The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) Summit 2023 took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last month bringing together stakeholders, policymakers, and experts to discuss and strategize on sustainable agriculture in Africa. The four-day event covered a range of topics, including technology showcase, policy dialogues, and youth involvement in agriculture. The summit emphasized leveraging innovation and technology, promoting sustainable practices, and fostering collaboration to address challenges in the agricultural sector. Key highlights included groundbreaking technologies, policy discussions, and a focus on youth engagement. The overall aim was to drive transformative change and sustainable development in Africa’s agriculture.

East Africa boasts immense agricultural potential, with fertile soils, favorable climates, and a growing demand for food. This article aims to examine the opportunities and benefits of investing in agriculture in the region and determine which country, among Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda, offers the best prospects for agricultural investment.

  1. Agricultural Potential in East Africa

The agriculture sector in East Africa is a vital component of the region’s economy, accounting for a significant portion of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and food security. The sector comprises of small-scale farmers, commercial producers, agro-industries, and other stakeholders.

East Africa’s climate and topography support a wide range of agricultural activities, including:

  • crop production;
  •  livestock farming;
  • Forestry; and
  • fisheries.

The region still faces challenges such as land degradation, climate change, low agricultural productivity, inadequate infrastructure, low technology adoption, and inadequate access to markets and finance. However, amidst challenges lies big opportunities to invest in a sector that has a huge potential.

In East Africa, small-scale farmers are the backbone of the agricultural sector, with more than 80% of the region’s population involved in agriculture. These farmers cultivate a variety of crops such as maize, beans, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, and vegetables for subsistence and sale. Livestock rearing is also a common practice in the region, with cattle, goats, sheep, and poultry being the most popular. In addition, the fishing industry plays a significant role in the economy of the region, particularly in countries like Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

Governments in the region have made efforts to modernize the sector by implementing policies aimed at increasing productivity, promoting mechanization, improving irrigation, and encouraging value addition. There has also been an increased focus on sustainable agriculture practices such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and integrated crop-livestock systems.

Investment in agribusiness in East Africa presents significant opportunities for economic growth and development in the region. Several factors have made the region attractive for investment in agribusiness. These include government policies aimed at supporting the sector, a skilled workforce, abundant natural resources, and a growing demand for food and agricultural products.

Investment opportunities in agribusiness in East Africa can take various forms, including:

  • direct investment in farming operations,
  • value addition, and
  • agro-processing,
  • distribution and logistics, and
  • technology solutions for agriculture.
  • Investors can also support the sector by providing financing for smallholder farmers and agribusinesses, investing in research and development, and offering training and technical support.

Some of the benefits of investing in agribusiness in East Africa include job creation, income generation, improved food security, and poverty reduction. Agribusiness investment can also lead to increased productivity, innovation, and technology adoption in the sector.

Investors in agribusiness in East Africa need to work closely with governments, development partners, and local communities to create an enabling environment for the sector. This may involve developing infrastructure such as roads, irrigation systems, and storage facilities, providing access to finance, promoting value addition, and offering technical support and training to smallholder farmers and agribusinesses.

2. Comparison of East African Countries for Agricultural Investment:

  1. Kenya:

Kenya’s agricultural sector is well-developed, diverse and a vital contributor to the economy. The country boasts modern farming practices, strong agribusiness networks, and advanced infrastructure. Kenya is a major exporter of tea, coffee, flowers, and fresh produce, providing potential for commercial farming and agro-processing ventures. The government has also prioritized agricultural development through initiatives like the Big Four Agenda, which includes promoting food security and investing in value addition. Kenya’s infrastructure, access to markets, and support for innovation make it an attractive destination for agricultural investment.

In recent years, the sector has faced challenges such as climate change, pest infestations, and land degradation. This presents opportunities for investment in technology so as to consolidate efforts to modernize and enhance productivity since the Government’s policy focuses on technological advancements and sustainable practices to address these issues

One of the most contentious issues in Kenya’s agricultural sector revolves around the introduction of Genetically Modified (GMO) crops. Proponents argue that GMO crops have the potential to address food security concerns by increasing yields, improving resistance to pests and diseases, and adapting to changing climatic conditions.

However, this viewpoint is met with skepticism and opposition from various quarters, including environmentalists, farmers, and consumer advocacy groups. Concerns range from potential health risks and environmental impact to the socio-economic consequences for traditional farming practices and smallholder farmers.

The legal case surrounding GMO products in Kenya reflects this divided perspective. It primarily revolved around the commercialization and cultivation of GM crops, particularly BT cotton and maize. Court rulings have demonstrated a cautious approach, emphasizing the need for thorough scientific assessments and public participation before approving the commercial release of GMOs. The government, recognizing the potential benefits of biotechnology in agriculture, has made efforts to establish a regulatory framework. The Biosafety Act of 2009 was enacted to provide guidelines for the safe development, transfer, handling, and use of GMOs.

