FoodTrade ESA’s Team Lead, Steve Orr, recently had an interview with The Exchange, a weekly newspaper in Tanzania, to shed light on the FoodTrade ESA programme and the importance of building more effective staple food trading systems in the East and Southern African region. Below are some highlights from the meeting.


Now in its fifth year, the UK government funded FoodTrade ESA programme has disbursed 20 grants across nine African countries to the private sector and relevant institutions. All the grants are aimed at unlocking cross border and regional trade in staple foods.


“The production and trade of staple food in the region continues to be affected by non-tariff barriers, with smallholder farmers, processors and consumers bearing the cost of market inefficiencies, poor post-harvest management and unreliable production.  Primarily, we aim to have a positive impact on small holder farmers, as well as other value chain actors including private sector players.”


FoodTrade ESA grantees work with farmers to improve access to inputs including fertiliser and seeds. Timely access to inputs remains a big challenge for smallholder farmers, and affects their ability to produce the quality and quantities required for regional trade. Through ACTESA, FoodTrade ESA has facilitated domestication of harmonised seed trade policies and regulations in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, with Zambia and Malawi awaiting approval for the same. These countries can now fully participate in the production, certification, registration and trade of improved seed varieties across the region, laying an important foundation that will encourage the production and trade of seeds.


As a direct result of programme resources, over 400,000 smallholder farmers are now accessing new or improved storage and aggregation services, helping them to minimise post-harvest losses and enabling them to market their improved yields as collectives. With improved production, information on market prices plays a critical role in ensuring farmers enjoy maximum profits for their sales. To facilitate this, FoodTrade ESA grantees have linked over 160,000 beneficiaries to improved market information systems.


Reflecting on the challenges the programmes has faced, Orr flagged the impact of climate change and lack of off-taker finance. He also expounded on the ripple effects created by ad-hoc policies such as export bans.


“Regional governments need to engage farmers and agribusinesses to develop and implement sustainable policies. We encourage our private sector grantees to participate in policy advocacy forums. We also support other actors and farmer groups to participate in policy development within the agricultural sector.


FoodTrade ESA works with the private sector and other development partners to de-risk investment in agriculture and pilot business models that enable smallholder farmers to overcome barriers that prevent them from participating in structured trade. Liberalising markets will produce greater opportunities for producers and processors, unlocking the much needed investment in agriculture.”