By Nawa Mutumweno – High production costs have taken a toll on food prices in various African countries, making the issue of food security a serious challenge on the world’s least developed continent.
It is in view of this scenario that COMESA’s specialized agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) is implementing the results-oriented 20 million euros two-year European Union-funded project, the COMESA Regional Agro-Inputs Programme (COMRAP). The programme is a deliberate effort to encourage food producers to increase supply and food production to rule out volatile food prices. It is designed to respond to the rising food prices phenomenon by increasing agricultural productivity through enhanced access to financial resources and inputs.
ACTESA is indeed the region’s resounding answer to rising food prices and the global financial crisis which have had precarious implications for over 250 million people domiciled in COMESA.
The overall objective is to contribute to improving rural food security and livelihoods in the COMESA region through training and capacity building of national and regional input providers. Specific objectives encompass the following dimensions: improve competitiveness and policy environment, improve and expand market facilities and services, and integrate smallholder farmers commercially into national, regional and international markets.
“To cushion the price effects, COMRAP will increase agricultural productivity through enhanced access to three intertwined factors – finance, fertilizer and seed. It is expected that through COMRAP, 3 000 000 smallholder farmers will have improved and sustainable access to agro-inputs and services in the COMESA region,” a recent COMRAP consultative workshop held in Lusaka recently observed.
Apart from this impressive number of farmers, COMRAP will endeavour to ensure that 6 000 agro-dealers are trained and accredited, 700 bank managers trained and eight countries piloting weather insurance.
COMRAP components include Finance: capacity building for financial sector and weather indexed insurance promotion; Agro Dealer Network: inputs market development and strengthening input supply systems; and Seed Sector Development: harmonization/rationalization of seed policies and regulations plus improving national seed value chains.
Through these interventions, it is envisaged that smallholder farmers would graduate into entrepreneurs and commercial farmers able to produce at sustainable levels for the region and beyond its frontiers.
It is hoped that over time the negative perception of smallholders as a high-risk group in terms of lending will change. Apart from reaching over 700 bank executives, the programme also targets over 100 insurance officers over the next 15 months.
COMRAP plans to strengthen human resource capacity in financial markets to deliver credit to smallholders in a cost-effective manner and promote the adoption of weather indexed insurance as a vehicle for hedging against drought and financial risk.
The programme facilitates the training and certification of agro dealers who receive basic training in agricultural insurance and share knowledge with farmers. COMRAP will also strengthen capacity for the improvement of seed quality and provide support to enhance seed supply. National agricultural research organizations will be supported to strengthen their capacity in seed certification and management of cross-border trade in seed.
COMRAP will establish measures to mainstream smallholder farmers into commercial seed production and harmonise seed trade regulations throughout the COMESA region, building on harmonization initiatives which have been undertaken by other regional economic communities, thus increasing the use of improved seed within sub-Saharan Africa from the current low of about 10 percent.
“Farmers lack acceptable collateral such as title deeds and insurance. This and high interest rates hinder smallholder farmers from accessing credit. In addition, they have to contend with unreliable rainfall, pests, diseases and volatile prices,” COMESA assistant secretary general Stephen Karangizi said.
Agro-dealer training of trainers forms an integral part of activities enshrined in the agro-development of COMRAP.
The first-ever agro-dealer training of trainers workshop was held in Lusaka recently with participants from Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
COMRAP agro-dealer training coordinator Ken Shawa said the programme seeks to improve the nature and delivery of financial packages to strengthen agro-dealers networks and provide support to the seed and plant material commodity chain in the region.
Similar workshops will be held in Swaziland, targeting trainers from Swaziland and Ethiopia and another one in Rwanda for trainers from the host and Burundi.
These sessions will enable trainers to be well equipped for the country-specific agro-dealer training that would ensue immediately.
COMRAP has set a target to train and certify over 5 760 agro-dealers and 2 000 agents by August 2011. Accreditation centres eill be established in eight countries by August 2011 with eight agro-dealer associations established and strengthened and over 2 000 agro-dealers accredited by then.
At the rate ACTESA is going, it is evident that the Cris Muyunda-captained ‘outfit’ will deliver on their mandate which embraces practically implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)’s Pillar II and III that focuses on improving trade-related capacities for market access and increased food supply that will in the long run reduce hunger and improve economic