FRIDAY September 30, 2022
By Patty Magubira
Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania
East African farmers have blamed $20 billion food imports bill the region incurs on the Tanzania government’s reluctance to assent a key Bill to law.
The Eastern African Farmers Federation (EAFF) say the East African Community (EAC) Cooperative Societies Bill 2015 is the best vehicle through which smallholder farmers and small enterprises can participate in regional trade.
The EAFF believes, if assented to, the Bill would go a long way in containing rampant non-tariff barriers preventing the EAC intra-trade from growing beyond the existing 15 per cent.
The farmers cite the ban Kenya imposed on milk from Uganda on grounds of its failure to meet required standards, leading a factory in Uganda to retrench over 200 workers, as resolving non-tariff barriers takes a long time with no mitigation for the loss traders incur.
The Tanzania government is the only partner state which has not assented to the Bill in line with Article 63 of the EAC Treaty and the EAC Food Security and Nutrition Action Plan.
“Unfortunately, there was no response from Tanzania despite us lobbying other presidents in the region and trying to reach the late president (John Magufuli),” laments the EAFF Chief Executive Officer, Mr Stephen Muchiri, adding:
“Policy makers are not supporting the integration process; they are paying it a lip service. Up until two weeks ago, we actually presented this as a challenge when we met the Vice President (Mr Philip Mpango).”
Mr Muchiri says Mr Mpango referred them to the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe, with whom they are still trying to get audience through his personal assistant to raise issues pertaining to the stuck Bill.
They are also lobbying through the East African Business Council and the Agriculture Council of Tanzania in their attempt to get the audience of the country’s presidency.
“These are our frustrations; we feel cooperatives are not taking advantage of trade. Food is coming from outside the region, the money should actually be sitting with farmers in the region,” he says.
Mr Muchiri says the region cannot take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) if the EAC, which is the most advanced regional economic community (REC) on the continent, is not trading with itself.
A partner state’s failure to assent to a Bill is a waste of resources, including time, as the assembly is represented by all states, he retorts.
“It doesn’t mean Tanzania is a stumbling block, there are many mechanisms and processes for a bill to be assented to,” says Ms Josephine Lemoyan, the member of the EALA Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources.
Ms Lomoyan says the cooperatives fraternity needs to work as a team to ascertain technical glitches hindering the Bills and to ensure laws enacted take consider them. “We need a stronger collaboration and joint actions to push the laws for them to become instrumental,” she stresses.
The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed the Bill in January 2015 believing it would give the cooperative fraternity and stakeholders something to smile.
The Bill aims at providing cooperative societies with a legal framework in line with Article 128 of the EAC Treaty on strengthening the role of the private sector which is tasked to drive the integration agenda.
Had the Tanzania government assented to the Bill, cooperative societies in the region would resolve their challenges collectively, coordinate knowledge and skills and promote self-reliance among members.
The Bill gives guidelines on formation, rights, duties and privileges of members of cooperative societies as well as on assets, liabilities and settlement of disputes of the societies.
The EAC partner states would, in turn, be required to encourage efficient use of resources and to promote chambers of commerce and industry, confederations and associations of industry and agriculture, among other private sector organisations.
We as farmers are the majority in this region, we are trying to integrate, to participate in trade, to ensure the region is food secure with no food import bill,” the EAFF Chief Executive Officer, Mr Stephen Muchiri.
The EAFF members converged in Arusha, Tanzania, recently to among other things, wind up a one and half-year training programme on trade policy.
Andreas Hermes Akademie (AHA), an organisation belonging to a German Farmers Association, was, with financial support from the German government, imparting skills on cross-border trade on the EAFF members throughout the programme lifespan.
“Trade is a very important element when it comes to economic development,” says Mr Philip Conze-Roos, the AHA Deputy Director International, wondering that while the level of trade among countries in European Union stands at 60 per cent, among East African partner states stands at barely 15 per cent.
The programme focused on intra-regional trade, specifically instruments that define trade policy, says Mr Conze-Roos, explaining that the EAFF had selected the maize value chain as its main focus to work on and had developed a number of issues it wants the capacity building programme to address.
“We looked at how maize trade operates, who are the stakeholders, what is the role of EAFF and the national organisations, and which are the deficits that need to be addressed,” Mr Conze-Roos says.
The EAFF is a corporate member-based regional farmers’ organisation founded in 2001. It is registered in Kenya under the Societies Act, with chapters in each of its 10 member countries.
Its establishment was triggered by the development imperatives of the late 1990s and early 2000, especially the need for strengthening mechanisms for regional collective action.
Specifically, the revival of the EAC and the focus on strengthening the RECs by the Africa Union provided an opportunity for farmer organisations to engage at the regional level. The EAFF formation was also championed by national farmers’ organisations from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and DRCΩ