Dairy sector players in the East and Southern African countries have issued a collective call for immediate political action aimed at enhancing trade within the region. Despite the existence of multiple regional economic communities with the objective of facilitating intra-regional trade, the full realization of this goal has remained elusive.
This is primarily due to occasional governmental restrictions on the free movement of goods, which contravene agreed-upon protocols. A notable instance occurred in July when Kenya imposed restrictions on the importation of Ugandan dairy products, resulting in a surplus of up to 24 million liters. Operating under the banner of the Eastern and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA), industry participants assert that the solution lies in political intervention rather than purely commercial measures.
Addressing delegates at the 16th Africa Dairy Conference and Exhibition, Peter Ngaruiya, the CEO of ESADA, highlighted the association’s efforts to enhance the quality of milk production in the region. This strategic move was intended to eliminate non-tariff barriers linked to product quality.
Ngaruiya commented, “We looked at various issues that impede intra-regional trade, and non-tariff barriers were among them. Things to do with supplementary policy statement protocols and the standards and all partner state regulatory bodies have been involved. We have done pretty much along that line, what is now affecting is the leadership,” said Ngaruiya.
Ngaruiya further stressed the importance of engaging regional leaders to appreciate production disparities among countries, using these differences as strengths to meet regional market demand effectively.
He emphasized the necessity of extra-regional import substitution for products that can be locally manufactured. This endeavor should be spearheaded by regional economic blocs like the East African Community (E.A.C) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), with support from national-level dairy regulatory bodies.
“We need to do extra-regional import substitution with products that we are able to produce ourselves, but this must be addressed at the political level, and I invite the national regulatory bodies to take part. We have also been engaging regional economic communities trying to have harmonized trade regulations,” Ngaruiya explained.
Bright Rwamirama, the Minister for Animal Husbandry, underscored that the remaining challenges are political in nature, as hunger knows no borders. He emphasized the importance of prioritizing quality and allowing market forces of demand and supply to guide trade.
“What really remains is the political question; we need to know that hunger doesn’t know borders. You cannot subsidize poor quality at the expense of consumers. Those who are stopping our products in their markets, it’s not because they are of poor quality, it’s because they are very competitive,” Rwamirama said.
Uganda, which consumes less than 40 percent of its milk production, heavily relies on external markets, particularly Kenya, where it has encountered various trade restrictions. Rwamirama disclosed that the government is actively seeking to open up additional markets and has reported intra-regional trade restrictions to the African Union for further deliberation.
The East and Southern African dairy sector’s objectives are twofold: to enhance trade and to address intricate political challenges hindering its advancement. The ultimate vision is to establish a more open and competitive regional market that benefits both consumers and producers. As they embark on this journey, strong political commitment and regional cooperation are paramount to ensuring quality and economic prosperity.