Agricultural Financing: The Key to East Africa's Economic Transformation

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For time immemorial agriculture has been said to be the backbone of our economy. It’s a song that has been sang by generations of Ugandans and East Africans as a whole. Isn’t it interesting though that even after generations of reciting this mantra we still haven’t come to put this appreciation into actual practice – investing our countries’ finances in the one economy we all know and believe to be the core of our national economies’ saving grace?

In 2003, African heads of state met in Maputo the capital of Mozambique where they made a joint commitment to harness the potential of the agriculture sector to foster development in their countries. These commitments are popularly known as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) commitments. They were seven key commitments that were to be achieved within a period of 10 years. In a nutshell, the African Heads of State and Governments committed to foster a 6% annual agricultural GDP growth in their countries and the major avenue through which this was to be realised was through an allocation of at least 10% of their national budgets to the agricultural sector.

Reviewing their performance on these commitments in 2014, the countries realised that progress had not been made as anticipated. However, the CAADP was still relevant and it was agreed that they re-commit to the goals they had set in 2003. The re-commitment was made this time with the strategic intent of Accelerating Agricultural Growth and Transformation in Africa. A declaration to this effect was assented to by the Heads of State in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. To monitor country performance on this re-commitment, the African Union (AU) formulated a score card using a Biennial Review (BR) reporting process that would be conducted every two years.  The first ever biennial review was held and the report approved by the African Heads of State and Government in their Ordinary Session on 30th January 2018 in Addis Ababa-Ethiopia.

According to the review, all the East African Community member states except for Tanzania were found to be on track in the realisation of these commitments with a score above 3.94 – the set benchmark. It was the findings of this report and the strategic national budgeting timing that inspired the holding of the 3rd EAC People’s Agriculture Budget Summit on 30th -31st May 2018 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Convened by farmers’ organisations, civil society organisations and other NSAs in close partnership with the EALA committee on Agriculture Tourism Natural Resources (ATNR), the summit was held under the theme “Promoting an Inclusive, People Centered EAC Budget Process: Incentives for Prudent Public and Private Investment in Agriculture”.

This year’s summit was held with an aim of strengthening civic  participation in the national and EAC Budgeting Processes with specific reference to the agriculture investment plans under the Malabo commitments.

The 3rd of its kind, the summit commended the EALA and EAC Secretariat for recognizing the importance of agriculture in poverty reduction and employment creation, as substantiated -during one summit session held in the EALA Parliament Chambers- by the Honourable Speaker the Right Honourable Martin Ngoga that agriculture provides employment for over 80% of people of the EAC particularly for the youth and women and has the capacity to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.

The summit noted that contrary to the CAADP goal, the sector contribution to the regional GDP was consistently declining in performance and actual value and; EAC Partner States’ budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector and farmers had for over 5 years not exceeded 7 percent even with government’s commitment to the Malabo Declaration.

These and a number of other observations and resolutions were made and presented to the EALA Committee on ATNR at the EALA Chambers at the Parliament of Kenya on 31st May. The summit bore succulent fruits for the region as all resolutions that were presented to the committee were fully adopted and the Committee committed to present these in the 5th EALA session to inform the EAC planning and administrative processes.

Among the adopted ten resolutions was the institutionalising of the EAC People’s Agriculture Budget Summit within the EAC budget cycle which would entail including it in the EALA calendar, allocating a budget line, a focal person and provision for jointly holding the summit with NSAs. Another key resolution was for the EALA and the EAC to ensure progress on the commitment to allocate a minimum of required resources (1%) to research in agriculture especially on seeds, pesticides and other agricultural inputs which is a fundamental step towards improving agricultural production and productivity in the region.

With the joining of forces between the people of East Africa and the EALA, there finally seems to be a light at the end of this proverbial tunnel. A new matra is born to this generation – a people centred agriculture budget shall revolutionise the backbone of our economy.  You have got to agree, now is the time we put all the promises and commitments off the papers and into action. Because the reality is, agriculture is the indispensable key to sustained food security, economic growth and social transformation for the East African region.

P.S. It is not the usual tradition to have a postscript here but a number of players can not be left unrecognised for their contribution to the success of the 3rd EAC People’s Agriculture Budget Summit. Among these were: ActionAid International, Trust Africa Foundation, Oxfam, Food Rights Alliance, ESAFF, CSBAG, ANSAF and ofcourse the East African Legislative Assembly with special recognition of the devotion to the cause by the ATNR Committee Chairperson Hon. Mathias Kasamba.

Catch up on more from this event on #EACAgricBudget

By Matilda Nakawungu