts are harmful to agricultural production that cause food problems in the region that is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture.

Available land

In terms of natural resources, the proportion of total land that is suitable for agriculture determines the type of food system a country has. Agricultural land refers to the share of land area that is arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pasture.

According to data from the World Bank, Uganda has 72 per cent of its land used for agriculture, compared with Kenya’s 48 per cent, Tanzania’s 45 per cent, Ghana’s 65 per cent, Malawi’s 60 per cent, Burkina Faso’s 44 per cent and Mozambique’s 53 per cent. This means that already the food system is constrained by the natural conditions of a country.

The degree to which agriculture can be mechanised is determined by additional natural resource factors like water availability and terrain. Because Uganda and Tanzania have more water resources than Kenya, they have a comparative advantage over Kenya when growing crops that require a lot of water. If Kenya makes investments in capital-intensive irrigation systems, it may be able to compete.

The paradoxical relationship between low productivity and excessively low incomes makes up the third factor. In the East African region, some minor improvements to the seed and animal breeding systems have been made but have been slowed by required resources. This is constrained by the correlation between those innovations and the amount of capital that each nation’s agricultural sector can amass and deploy to improve productivity.

Political factors

The fourth factor that is important is the political factors that affect food systems, including public policies, conflicts, and general governance of the economy. To illustrate this, public policies in Kenya on food are built around guaranteeing high income to producers at the expense of the consumers. This kind of food regime has made Kenyan food expensive compared with other countries.

For example, the benefit incidence of the fertiliser subsidy in Kenya is appropriated by suppliers and big farmers, while smallscale farmers are not able to appropriate the same benefit. The subsidy is smaller and has not been able to cover all farmers. This is a market distortion generated by political action.

The fifth factor that shapes the food system is demographic, which include the degree of urbanisation. Some of the factors such as the rural-urban dimension, affect incomes and preferences (which include tastes).

The urban folk in East Africa like other African countries consume more rice, wheat and its derivatives relatively compared with rural areas.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem from the supply side, some international organisations have proposed some supply-side interventions.

One of the principles that has impacted food security on the continent is the idea of African food sovereignty. Sovereignty is an idea that is difficult to argue against. In Africa, an argument that runs against state sovereignty is a political loser, for it can be construed to be an argument for Africa’s perennial bogeyman — colonialism. Yet, the term sovereignty hides bad policy ideas from scrutiny.

Food sovereignty is the idea that a country should be fully sufficient in the production of its food basket and that anything less is tantamount to a breach of sovereignty.

Essentially, Africa should produce its coffee, tea, rice and chicken. The phrase makes it seem the smart, obvious and foundational approach to food policy.

In other words, the need to import agricultural products is an unacceptable vulnerability. Other states may use the so-called over-reliance on, say, grain imports to starve the importing country for political purposes.

Market shocks are anxiety-inducing events that tend to cause a clamour for security-oriented policy responses. Anxiety is the domain of the populist.

Economist and prominent theorist of the classical school of David Ricardo proposed that comparative advantage is the principal argument for international trade. That is, countries specialise in the production of one good or a set of goods — say agricultural products — because they can produce it more efficiently than any other nation can.

Countries then trade those goods in which they have a comparative advantage for the goods in which they have no comparative advantage.

The principle reveals that countries that produce goods for which they lack a comparative advantage incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation.

By the principle of comparative advantage, consumers get the cheapest goods at the highest quality possible. International trade allows Kenyan consumers to buy Ugandan bananas and Malaysian palm oil. Absent specialisation or trade, consumers would have a limited choice between pricey, possibly lower-quality goods. Bye-bye palm oil.

Furthermore, a country that tries to produce all the goods represented in its food basket must forego the use of land, labour and capital for the production of other goods.

If African countries must engage land, labour and capital in pursuit of African food sovereignty, they must incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation in the production of other goods.

Kenya cannot meet its demand for bananas at the same quality and price that Uganda can, for it has an abundance of water and rich soils Kenya lacks.

Policies of food sovereignty also assume that access is a matter of food supply. The Russia invasion of Ukraine has caused a sharp drop in the supply of specific grains.

