It is recommended that as the best way forward to improving East African Community’s agricultural sector, there is need to conduct a thorough analysis of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) with the intention of assessing how to chart Africa’s progress in the sector.
The CAADP agenda marked its twelfth anniversary in 2014 after its launch in 2003, when African heads of state and government pledged to allocate at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector under the Maputo Declaration, a promise neither has met, at least not consistently.
In executing the functions of East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), EALA has several standing Committees, among them the Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources.
This Committee recognises that the region has not exploited its potential in terms of growth of the agriculture sector. As such and as part of its responsibilities, the Committee produced a report recently detailing recommendations to boost production and foster growth of the sector.
One of the major recommendations states; “…the Governments of EAC Partner States should implement the 10 percent budget allocation for agriculture as pledged in the Maputo Declaration.”
A detailed comparison of the agricultural sector allocation in the EAC following the Maputo Declaration reveals that neither of the EAC states has consistently met the 10 percent target pledged by the heads of states.
The 2013 EAC budget allocations to farming related activities underpins this shortcoming of the governments in expanding agriculture as the primary economic activity of the region.
Also, public spending towards agriculture continues to fall way below that required by the CAADP. Another recommendation is the continued improvement of transportation infrastructure to give adequate attention to a balanced development of major infrastructure and the development of rural feeder roads, on the other, to ensure that major infrastructures are optimally utilised.
It is also recommended that development of a Regional Irrigation Master Plan to increase productivity through water use in agriculture production including use of mass water bodies in the region.
Broad-based consultation in fiscal policy formulation for tax legislation is recommended since the concept of sustainable agricultural growth is closely linked with the related laws and legislations.
EAC governments as reminded that it is prudent for legislators involved in this processes to consider the needs of small scale farmers while working in partnership with the large scale farmers.
In this regard, it is worth noting that, the recent change in value added tax legislation in Kenya exempted numerous commodities, a factor which will not enable small scale farmers to recover VAT paid as would have been the case if these commodities were zero rated.
In Uganda, a new VAT Bill will soon be published while in Tanzania a new one has already been published and based on this, more inputs will be exempt as opposed to being zero rated.
EAC governments are also urged to emphasise public participation in the budget preparation. Since the draft annual budget estimates presented to parliament is the document that dictates the actual work plan of the government for the upcoming year, generating public oversight of the annual budget would have maximum impact in terms of governance outcomes and growth.
To this effect, the association of farmers and various stakeholders should engage more at the public participation stage of the bills to ensure that farmers’ views are incorporated in the budget.
In addition, estimates and parliamentary committees provide avenues for industry players to engage the government in the process of budget making.
There is need for the participation in the exercise by agriculture experts in order to address issues and proposals that would elevate agriculture in the region.
Besides, the utilisation of resources already allocated to this sector should be properly spent and accounted for by respective officers so that funds disbursed do not remain un-utilised and returned at the end of the financial year while agriculture related programmes are uncompleted.
It is however acknowledged that the EAC governments’ have been keen to allocate significant amounts of money towards moving from rain fed agriculture and improving infrastructure development in order to enhance food security in the region and fast track development.
The initiatives made in all the EAC states towards irrigation farming are recognised as a positive move and should be encouraged in future budgetary allocations.
Road construction and other infrastructural developments are a corner stone for the growth and prosperity of the EAC economies as they serve to improve access to markets for agricultural commodities besides reducing the cost of inputs that have affected farming for ages.
It is recommended that the EAC states maintain this vision without, necessarily shifting from agriculture-based economies in order to create new industries.
It is the general consensus that there is a lack of formal and legally established follow-up mechanisms by Public Accounts Committees outside the Treasury Memorandum, which attract no immediate sanctions from parliament.
The Auditor General’s or the respective EAC countries government audit mechanism have a role in tracking the budgetary allocation although this is limited to following up and reporting whether the same or similar queries are repeated or if any remedial action had been taken during the following year’s reporting.
The EAC governments audit mechanism can however conduct further investigations and establish the extent of implementation of the recommendations of previous years’ reports.
The observations can then be part of subsequent reports. However the Auditor Generals’ offices in the EAC have limited capacity and time to verify and adequately confirm that the issues responded to as having been implemented by the executive bodies.
The EAC parliamentary committees and the legislative framework need to be strengthened with more powers to demand accountability on usage of government budgetary allocations.