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What we need to do to stabilise staple food markets in Africa

Friday July 15 2016

Food Trade East and Southern Africa, FoodTrade ESA team leader, Marc Van Uytvanck during an interview at Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi.

Food Trade East and Southern Africa, FoodTrade ESA team leader, Marc Van Uytvanck during an interview at Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The UK-funded FoodTrade East & Southern Africa (FoodTrade ESA) is a five-year programme for enhancing and promoting staple food trade in the East and Southern Africa region.

Marc van Uytvanck, the Team Leader for FoodTrade East and Southern Africa programme spoke to Brian Okinda.

You recently gathered here for a two-day conference. What were you up to?

We participated in the Africa Strategic Grain Reserve Conference as moderator and panelist for the session ‘What Traders are doing for Improved Storage’.

During the conference, development partners shared ideas on how to improve the efficiency of governments’ national food reserves, as strategic grain reserves encompass systems beyond only storage.

Whenever some countries are in surplus, there are others in deficit, creating opportunities for inter-regional trade.


What frustrates intra-African trade?
Lack of formal trade channels supporting small holder farmers. This presents challenges such as difficulty in managing the safety and quality of produce.

Farmer fragmentation also makes it difficult to coordinate the value chain and leading to periods of excessive surplus and deficit, and also exposing small-holder farmers to exploitation.

The problem is that the member countries change the rules of engagement on whim, like when an election is coming and so on. This has made the trade to go underground.

This conference has heard, for instance, that the informal agricultural trade between Kenya and Uganda is up to 85 per cent. Efficiency in the value chains will ensure consistent availability of food at stable prices.

FoodTrade ESA works to unlock trade across borders and get more food to more people at an affordable and consistent price. How do you plan to achieve that?

FoodTrade ESA Challenge Fund awards grants to for-profit companies that show innovative, commercially sustainable and replicable solutions to improve how markets function within staple food value chains.

By mitigating the risk of testing new ideas, the Challenge Fund enables companies to invest in projects that would otherwise be considered too risky for commercial lending institutions.

FoodTrade ESA Development Fund, facilitates dialogue and action around the key barriers to the development of regional staple food markets and funds targeted interventions, strengthening these markets.

What are some of the improved storage methods that you are promoting here in Kenya?

We are working with our grantees to by-link the aggregation centers to EAGC certified warehouses that eventually allow them to feed into the G-Soko system.

Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) bag, a hermetic storage bag, is also another of our technological innovations for the same.

Conceptualised by Purdue University, they are produced for the region by Pee Pee Tanzania Ltd. The bags allow farmers to store their grain in an airtight sacks until they can sell at a good price.

FoodTrade ESA has been around now for three years. What would you say is your biggest success story?

FoodTrade ESA’s major accomplishment is contributing to price stability for staple foods in the region through focusing on stabilising markets, and also strengthening food security.

Our investments have resulted in the establishment of 98 aggregation centres, with a number of them linked to certified warehouses.

A total of 30 warehouses have been inspected and certified in the region. Training on the benefits and application of grades and standards has been provided to 168,813 farmers and 60 graders during this time.

Access to information remains key to empowering small holder farmers, and 18,870 farmers have registered to get access to improved market information and transact business through the G-Soko system, an online grain trading platform.

Tell us more about G-Soko.

G-Soko is an innovative online market platform, linking participants of staple foods trade in Eastern Africa. It brings structure and consistency to trade in grains, facilitating title transfer, market transparency and price knowledge, while giving the farmer access to good quality warehouses.

Under G-Soko, each warehouse is linked to up to five village aggregation centers, helping consolidate produce from farmers and manage quality of the grain stored.

The produce is then transferred to certified warehouses, and the farmers receive a grain receipt note establishing their ownership of the grain, enabling them to either sell or store for future sale.

During this period, they can access financing using the grain receipt notes.