Uganda’s grain trade benefiting in local content policy
It has emerged that in the past three years, relief agencies that buy grain in bulk have procured more food locally.
Since 2015, for example, the World Food Programme has spent about $30 million per year buying grain locally.
As the volumes of grain bought rise and the value it fetches improves for farmers who produce high quality grain, this could spur more interest and unlock the potential of agriculture whose contribution to Uganda’s gross domestic product has stagnated at just over 20 per cent.
In 2016, the UN agency bought 126,000 tonnes of grain worth $50 million. The following year this dropped to 100,000 tonnes, valued at $42 million, WFP country director El Khidir Daloum said.
But there are indications that this year, the volumes will be higher considering recent purchases by WFP of 98 tonnes of high quality maize from Karamoja, a region that was formerly prone to famine due to persistent long dry spells.
For example, in the first four months of this year alone, the relief agency bought 69,000 tonnes worth $19 million. It is expected that by end of 2018, the volumes will surpass those of the past two years.
According to State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru, the decision by humanitarian agencies to procure most of the food they need for their emergency operations locally, ties in with the country’s local content policy.
As the number of homeless people in need of food assistance increases, mainly due to violence and conflict in the DR Congo and South Sudan, the WFP has needed more grain to support the influx of refugees from these countries.
Up until end of 2015, WFP required $250 million worth of cereals annually, but with more refugees flocking into Uganda and now pushing towards 1.5 million asylum seekers, the agency requires more food and funding.
This is because in the first years of their arrival in Uganda, refugees rely heavily on relief agencies for food assistance, compelling humanitarian organisations to source more grain for food rations.
Besides local sourcing, WFP imports grain and other food items from Brazil, Malawi, Zambia, and this is supplemented with food aid from Italy, China, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia, while other major donors such as the US, the UK, Germany and France provide cash to assist in the purchase of relief supplies.
The increasing volumes sourced locally reflect a growth in the amount of high quality grain that farmers are now producing.
This follows a campaign started in 2014 to train farmers on post-harvest food handling in order to reduce losses.
Training in post-harvest handling includes storage in airtight silos to reduce contamination by insects and rodents, drying to the right moisture content in the grain to avoid it forming mould that can cause cancer, as well as proper bulking for sale.
This intervention to improve handling with simple but affordable storage and transport infrastructure has seen smallholder farmers reduce food losses from as high as 40 per cent to nearly zero per cent — the quality that WFP buys for its operations.