Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nile Basin welcomes common market

Wednesday, 04 March 2009 - By Patrick Kagenda,The Independent - Uganda

The Independent’s Patrick Kagenda discusses the East African Community common market with Gordon Mumbo, regional programme manager for the Nile Basin Initiative.

What does the East African common market mean to the Nile Basin Initiative?

The coming of the East African common market means free trade and free movement of people among the East African countries. This means a lot to the Nile Basin Initiative. At Nile Basin, we talk a lot about benefit-sharing, and this goes beyond water to trade opportunities. So the common market will be a blessing for us, because it will promote the ideologies of freedom we believe in.

What water-related projects might benefit from the East African Community?

If, say, a particular crop is cheaper to grow and uses less water in Uganda than in another country, we are encouraging the Nile basin countries to grow that crop in Uganda.

There is a lot of degradation taking place around the Nile basin. What interventions do you have in place to salvage the basin?

We are conscious of the problems. We have an environmental action programme for the basin, and we are talking of working with countries so that the catchment that feeds the Nile system with water can be properly maintained and managed. So while the degradations are a threat, I believe our effort, if adopted by the countries of the Nile Basin Initiative, should be able to avert crises, like the Nile drying up and turning to desert.

The common market will lead to increased production and irrigation. Are people in the Nile basin alert to the proper usage of water?

The Nile basin is home to over 300 million people, with 150 million of them directly dependent on The Nile River for their livelihood. For three years, we have been working on a project that aims to encourage appropriate use of water for agricultural production. The project has come up with good practices on how to utilise water in more efficient ways, like conserving rain water to be used for irrigation. That goes back to my earlier point of working with the Nile Basin countries; we are encouraging an understanding among them that if a particular crop is easier to grow in Tanzania, you shouldn’t waste water growing it in Uganda using irrigation. With the coming of the free market, you will be able to market your produce all over the place. Another project we have aims to help countries to exploit agricultural opportunity. Often, what affects people in parts of the basin affects the whole market and can lead to post-harvest wastage of crops.

So the coming of the common market is a big opportunity. It will add synergies and reinforce what we are doing at the moment in terms of working with people, learning together and talking of good practices. For instance, climate change is going to force everybody into irrigation agriculture because rainfall agriculture is becoming unreliable. And it is in areas like this where our water management interventions and sharing of benefits will be useful for East African countries.

How much water is in the Nile basin?

Billions of cubic litres. Lake Victoria alone has more than 100 billion cubic litres. Then you have to factor in the Blue Nile from Ethiopia, and the White Nile which starts from Lake Victoria and flows to Sudan and Egypt. The concern is conservation. As the population grows, people will be tempted to produce more. The common market will also motivate people to produce more. But based on the data that we have, there is enough water. Our main concern is to ensure that the catchment area of the water is managed properly.

The common market comes with transport as a key requisite. What part of the Nile basin water body is navigable?

Navigation in the Nile in the upstream countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi – is a bit of a problem, but as you go down into Sudan and Egypt, the river becomes very navigable. At the moment we are discussing development programmes, like the Rushumu Integrated Hydropower Project, which will also explore navigation issues within the Nile system. That should also help navigation and transportation, particularly between Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi and, to some extent, Uganda. Lake Victoria is definitely navigable – although it is threatened by the water hyacinth that we are working on together with the Lake Victoria basin commission through the Lake Victoria environment management project.