When maize is scarce, east Africans will tell you there is no food. Central to regional trade and the basis of the daily diet, maize plays a leading role in the food security of the entire continent. That’s why the USAID-funded Regional Agricultural Trade Expansion Support project included maize as one of the target commodities for its activities, designing a comprehensive approach to reduce the threat of famine and to improve the stability of the market.
The project worked to enhance food security in east and southern Africa by supporting initiatives to increase trade within the region and expand regional trade with the rest of the world. The project targeted barriers to regional trade by working with public and private partners to establish a market information system, harmonize regional trade policy, and lay the foundation for a structured trading system. The project was private-sector-driven and helped boost the ability of industry associations and trade-flow leaders to promote their products through exhibitions, trade fairs, and direct business relationships.
For example, the project worked with Samuel Maina Wahome, a maize and bean trader in Busia, western Kenya. The project invited him to a two-day meeting in Nairobi, the first of three sessions he attended with other traders to discuss expanding business in the grain sector.
Key to the project’s success was its focus on building sustainable partnerships among all parties — relationships that will increase incomes and lead to a stronger, more productive economy. In Nairobi, Wahome met traders from Uganda and Tanzania; he kept in touch, and now he trades with them. He also met major maize buyers from Kenya at the meetings and began to learn how to negotiate prices with them. In addition to making contacts, he learned about regulations for clearing goods at the Kenya-Uganda border. As a result, he and 19 colleagues formed the Busia Cereals Traders Organization, with a small office on the Ugandan border to help members with cross-border trade. They no longer experience hassles with border officials.
Wahome’s sales nearly quadrupled after he started working with the project. He enhanced regional food security by bringing grain from food surplus to deficit areas. He can also purchase food to meet his family’s needs. Wahome said he “blesses the day” that he met a project commodity specialist in his small town. “It was a very good day for me,” he said.