Demand-Incomes ratio

Curiously, only the poorest consumers of this grain have felt the sharp increase in prices. Not-so-curiously, the wealthier consumers are relatively less affected. But this is not the way the problem is framed in Africa’s policy-making centres. Rather, policies seek to correct the lack of supply through interventions that will increase domestic supply.

These policies would go further by restricting foreign supply. The effect is that domestic suppliers are subsidised at the expense of domestic taxpayers and domestic consumers. In other words, African food sovereignty is import substitution in all but name.

In truth, food access is a demand-side problem. More precisely, food access is an income problem. This means that it is not the abundance of food that determines whether consumers get it but the levels of income.

The Russia invasion of Ukraine and other food crises of the present and past have had greater effects on poorer households the world over because those households are too poor to continue purchasing food at high prices.

In the short term, African nation states should respond to food crises with cash transfers to the most affected. A country like Kenya can reach its affected population with precise cash transfers through tools like M-Pesa.

Read: OBBO: Business people, you can take food to our hungry at a profit

In the long term, lowering barriers to trade and instituting policies that are conducive to structural transformation and economic growth would result in rising incomes that would then allow those consumers to access the foods they can afford.

African food sovereignty is a vehicle for state rents waiting to happen.

Africa’s food security problem can be resolved primarily through interventions that raise African household productivity and incomes.

When smallholder farmers encounter climate-related shocks, crop failures result in less food and lower incomes. They have less crops to sell and little money with which to buy food.

Spending a bulk of their income on food, urban households are also vulnerable to international food market shocks. Supply side solutions alone will not overcome the problem that African households are too poor to purchase food.

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ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and […]

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The smallholder farmers feeding the long food supply chain in Rwanda

Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in East Africa, but one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. It has the highest bean consumption per capita globally, followed by Burundi, and is the second-largest per capita consumer of bananas.

On a Thursday afternoon, under the scorching sun, hundreds of farmers lined up in Kigali’s suburb, Mulindi, known to be a junction of cheap fresh food from different parts of the country.

Energetic and enthusiastic, they got down to the business of selling fresh from-the-garden foods. Among them was Charles Mwizerwa. He isn’t a farmer. He is an innovator who had showed up to present different solutions to the challenges the country’s agricultural sector has faced for ages.

An agronomist and researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Mr Mwizerwa talked about an application called ICT4BXW, which, he said, has helped smallholder farmers across Rwanda combat banana disease.

“Over 8,000 smallholder farmers have downloaded the app, and they teach others about the information they find there. The ICT4BXW is an ICT-based tool with information in Kinyarwanda that acts like an early warning system to provide real-time data on the incidence of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt disease,” Mwizerwa said.

He added that farmers who do not own a smartphone can call 845 toll-free and learn about banana farming and how to fight diseases.

“This will increase food security in the country. About 20,000 farmers have used the platform,” he said.

Morris Haragirimana, another innovator, has gone in a different direction. He has developed a solar-powered irrigation system that he sells to farmers in his home area in Bugesera at Rwf 60,000 ($59).

“This drastically reduces the cost of production for farmers. It has made irrigation possible in some remote areas where electricity has not yet reached. This system is durable and farmers who buy it no longer need to worry about electricity or fuel bills. It is environment friendly and requires little maintenance,” Mr Haragirimana said.

Harvest Day

But these are only a small representation of what is happening behind the curtains in the struggle to feed 12 million in the predominantly agricultural country, where 72 percent of the working population is employed in agriculture.

Largely a subsistence agricultural country — much like the rest of the East African Community partner states — there is now talk of a “silent agricultural revolution” taking place in Rwanda.

Every first Friday of August, Rwandans gather in their communities to celebrate the National Harvest Day, Umuganura — meaning “thanksgiving day.” It is a century-old practice, and the food is communally shared in a large flat basket to reflect Rwanda’s food production.

The food mostly includes beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, maize, green vegetables, cassava, and sorghum cake — the most productive crops in Rwanda, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Rwanda, ranked the highest in bean consumption per capita globally, with an average resident consuming 34.8kg, is followed by neighbouring Burundi, where an average person consumes 31.5kg. The country also consumes a lot of banana, which is grown at different levels by at least 90 percent of households, according to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Rwanda is ranked the second-largest consumer of banana in the world, with an average Rwandan consuming about 227kg of banana per year, according to the Helgi Library which utilises data from the FAO corporate statistical database (Faostat) .

