By Faridah Kulabako
Uganda must capitalise on its potential in organic agriculture; improve product quality and packaging to capture a larger share of the American export market.
Meg Jaquay, the vice-president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Uganda, told New Vision in an interview recently that increasing use of non-organic crops, coupled with low quality agricultural products and poor packaging are partly responsible for the country’s failure to fully benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) initiative.
In May 2000, along with other African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda sent over 6,500 products including agricultural animal products to enter the US tax and quota free.
Despite being at the forefront of AGOA, Uganda has not benefited much, 15 years on. While commissioning the new Fine Spinners Textile Factory at Bugolobi, Kampala last month, President Yoweri Museveni observed: “We have not benefited from AGOA, but I am happy that other African countries are benefiting. I would be happier if Uganda benefited.”
While Kenya exported goods worth $389.5m (about sh1 trillion) to the US in 2012 and Tanzania $114m (about sh314.4b), Uganda only exported goods worth $34.5m (about sh95.1b).
In 2013, Uganda’s exports to the US were estimated at $47m (about sh129.6b), up from $34.8m (about sh95.7b) in 2003. US exports to Uganda on the other hand were $125m (about sh344.7b) during the year.
Business analysts said unlike Kenya or Tanzania, Uganda failed to establish an AGOA strategy to mobilise and guide those producing goods through the initiative. Kenya is an industrialised nation, while Uganda’s comparative advantage lies in agriculture, especially organics.
“Organic food is going to be the next big export for Uganda and farmers should not deviate from growing organic foods because that is where money lies,” Jaquay, a certified organic exporter who exports organic pineapple crisps to Uganda, said.
Organic agriculture is a production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity and biological cycles. The system prohibits the use of synthetic inputs such as genetically modified seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
It is estimated that Uganda has over 400,000 internationally certified organic farmers, growing cotton, coffee, sesame, as well as fruits such as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, jack-fruit, apple, passion fruits and avocado. The products are exported to Europe, USA and Asia, among other countries.
By 2013, Uganda had around 350,000 hectares of land under organic farming covering more than 2% of agricultural land.
Jaquay said there is growing demand for organic products, adding that GMOs (which are created through Genetic Engineering (GE)) will also be expensive to farmers as they will have to buy seeds at every planting season because GMOs cannot regenerate.
This means that the technology will eliminate farmers’ indigenous seeds, making farmers dependant on multinational profit-driven companies for the supply of seeds.
Last week, civil society organisations meeting in Kampala requested the Government not to pass the Bio-safety and Bio-technology Bill, 2008 without farmers’ input as it would hurt the incomes of farmers.
The Bill that is set to be tabled in Parliament next month seeks to formalise the use of GMOs. If passed into law, the Bill will pave way for the use of GMOs in the country. Uganda currently has field trials ongoing at Namulonge and Kawanda research institutes.