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Govt urged to prioritize commercialization of roots and tubers in national agricultural development strategies

African countries urged to prioritize commercialization of roots and tubers in national agricultural development strategies. (PML PHOTO)

Kampala- The government has been urged to prioritize efforts to support smallholder farmers to transition out of subsistence farming, by placing the commercialization of food staples such as roots and tubers, at the center of national agricultural development strategies.

The call was made by the Representative of the Food and  Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Uganda- Dr. Antonio Querido.

Querido was speaking at the opening of the Regional Workshop on Market Linkages through Inclusive Business Models in the Roots and Tubers Value Chains in Africa, held in Kampala from 19 – 21 February 2019.

He noted that roots and tubers remain major staples for many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for over 20 percent of calories consumed.

“Crops such as cassava, yam, and potatoes are not only important for food security but also increasingly, for income generation for farmers   and small businesses, particularly for women,” he said, adding that “commercialization of the sub-sector as a strategy for poverty reduction has been demonstrated by reinforcing linkages between smallholders, and semi-formal   and formal markets”.

The three-day workshop brought together delegates from seven countries that benefited from a regional project implemented by FAO titled, “Strengthening Linkages between Small Actors and Buyers in the Roots and Tubers Sector in Africa,” whose aim was to   improve the livelihoods of small producers engaged in the roots and tubers value chains through the promotion of linkages to domestic and regional   markets. The project supported farmers, processors and those seeking to market their roots and tubers in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

With funding of 5.9 million Euro from the European Union, the project was implemented using the value chain approach, with particular emphasis on promoting inclusive business models along the value chain, right from production to marketing.

Since its inception in 2015, the project has developed the capacities of farmers’ organizations and SMEs to meet modern market demands related to larger volumes, consistency of supply and higher quality. In doing so, it has tried to address the loose and conflictual relationships between actors, and the lack of real value chain partnerships, which are needed to build synergies and accelerate upscaling of innovations.

In Uganda, the project supported more than 3 000 farmers get access to improved potato varieties from organized seed producers cooperatives. This resulted in an increase in tonnes of harvested high-quality potatoes, at least double the average production. Farmers were also linked to markets for their produce.

State Minister for Agriculture,  Christopher   Kibanzanga, while speaking at the workshop appealed to delegates to explore and put forward innovative and sustainable business opportunities in potato and other roots and tubers, for farmers and other value chain actors.

He further stressed that potato is one of the important crop commodities in Uganda, grown for both food and cash, with its demand growing rapidly in response to the high urbanization rates and changing consumer habits.

“The Ministry of Agriculture intends to scale out the activities of the Potato Commercialization Project to all districts of Uganda. The models developed should be scaled up and small-scale businesses supported to grow into medium and then into large companies while maintaining the established relationships between the actors,” Kibazanga said.

The roots and tubers sector is one of the most important food sub-sectors in Africa. The main driver of growth for cassava, yam, and potatoes in Africa is the rising national and regional urbanization. Urban food markets are set to quadruple over the next two decades, meaning that domestic and regional markets will offer significant opportunities for   African producers.

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