Although 75 percent of Rwanda’s agricultural produce comes from smallholder farmers, the sector employs about 70 percent of the population and contributes to around 30 percent of the country’s GDP.

In addition to the challenges of climate change and the fact that 90 percent of Rwanda’s terrain is sloppy, which makes it prone to soil erosion and land degradation, the UN reports that 81.3 percent of the country’s population is food secure.

Also read: Warning over hunger crisis gets louder in E. Africa

Food production

However, Rwanda’s food production is only a drop in the ocean of what the East African region produces, although production still varies.

Tanzania, for instance, contributes more than 80 percent of the total rice production in EAC, with the rest of the members supplying 20 percent, according to the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan.

Take Uganda, for example, 89 percent of the population is food secure. The FAO describes its population as still having normal access to food from own production as food prices in the market are affordable and have an “acceptable food consumption score” and can afford at least three meals per day of a diversified diet.

In contrast to Kenya, 36.5 percent of the population is food insecure. Kenyan farmers, whose crops depend on rain, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to drought and the unpredictability of weather patterns resulting from climate change, although this is a shared problem. Nevertheless, agriculture accounts for 65 percent of the country’s export earnings, and provides employment for more than 80 percent of the Kenyan population.

Although Rwanda’s population is generally food secure, the 2021 Global Hunger Index ranks Rwanda 98th out of the 116 countries, with a score of 26.4.

“Rwanda has a level of hunger that is serious,” the report says, an outlook compounded by data that shows that stunting has been a persistent issue in the country, despite efforts to eradicate, or at least reduce, it.

The UN estimates that 800,000 Rwandan children under five are stunted. Although the rates of chronic malnutrition among children under five decreased from 44 percent to 38 percent, rates are still too high. It is estimated that 18 percent of children between six and eight months are stunted, and 49 percent for children aged 18-23 months are stunted, with children in rural areas are more stunted than those in the city.

Part of the reason for stunted growth in Rwanda is high poverty rate, where more than 30 percent of the population is under the poverty line. Farming, perhaps unsurprisingly, has become one of the frontlines in the battle against poverty and hunger.

Agriculture jobs

One of the high-profile figures in this fight is Gerard Sina, 59, who has created more than 280 full-time jobs and 600 part-time jobs in Rulindo District, where he was born.

Mr Sina, who started his business when he was only 20, has also built a school in his home area, with the nursery to secondary sections, where learners study free, even those in boarding school.

His successful career started from his parents’ sweet potatoes harvest in 1983, whose puree Sina used to make his famous Urwibutso doughnuts, kick-starting his success and the transformation of the area where he was born.

Mr Sina, who works with more than 3,000 farming families, also offers free seeds, fertiliser, training and buys crops when ready for harvest. His flagship, “Akabanga,” a chilli pepper oil, has gained attention for himself and the country, and is probably one of the most well-known Rwandan products globally.

Many pieces have been moved to solve the Rwandan agricultural puzzle. One of them is seeds. After years of spending millions of dollars on seed imports, Rwanda says it has reached its target of becoming a self-sufficient in seeds supply. It is no longer importing maize, soybean and wheat seeds.

Before 2017, it depended on imports to meet its need for these seeds, bringing 3,000 tonnes of hybrid maize seed, 800 tonnes of wheat and 700 tonnes of soybean every year. Well up to 463,500 farmers now have access to improved seed. One of the many who moved the pieces is the pan-African agricultural organisation the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

In 2009, AGRA, through a grant, supported Rwandan maize farmers with the first hybrid seeds and, later, partnered with the Rwanda Agricultural Board in capacity-building of local seed companies under a project named “Securing Early Generation Seed for Emerging Seed Industry in Rwanda.” Before then, the country relied on imports.

One of the beneficiaries of the programme is Norah Kamashaza, 36. She has two farms in the Eastern province; one in Bugesera and another in Nyagatare, but she also rents out land to grow maize. Now, she has a significant market in the Eastern province, and sometimes also sells her produce through the government-owned “smart nkunganire” platform, where dealers search for stock and buy at a wholesale price.

