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Smallholder farming key, COMESA told

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Nov 27 – Member States of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have been called upon to strengthen the existing initiatives and alliances that are geared towards the promotion of market oriented smallholder agriculture.

Ethiopian Agriculture Minister Tefera Deribew said on Thursday that for the region’s agriculture sector to become globally competitive, all stakeholders need to develop and support intervention measures that would see small scale farming transform into a viable commercial agricultural community.

“Stand-alone and supply driven commodity interventions are not only unsustainable but they will not succeed,” the minister cautioned through his Special Assistant Aster Stephanos.

Speaking when he officially opened the second stakeholder workshop for the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), Mr Deribew challenged the organisation and its partners to define a clear path of graduating small holder farmers into entrepreneurs, commercial farmers who are able to produce for the market.

“Smallholder farmers should not remain locked in subsistence agriculture. There is a huge market potential available in our neighbouring countries and globally yet as a region we have not taken advantage of these market opportunities,” he regretted.

Mr Deribew pointed out that the enhancement of agricultural growth and food security would not be achieved by simply increasing investments but by also making fundamental changes in the way the region does business.

“Seminars and workshops fall short of the ‘action’ needed to make the change in the region’s agriculture. ACTESA has to improve market and trade performance. The outcomes that ACTESA programmes are to achieve must be clear,” he stressed.

ACTESA was conceived as a directive of the African Union and New Partnership for Africa Development’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in 2007 providing a practical initiative to enhance trade in regional staple crops.

It was formally endorsed as a specialised agency of COMESA by the economic bloc’s authority in June 2009 and seeks to integrate small farmers in national, regional and international markets and improve the region’s food security.

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This was in recognition of the fact that about 90 percent of all staple crop producers are smallholders but only about 10 percent produce for the markets. Also statistics show that Sh1.43 trillion ($19 billion) is spent by COMESA member states on food imports every year but only Sh2.3 billion ($30 million) is sourced from the region.

ACTESA Chief Executive Officer Cris Muyunda reported that they had initiated several flagship programs that would see the rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access improved.

“ACTESA will over the next few years move millions of smallholder farmers in our region from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture through innovative linkages to instruments such as commodity exchanges, warehouse receipt programmes and appropriate mechanisms,” he pledged.

Their main focus, he added would be in value addition in order to capture the full value of the region’s production and expand employment opportunities for the population.

Data from UNIDO shows that while about 98 percent of primary agricultural products in developed world are sold to agro processing facilities, only 30 percent of the products go to these plants in developing countries.

Mr Muyunda also expressed their determination to raise their cooperation in addressing the challenges such as over -dependence on rain fed agriculture, low agriculture input use and high marketing costs that the sector faces.

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