A US government agency has developed a regional information portal to track production and export of grains in the five East African Community (EAC) states in an effort to boost intraregional commodities trade.
The online platform — www.rfbs.in — developed by USAid would produce monthly regional food balance sheet based on production and export data supplied by industry players, paving the way for goods to move from surplus to deficit areas.
“The EAC region is ideal for this system because part of it is always harvesting when the other is experiencing deficit,” said Isaac Tallam, regional grain trade adviser at USAid.
He spoke at a media briefing organised by East African Grain Council (EAGC) to announce a three-day fifth African Grade Trade Summit to be held in Mombasa from October 1.
The millers, farmers associations, World Food Programme country offices and agriculture ministries will provide information on monthly basis regarding stock held, expected harvest or export plans.
The portal is expected to become as a crucial policy tool, enabling the EAC states to exhaust stock available within the region before resorting to duty-free imports from non-member countries.
The tool is meant to eliminate current price disparities that have seen citizens paying more for food in some parts of the EAC common market than others.
For instance, residents of Kampala are currently paying the least wholesale price for maize at $256 per tonne according to Regional Agricultural Trading Intelligence Network. In comparison, a tonne of maize costs $325 in Kigali, $340 in Dar es Salaam, $362 in Nairobi while Burundians pay the highest price, at $392 per tonne.
The regional food balance sheet portal is part of the campaign by the five EAC states to come up with a common staples policy to stabilise supply and prices for agricultural grain.
“Numbers gathered by the regional portal will present strong case for policies that enable farmers in the region to trade more with each other,” said Mr Tallam. “Implementing a regional food policy is, however, a change management process that still faces several interruptions actions by politicians like frequent food export ban.”
The launch comes just a week after the five national quality regulators approved harmonised regional standards for 18 grains — among them maize, sorghum and peas — to boost intraregional trade.
A harmonised quality standard means goods will be able to cross national borders without further testing as long as they bear quality certificates issued in partner states.
The region has also adopted EAC simplified certificate of origin for use by traders hauling goods — mostly agricultural commodities — not exceeding $2,000 in value. The one-page document only requires traders to fill in their personal details and short description of goods.
Agriculture sector players have, however, faulted the government’s pledge for affordable food for the masses saying the proposals contained in the VAT Bill would be counterproductive.
The Bill seeks to subject production technology, post-harvest equipment and transportation of raw agricultural produce to a 16 per cent tax.
“There is no known way we can lower price for food other than through increased productivity, reduced post-harvest losses and efficient transport from farms,” said EAGC chief executive Gerald Masila.
The sector players have also taken issue with the government for subjecting basic food items and inputs to the 1.5 per cent railway levy.
In the 2013/14 budget, Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said the railway tax would be levied on all imports for “domestic use”.