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Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in East Africa, but one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. It has the highest bean consumption per capita globally, followed by Burundi, […]

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Kenya and Uganda cry foul as reality of new taxes checks in

Just a week after the new East African Community common external tariff (CET) band came into force, businesses are already feeling the pinch and crying foul over the “unintended consequences” of the regime.

Kenya and Uganda have filed complaints to the East African Business Council (EABC), the regional lobby, over the law that raised import taxes on goods from non-EAC countries to 35 percent. They say that some basic commodities outside the band have also been affected.

The bloc’s Trade and Finance ministers in May adopted 35 percent as the maximum rate for products classified under the 4th Band of the EAC common external tariff.

The CET, one of the key instruments of the Customs Union, is meant to foster regional integration through uniform treatment of goods imported from third parties. It also seeks to protect local manufacturers against competition from similar goods imported from outside the region.

According to experts, a 35 percent duty on imported finished products has the potential of growing intra-EAC trade by $18.9 million. In addition, the region’s industrial production will increase by 0.04 percent to $12.1 million and tax revenues by 5.5 percent.

It also has the potential to create an additional 6,781 jobs.

Affected products

The new band took effect on July 1 but consumers seem to not have been prepared for the price increment. The band features dairy and meat products, cotton and textiles, iron and steel, edible oils, soaps and beverages and spirits imported from outside the EAC.

Other commodities covered are furniture, leather products, fresh cut flowers, fruits and nuts, sugar and confectionery, coffee, tea and spices, textiles and garments, headgear, ceramic products and paints.

But Kenya and Uganda now say the new tax has pushed up the cost of importation, spilling over onto basic commodities.

The EABC has, in the past week, received letters from organisations raising concerns over the implementation of the common external tariff.

“Kenya is raising concerns over wood products while Uganda is concerned about industrial sugar. We are going to address the complaints after deliberations,” said John Bosco Kalisa, EABC’s chief executive.

Kenya has been importing wood from EAC partner states, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, after the government banned logging. Now, with the new CET band, imported wood is fetching the same price as finished furniture already in the market.

Kenyan furniture manufacturer PG Bison Kenya Ltd says the increase of import duty on raw materials used to produce furniture products has forced it to increase prices of products.

“Due to these policy decisions, and along with the recent increases in fuel-related logistics and a rapidly depreciating local currency, our prices will change effective Friday, July 8, 2022. A revised price list will be issued and distributed accordingly,” the company told its customers in a notice.

Price reviews

Raw materials such as particleboard, plywood and blockboard now attract a 35 percent import duty, up from 25 percent.

“The differential in tariffs that existed to incentivise value addition of raw materials have been removed,” said Amit Maru, the firm’s operations manager.

“We would like to bring to your attention that our prices need to be reviewed upward with immediate effect in relation to increased import duty on raw materials. The duty on raw materials are now the same as the rate that applies on a finished furniture item. The tariff calculation also allows for a rate to be applied per metric tonne or cubic metre, which can equate to a tax payable amount that can exceed the 35 percent value calculation,” he added.

The EastAfrican has learnt that Uganda is also facing challenges exporting surplus industrial sugar within the region yet Rwanda and Burundi are facing a shortage.

But even if Rwanda and Burundi were to import industrial sugar from Uganda, they would not satisfy their demand as they are net importers. The problem comes in differentiating sugar from the region and one from outside.

“The two countries will have to retain their stay of application for sugar imports,” said Kalisa.

He, however, noted that there should be no cause for alarm “as it is still too early to tell the full impact of the new import taxes.”

“The issue is not the current CET; the issue is the classification and other new rates that are emerging that need clarity because everything could be wrongly blamed on the CET. The CET is very clear: There is no new point in increasing the prices of goods that are available in the region,” Kalisa said.

The 35 percent CET targets goods that are available in the region and are produced in substantial volumes, including grains, potatoes, vegetables, maize and beans.

While the maximum tariff band at 35 percent was the most appropriate rate, it was noted that in its application, a welfare loss would be expected but would be cured from generated jobs from the switch to local production.

However, the rising cost of living due to global events such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, higher crude prices, Covid-19, inflation and dollar shortage have complicated implementation of the CET.

EAC states domesticated the new tax measures in the Finance Act 2022, which became operational on July 1.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has cited the Act as one of the major causes of high cost of living.

