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SADC intra-regional trade pathetic

Swazi Observer, Swaziland

SADC intra-regional trade pathetic

24 September 2011

By Teetee Zwane

Intra-regional trade is really pathetic within the Southern African Development Community, says United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Senior Regional Agriculture Programme Manager Cecilia Kuphe.

She said most African farmers preferred to export their products to overseas countries over selling to neighbouring states, which could actually work out cheaper and more profitable.

“The cost of transportation to Europe, for instance, is high. I don’t think our farmers really sit down and calculate all the costs associated with exporting to overseas countries,” she said during the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) 2011 conference held at the Royal Swazi Spa Convention Centre at Ezulwini.

“I think maybe our farmers are excited about the prospect of being paid in pounds and dollars. However, after transportation or freight costs,

fumigation costs and a lot of other expenses there’s little profit, if any, left.”
Kuphe said African countries needed to start trading amongst each other so as to increase regional competitiveness before venturing into global markets.

“As Africans we say we want to trade globally but charity begins at home. If you’re not competitive regionally how then can you compete globally if you can’t even compete with your neighbour?”

She said African countries needed to develop their markets within the continent and make trade much easier and more favourable through enabling policies.

“When you ask a farmer in Swaziland whether they’re able to sell their produce to South Africa; the answer all the time is NO. You find that within the region we put in non-tariff barriers, some of which are non-scientific,” she said.

Citing another example, Kuphe said, for instance, a fresh produce product from Swaziland or Mozambique was able to go overseas but not “next door to South Africa”. Adding, she said this product had to be air freighted and the farmer loses a lot of money because transportation costs were too high.
“Change has to start right here with the right policies so that our farmers are able to trade within the region,” she said.

African mindset change on agriculture needed

Africans need to start changing young people’s mindsets about agriculture so that they start looking at it as a business and not just for subsistence.
“We have to remove the mindset of seeing agriculture as subsistence. We need to instill a culture of ownership and business skills in our children,” said USAID Senior Regional Agriculture Programme Manager Cecilia Kuphe.
“We also need to encourage innovative ideas in our youth and there should be certain policies that enable this.”

Meanwhile, in Swaziland’s case, Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Dr Robert Thwala said government had taken a deliberate policy decision to transform the agricultural sector from its traditional subsistence mode to a commercially oriented one through diversification and commercialisation using the agriculture value chain approach on priority market driven commodities.

He said in this regard, the ministry was engaging key value chain role players such as farmers and financial institutions, adding that before the end of next month they would have engaged input suppliers and processors, the youth and civil society as well as academia so as to come up with a solid strategic framework that would ensure sustainability of every value chain programme that was pursued.

“Our engagement with the youth is vigorously being upscaled to bring them into the forefront of the agricultural sector’s transformation taking into cognisance that agriculture is a business and there are huge value chain opportunities for the youth,” he said.

Thwala said the glaring absence of the youth in agriculture was not only scary but highly compromising national agricultural output because of the aged farming community which was handicapped by the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Adding, he said unemployment statistics showed that young people ranked amongst the highest in this category as well as that they were mostly educated and have a huge potential to take the flagship of agricultural commercialisation with an economic turnaround at household, community and national level in a sustainable manner.
Thwala said in this regard, the ministry was engaging youth through its 4S programme which has now been merged with the Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools programme now called Children and Youth Development Programme operating in schools and communities.

He said this programme was also working closely with the Swaziland National Youth Council under the ministry of youth, sports and culture through the Swaziland Agricultural Development Programme (SADP).