Since the last decade, private capital is increasingly being injected into East African agriculture through large scale land acquisitions and agro-based industries. At this EAC Geneva Forum meeting, EAC delegates to the WTO and civil society representatives discussed the potential of such investments for promoting value addition as well as food security. Poor rural infrastructures, limited market access, policy incoherencies, land disputes, and the lack of economic and environmental predictability were among the identified main challenges in this regard.
Many policy frameworks and agreements have been developed at national level to promote investment in the East African economies as seen with the respective governments setting up and promoting the work of Investment Authorities. Internationally, the OECD, UNCTAD, FAO, etc. are all promoting investments in agriculture, and especially sustainable agricultural investments to enhance food security and overall development of the countries concerned. The level of investment in agriculture is positively correlated with food security and poverty reduction. Substantial increases in agricultural investments are hence needed for the EAC to eradicate hunger, create decent jobs and livelihood opportunities, and ensure environmental suitability. However, this investment should enhance the potential of farmers, and expeditiously deal with issues of resources and promote local participation in order to maximise its benefits. It is therefore important to examine private investments in agriculture, while looking at its implications on food security and the livelihoods of farmers.
At the 19th EAC Geneva Forum, organised on the sidelines of the PACT EAC third Regional Annual Meeting, national project partners presented the current issues surrounding agricultural sector investment in regard to food security in their country. They had the opportunity to discuss on the challenges as well as the opportunities presented by this topic with some of the EAC delegates to the WTO present during the meeting. Avenues to promote responsible agricultural sector investments have been brainstormed between the different regional and national participants of this forum.
Perspectives from the ground
The main challenges identified in the Country Update Notes on the subject, and presented during the Forum by the national partners, are: (i) poor rural infrastructures; (ii) incoherency of the regional and national policies; (iii) land disputes; (iv) low agricultural productivity; (v) lack of economic and environmental predictability; (vi) limited access to markets; etc.
It has been highlighted a few times that exports should not be made at the expense of local communities. It is now time to defend the common interest of the EAC populations, hence to advocate for the implementation of a win-win situation in the relationships between producers and consumers, exporters and importers, etc. within the overall value chain process. To do so, national partners and WTO delegates agreed that a harmonization of the approach concerning investments in the region is critical. There is a clear need for principles to guide the agricultural investments in the region and in the capitals. The Principles of Sustainable Agricultural Investments already existed and can be following by EAC delegates and negotiators in the capitals as a basis to ensure positive and sustainable impacts of investments in this particular sector.
After the discussions, some further actions to take after this meeting have been decided. The need for negotiators at the WTO and in the capitals to be better informed in the negotiations at bilateral, regional and multilateral level is obvious. The question was how to approach this, in relation with the highlights and conclusions made in the national notes and the forum.
Following the discussions, Delegates and National Partners expressed their appreciation of the forum, which offered them capacity-building as well as networking opportunities. A forum that allowed them to be better equipped in the negotiations (not only at the WTO), and be better informed of what is happening at national, regional and multilateral level respectively.