COMESA-ACTESA INTERVIEW: “Our partnership with Agribusiness Congress East Africa, Agritech Expo Zambia and Farm-Tech Expo Kenya helps to bring together strategic players in the agribusiness sector from across Africa”

George Magai, COMESA - Agribusiness Congress East Africa1)    Let’s start with some background on the work that you do at COMESA.
I am the Director of Trade and Markets for the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) a specialised agency of the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). My key responsibilities among others is to facilitate and expand structured trade as well as building alliances with existing regional and national private and public institutions.

I am also the chairperson/Convener of the African Union Commission CAADP Markets and Regional Trade Network. The CAADP Technical Networks (TNs) are networks of technical agencies and organisations that provide technical support and capacity development to AU Member States, Regional Economic Communities and other CAADP implementers. The networks will develop tools, training and technical advice to national and regional agriculture sector governance entities on policies, programs and practices that can accelerate achievement of national, regional and continental agriculture production, productivity and food security goals related to Malabo and CAADP. Technical Networks are demand-driven; they respond to gaps identified by countries, determine the appropriate capacity-enhancing response and facilitate optimal execution of the selected response(s).

The Technical Networks take a holistic view of capacity development – looking at the totality of individual, organizational and systemic capacities necessary for implementing post-Malabo Regional and National Agricultural and Food Security Investment Plans (RAIPS and NAIPS).

2)    Which current projects are you particularly excited about at the moment?
The Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Centre initiative is been undertaken by the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) through its specialized agency the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) in collaboration with AGRISMART Africa and the Rutger University (USA) to establish the Regional Horticulture Innovation Lab Centres for Africa, located in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa.

The Regional Centre’s vision is to become the Horticulture Innovation Labs Regional Centres open to conduct trainings as well as introduce and demonstrate technologies which will increase organic agriculture in the region. This will be accomplished through conducting of applied research from production through postharvest handling, product development to reduce poverty, improve health. Emphasis will be placed on nutrition and environmental and economic sustainability for smallholder farmers especially youth and women through profitable current horticultural methods using eco-friendly agriculture inputs which will replace hazardous chemical agents to farm friendly microbes.  These eco-friendly Bio-organic solutions increase an appreciable enhancement in healthy soil bacteria available for plant nutrient conversion.

3)    How important are Uganda and East Africa as agri sectors?
Smallholder agriculture continues to play a key role in African agriculture. In East Africa countries are agriculture-based economies, where smallholder farming accounts for about 75 percent of agricultural production and over 75 percent of employment. However, contributions of smallholder farming, and agriculture in general, have remained limited. Growth has been driven by services, in particular trade.

4)    What in your view are the main challenges facing the agri sector in Uganda? And in East Africa?
Studies indicate that at the national level, weak institutions, have restricted access to markets and credit. These factors, including inadequate infrastructure, have constrained productivity growth of smallholder farming. There is need to institute measures to improve productivity of smallholder farmers include ease of access to land, training to enhance skills and encourage technology adoption and innovation, and removal of obstacles to trade. At the regional and global levels, international trade barriers need to be addressed.

5)    What is your vision for the industry?
My vision is to see robust and more efficiently structured trade and marketing opportunities realised between African countries. There is a critical need to improve intra-regional trade in the COMESA region.

6)    What surprises you about this sector?
The vast potential that Africa has is not exploited enough. The mineral and agriculture resources are so vast and yet the sub-Saharan region is continuously looking and receiving hand-outs and its people are going hungry when that should never be the case. We need to change this scenario very quickly.

7)    COMESA has entered into a five-year partnership with all the Spintelligent agri events, including Agribusiness Congress East Africa, Agritech Expo Zambia and Farm-Tech Expo Kenya - why the decision to partner with us? What are you hoping to achieve with this engagement?
This partnership helps to bring together strategic players in the agribusiness sector from across Africa and it’s a great opportunity to network and exchange ideas and also to create new partnerships and collaborations.

8)    What will be your message at Agribusiness Congress East Africa?
The agriculture sector in the sub-region is undergoing a slow recovery from several decades of misplaced policies. There is need to harmonize our policies so as to improve intra-regional trade thereby have a better environment for trade and regional markets.

9)    What are you most looking forward to at Agribusiness Congress East Africa?
Mostly the networking opportunities.