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Museveni urges UK, Europe to utilize Uganda’s rich agricultural potential

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Simon Kabayo
Simon Kabayohttps://eagle.co.ug
Reporter whose work is detailed

President Museveni has urged the United Kingdom (UK) and other European countries to take advantage of Uganda’s rich agricultural potential and import more from this East African country.

Speaking to a delegation of international journalists in Gulu city over the weekend, Museveni said the UK and other European countries are missing opportunities to import fresh produce from Uganda.

Citing Uganda’s high-quality fertile soils and a favorable climate for growing fruits and vegetables and a range of tropical fruits, Museveni said Uganda has a huge potential and if harnessed, could produce enough fresh produce.

The produce could be sold to Uganda’s domestic market, to its East African neighbors, to the UK and to third-party markets such as China, US and Russia, Museveni said.

The UK is currently going through a shortage of some fruits and vegetables and this has prompted rationing at most major supermarkets. Reports there indicate that the shortages could last until May because UK main growers were not harvesting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at this time of year, as is usually the case, due to the high energy costs.

Hass avocados are one product with lucrative export potential. Until now, Ugandan avocado production has focused on local green-skin varieties, but 2023 will bring the country’s first commercial harvest of Hass – the variety with the greatest export potential thanks to its longer shelf life, fast tree maturity, and high yields.

Museveni’s comments follow the news in November 2022 that Britain plans to remove tariffs and quotas on almost all imports from Uganda by the end of 2023.

Uganda and other ‘least-developed countries’ (LDCs) are part of the EU’s Everything but Arms deal, which allows the country to export all products except arms to the EU duty-free and quota-free.

Post-Brexit, the UK ceased to be part of the deal but is reportedly in the process of signing a similar agreement with the Ugandan government.

When it comes to fresh produce specifically, trade will also benefit from the construction of new cold storage facilities at Entebbe International Airport near Kampala – for perishable export cargo such as fresh fruits and flowers.

Museveni claimed that the current vegetable shortages in Britain could have been at least partially avoided if better trade links had been established between the UK and Uganda for fresh produce. And he stressed that there are untapped opportunities for Uganda to trade more with members of the Commonwealth.

However, his comments on Britain’s fresh produce shortages do not appear to take into account the logistical challenges and price constraints involved in exporting perishable produce to the UK from a land-locked country with no seaports or direct air links to Britain.

When asked why Uganda has been slower to embrace export opportunities in fresh produce than its neighbor Kenya, Museveni said European culture and economic systems were more prominent in Kenya during and after colonization because more Europeans were allowed to settle in the country.

Uganda, by contrast, has been slower to enter what Museveni called “the global system of money”, having remained a “pre-capitalist” society “until very recently”.

One thing Museveni is keen for Uganda to avoid in future trade with Europe is what he called “the slave role” of African countries only exporting raw materials and being shut out from value addition at source.

“We cannot be producers of raw materials only and be precluded from value addition to our own products; it is not acceptable,” he said.

Post-Covid, the Ugandan government is focused on boosting exports across a wide range of industries in a bid to drive economic growth and recover the 300,000 jobs that are estimated to have been lost during pandemic lockdowns.

The target industries include fresh produce, as well as coffee, sugar, grains, poultry, beef and others.

Uganda’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development (PACEID) was set up in 2022 to advise Museveni “on ways to address strategic and operational bottlenecks that impede Uganda from fully harnessing its industrial and export potential”.

The body wants to help Uganda double its total exports from the current total of $6.6bn to $12bn by 2027. And the fruit and vegetable sector is where PACEID is targeting some of the fastest growth, with ambitions to boost exports by 60 per cent.

If achieved, this would take Uganda’s fresh produce exports from $45 million to $196 million by 2027. But PACEID has identified several issues that Uganda must overcome to succeed on the international stage.

These include the country’s fluctuating prices, lack of investment, low-quality inputs (such as seeds, pesticides and other chemicals), weak grower cooperatives, and poor economies of scale.

Nevertheless, Museveni stressed that Uganda’s climate is an important advantage. The country has high-quality fertile soils and a favorable climate for growing fruits and vegetables, not least avocados and a range of tropical fruits. This is thanks to the country’s long daylight hours, consistent rainfall patterns, and wide range of elevation – from 5,109 meters at the country’s highest point to 621 meters at its lowest.

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