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01 - 08 October 2008 
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Rural Agricultural Trade shows Can Benefit Poor Farmers

Ugandans are preparing for the upcoming Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) trade fair that  presents an opportunity to purchase rare and expensive items at relatively low prices. Hundreds of entrepreneurs from more than 15 countries will throng Kampala’s UMA grounds, showcasing their products and services with a view to promote national and regional trade.

The show provides traders a opportunity to make direct entries to regional markets at very affordable costs. “Participants have latitude to reach the regions by interacting with the foreign exhibitors and market their products,” says UMA's Executive Director, Hilary Obonyo. The products and services showcased range from machinery, food and beverages, textiles, clothing, telecommunications and information technology, banking and insurance, chemical and petro-chemical, building construction and housing technology, tourism and rubber products.

For those who regularly participate in the national event, it’s easily noticeable that the showcasing of agricultural products is wanting. The agricultural sector, which forms the bulk of rural activity in Uganda deserves a platform from which farmers and all those involved in agricultural production can showcase the products. So far, agricultural machinery and equipments have taken permanent stage.

Uganda’s agricultural sector grew at an annual average of only 3.7 percent over 1990-99 compared to the far more impressive growth of the industrial and service sectors. The importance of agriculture in Uganda's economy outweighs all other sectors put together. It employs 82 percent of the workforce, accounts for 90 percent of export earnings, and provided 44 percent of GDP in 1999.Today; growth in that sector almost doubles what it was 10 years ago.

Moreover, the farmers in Uganda's 2.5 million smallholdings and scattered large commercial farms provide the majority of their own and the rest of the country's staple food requirements. Uganda is able to rely on agriculture due to the country's excellent access to waterways, fertile soils, and, (relative to many other African nations) its regular rainfall.

Uganda's key agricultural products can be divided into cash crops, food crops, and horticultural produce. The most important cash crops are coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, and cocoa. Uganda is second only to Kenya as Africa's largest producer of tea, exporting US$17.06 million of tea in 1996 and $39 million by 1998. Unmanufactured tobacco exports provided US$9.5 million in 1998, over 25 percent more than in 1996. The export of cocoa beans hit a recent high in 1996 with US$1.07 million in export receipts, but this had declined to $0.87 million in 1998.

The primary food crops, mainly for domestic consumption, include plantains, cassava, maize, millet, and sorghum. Total cereal production was 1.76 million metric tons in 1998, which provided US$17.82 million of exports in 1998. This gain was in part negated as imports of cereals were $30.9 million in the same year. The more recent development of cultivating horticultural produce includes fresh flowers, chilies, vanilla, asparagus, and medicinal plants. At the beginning of 2001 it is unclear how well horticultural production will prosper but it does indicate the economy's potential diversity. The fact that vanilla production is the third largest in Africa, providing US$930,000 in export receipts in 1998, is a success in itself.

A few farmer groups have made deliberate efforts to organize shows promoting Uganda’s agricultural production but they lack support. Examples of recent agricultural trade shows include the Nile Agricultural Trade Show that took place in Jinja and the Western Trade Show. These trade shows are still rare, usually conducted with little or no information given to rural farmers and restricted to urban towns like Kampala, Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara. The rest of the regions, that are also rich in variety of agricultural products do not get the opportunity to get exposure.

Uganda has four basic regions, each rich in different products. The idea would be to have rural agricultural trade shows which can finally culminate into a national trade show, attracting the participation of both local and international farmers. Such a move is likely to draw the attention of rural, national, regional and international individuals, enabling the farmers and exhibitioners stand a chance of striking business deals with individuals and institutions, who may become long term business partners.

Rural agricultural trade shows can help farmers form strong networks, through which they can share ideas, acquire training and information relevant to high quality and quantity production in the sector. It presents a low cost opportunity for farmers, who cannot afford the high costs of transport to benefit from the market readily availed by rural trade shows to sell their products at relatively high prices compared to the low incomes they get through middlemen when selling right from the garden.

By Judy Auma
Miss Auma is an African Executive Staff Writer based in Uganda

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