“Some of the tax measures in the Finance Act 2022 are set to have an impact on the manufacturing sector,” said Mucai Kunyiha, KAM chairman. “This is unlikely to spur growth in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”

Regional tax variance could be the new stumbling block to lowering the cost of food.

Last week, Kenya waived import levies on maize. The move, meant to improve supply to millers and in turn lower the cost of maize flour, may, however, have little impact as the variance in taxes charged on commodities by EAC states and new taxes on imports combine to further raise the cost of food.

Kenya’s main sources of maize imports are neighbours Tanzania and Uganda and Zambia further south.

In the past Nairobi has gone as far as importing maize from Mexico to alleviate shortages.

Shipments from countries that are not members of the EAC or the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are usually subject to a 50 percent tariff. But Kenya waived import fees on white non-genetically modified maize of up to 540,000 tonnes until end of September as millers face an acute shortage of grain, but no vessel carrying maize is scheduled to dock at the Port of Mombasa soon.

A Kenya Ports Authority ship schedule seen by The EastAfrican shows no vessel carrying maize is expected to dock at the port before July 14.

The schedule indicates that Mombasa will handle majorly conventional cargo from July 4, with 16 vessels expected to call at the port. Five are oil tankers.

Major millers have had to stagger their operations while small ones have closed altogether.

Maize imports impacted

Now Nairobi is pleading with Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda to stop exporting maize to other countries at its expense.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya says the country has opened talks with the three countries to guarantee Kenya a share of the maize exports to plug shortfall in supplies.

“We are now talking to these countries to have them set aside some stocks of maize to be purchased by our traders to boost supply locally,” said Mr Munya.

Zambia has started harvesting its main crop while Tanzania and Uganda have surpluses that Kenya is seeking to import.

Kipngetich Mutai, chair of the Grain Belt Millers Association (GBMA), a lobby, said the Kenya’s move to suspend charges on imported maize will not translate to lower prices as there are bottlenecks in importation of the commodity, such as the increased cost of export permit from main market source, Tanzania.

Millers associations Cereal Millers Association, Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers Eastern Africa Grain Council and GBMA are now urging for harmonisation of EAC tax regimes and policies to facilitate trade.

“It is critical for EAC countries to support logistics for importation of maize from different countries to lower cost of flour. The cost of ferrying maize from Tanzania to Kenya has become expensive as the countries operate disparate tax laws,” they said in a statement.

Last week, in a webinar on domestic tax regimes and proposed measures for 2022/23 budgets for the partner states, EABC too urged for harmonised taxes in the region to improve intra-EAC trade.

The lobby’s CEO said the EAC Treaty obliges partner states “to harmonise their tax policies to remove distortions and bring about more efficient allocation of resources within the bloc.”

With harmonisation of the CET, all member states are supposed to levy 35 percent on goods manufactured outside of the region that can be produced locaaly. It means countries that had a lower tariff have had to raise it, adding to the rise in price of goods such as fuel, which directly affects the cost of food as transporters pay more to transport commodities like maize.

Kenya has traditionally restricted purchases to cushion local maize growers but at a cost to consumers who are forced to pay a higher cost for the cereal.

High prices

Kenya is mainly relying on maize stocks from Tanzania to meet the rising demand for flour after the supply in the local market dwindled. Most stocks from Uganda are sold in South Sudan because of higher prices there.

According to importers, a bag of maize which retailed at $40 is now being sold at $61, pushing the price of maize flour from $1.42 to up to $2.5 for a two-kilo packet.

In July and early August, western Kenya farmers are expected to harvest their annual maize crop but this can only sustain the region.

Narok in the South Rift will have maize in September before the big harvest in North Rift in mid-October. Until then, Kenya will rely on imports and, from the look of things, imports from the neighbours could be impacted by taxes.

The country’s maize production is estimated at 3.2 million tonnes per year against a demand of 3.8 million tonnes, with the deficit covered by imports from the region.

The production of maize, a staple, declined by 12.8 percent from 42.1 million bags in 2020 to 36.7 million bags in 2021 after a prolonged drought hit agriculturally productive regions for an extended period last year.

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Just a week after the new East African Community common external tariff (CET) band came into force, businesses are already feeling the pinch and crying foul over the “unintended consequences” […]

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