By David Mugabe
Agriculture state minister, Zerubabel Nyiira, has asked researchers to team up with government to help turn around the fortunes of the sector which employs the largest population.
Addressing board members of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) on Monday, Nyiira noted that due to low investments, there has been a marginal increase in the average annual GDP per capita.
For the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region, this has risen from $520 in 1990–1995 to $659 for the period 2003–2010.
“Owing to the low levels of investment in agriculture, our region remains dependent on high levels of food imports, particularly of staples, which appear to partially fill the consumption needs of a population lacking purchasing power,” said Nyiira.
Executive Director of ASARECA, Fina Opio, State minister for Agricultuire, Mujumbi Nyiira (centre) and the Director General of ASARECA Tanzania shares a moment during the 19th directors’ meeting at Serena. PHOTO/Wilfred Sanya
He noted that a similar agro-zone presents opportunities which can pull people out of poverty.
“We in Uganda appreciate that low investment in agriculture and agribusiness has continued to result in low levels of productivity growth in the sector with the consequent effect of deepening poverty, slow overall economic growth and generally low per capita income levels,” said Nyiira.
Dr Fina Opio, the executive director of ASARECA pledged to focus on turning the numerous technology innovations and findings into tangible benefits to the end user farmer in the next period running from 2014-2018.
“The focus is to get the technology to the end user, if it is not there, there is no use why we should be working if the end user is not feeling any impact,” noted Opio.
The issue of making agriculture attractive so that more people can invest in it has been at the core of debate.
This is because despite engaging the largest chunk of the population, incomes from it are minimal and few because the majority operate at peasant level with little mechanization.
ASARECA has a membership of 11 countries and focus on cross cutting agriculture concerns like climate change, limitations to trade and pest and diseases.
Opio cited the recently reported maize lethal necrosis disease that has been registered in six countries and is ravaging maize which is one of the most valuable staple crops across the region as one that can only be dealt with at regional level.
The regional organisation has registered some progress reaching 8 million people and putting together 364 agriculture technologies, innovations and practices.
Also, a drought resistant maize was released in Sudan and is now being tested in six other countries
The most pressing food concerns for the region are the staple foods which include maize, cassava and bananas.
It is estimated that a total of 270,000 farmers and other stakeholders adopted new technologies that were generated and availed for uptake in the first phase of ASARECA operations.
This led to an increase in net crop production value of $73.4 million within the period in the target areas.
Also, the initiatives have improved food security for beneficiary households over the programme period from 74% to 81% (7 percentage points), compared to an increase of only 1 percentage point for non-beneficiaries (from 78% to 79%).
But the board meeting on Monday recognized the now dwindling funding for agriculture research as an emerging concern.
Dr Fidelis Myaka, ASARECA board chairman noted that the region’s researchers coming together help them maximize capacities and human resource.
NARO director general Ambrose Agona said working as a region minimizes resource waste and helps curb challenges like pests and diseases which do not know borders.