The case’s outcome will influence agricultural policies, investment decisions, and the livelihoods of farmers, underscoring the need for transparent communication and collaboration among stakeholders. Striking a balance between technological innovation and addressing concerns is crucial for a sustainable agricultural future in Kenya. If the Kenyan government manages to overcome the legal hurdles and legalises GMO products, we should expect to see a significant shift in agriculture policy therefore changing the investment landscape in this sector.

b. Tanzania:

Tanzania has vast agricultural potential, with fertile land and a climate suitable for a variety of crops. The country focuses on staple crops like maize, rice, and cassava, which presents investment opportunities in commercial farming and agro-processing. Tanzania has made efforts to improve the business environment, however challenges still exist in the land acquisition procedures for foreign investors and the sector is still heavily taxed, for example high import duties on agriculture equipment and inputs which discourages investment. However, challenges such as bureaucracy, land tenure insecurity, and infrastructure gaps may pose obstacles to investors.

In recent years, the Tanzanian government has recognized the pivotal role of agriculture in the country’s economic development. Initiatives such as Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) and various policy frameworks are designed to encourage investment in agribusiness. Investors can benefit from government support, including subsidies, tax incentives, and streamlined regulatory processes.

Kilimo Kwanza is a comprehensive agricultural development policy introduced by the Tanzanian government. The policy aims to transform the agricultural sector into a modern, commercially oriented, and competitive industry. It emphasizes the importance of private sector involvement, technology adoption, and value addition in agriculture. Investors in agribusiness can benefit from the policy’s focus on creating an enabling environment for commercial agriculture.

ASDP is a flagship program aimed at promoting sustainable agricultural development in Tanzania. It focuses on increasing agricultural productivity, enhancing market access for farmers, and improving rural infrastructure. Investors can explore collaboration opportunities with ASDP to contribute to the program’s objectives and benefit from the resources and support it provides.

c. Rwanda:

Rwanda has emerged as a success story in agricultural transformation. The government’s commitment to the sector, coupled with initiatives like the Crop Intensification Program and Land Use Consolidation, has contributed to increased productivity and substantial investments in agribusiness.

The Crop Intensification Program (CIP) in Rwanda is a strategic agricultural initiative aimed at boosting productivity, ensuring food security, and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Launched as part of Rwanda’s agricultural transformation strategy, the program focuses on key crops such as rice, maize, beans, cassava, and potatoes. It involves land consolidation, crop zoning, and the promotion of modern farming practices to optimize agricultural output. CIP also emphasizes infrastructure development, improved access to credit and inputs for farmers, and includes monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess its impact. CIP has been successful and represents a comprehensive effort to transform Rwanda’s agricultural sector and enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Land use consolidation in Rwanda is a pivotal component of agricultural development and goes hand in hand with the CIP. The strategy involves reorganizing and consolidating small, fragmented land holdings into larger, more efficient plots. The primary goals are to increase agricultural efficiency, optimize land use, and enhance productivity. This process includes crop zoning, community participation, and government support. By consolidating land, Rwanda aims to achieve economies of scale, improve access to infrastructure, and promote sustainable farming practices. The Land use consolidation addresses the challenges of land tenure issues and ensuring environmental sustainability.

 The country’s small size and efficient governance systems make it easier to monitor and implement agricultural policies effectively. Rwanda’s focus on sustainability, strong support for cooperatives, and efforts to promote agri-tech innovation create an attractive investment climate for agriculture.

d. Uganda:

Uganda’s agriculture sector is the backbone of its economy, employing the majority of the population and contributing significantly to GDP. The country has diverse agro-ecological zones, suitable for both cash and food crops. With vast fertile land, Uganda offers opportunities for large-scale commercial farming. The government has introduced various incentives to promote agriculture, including tax exemptions on agricultural machinery and an expedited land acquisition process. Tax incentives for agribusinesses in Uganda aim to stimulate investment and growth in the agricultural sector. These incentives include investment allowances, exemptions or reduced VAT rates on farm inputs and machinery, tax holidays, and double taxation agreements for international trade. Agribusinesses may also benefit from provisions such as loss carry forwards, R&D incentives, employment tax credits, and capital allowances. Customs duty and import tax exemptions for certain agricultural inputs further support cost reduction.

However, challenges related to infrastructure, access to financing, and inadequate value addition remain areas to be addressed.

3. Determining the Preferred Country for Agricultural Investment:

While each East African country presents opportunities for agricultural investment, one must consider several factors when determining the best country:

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