Thursday, July 22, 2010

East Africa: Comesa Asks Member States to Increase Land Utilisation for Agriculture

Dorothy Nakaweesi, 21 July 2010, The Monitor

Kampala — The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has expressed concern over the low level of land utilisation for agriculture.

In a statement to Daily Monitor last week, Mr Sindiso Ngwenya, the Common Market for Eastern Africa (Comesa) secretary general, said despite the region having greater agricultural potential for growth, the sector, which is the engine of economic growth is lowly utilised.

According to statistics, less than 9 per cent of arable land is under cultivation and only 4 per cent of available water, is used for agriculture. Statistics also suggest that the region's main source of export earnings is accumulated from the exports of agricultural commodities and products.

Government support

Popular exports that earn tangible income for the region include; coffee, tea, maize, tobacco, ground nuts, cotton, fruits and flowers. Mr Ngwenya said the vast potential of the region must be supported by the region's governments through the increase in agriculture investment and adopting supportive policies.

In a recent Comesa Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources ministerial meeting in Lusaka Mr Ngwenya, said: "It is quite evident that over the years, there has been less investment by both governments and development partners in agriculture." He added Comesa member states should embark on agricultural modernisation through mechanisation to be part of the green revolution.

Shifting bargain

According to Mr Ngwenya, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), a tool aimed at helping the region achieve food security, sustainable growth in agriculture and sector competitiveness is a key factor in shifting the agricultural bargain from a peripheral player to a major economic stimulus.

The Comesa secretariat has worked with member states on undertakings like the launching of CAADP, conducting the stock-taking exercise in the agricultural sector, conducting evidence based analysis to identify investment plans in a bid to improve agriculture.

So far, six countries have signed the CAADP pact, which include: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Malawi. The Lusaka Meeting also noted that conservation agriculture is increasingly being seen as a promising alternative for coping with the need to increase food production on the basis of more sustainable farming practices.