Milking it

Kenya: Ruto reverses ban on Ugandan agricultural produce

By Victor Abuso

Posted on February 2, 2023 15:51

Photo by AMISOM via Iwaria © Man collecting eggs from chickens in Somalia on 16 January 2020. (Photo: AMISOM, Iwaria photos)
Man collecting eggs from chickens in Somalia on 16 January 2020. (Photo: AMISOM, Iwaria photos)

Kenya has lifted the ban on Ugandan agricultural produce following a meeting with William Ruto’s Trade Minister Moses Kuria and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala last week, allowing staples such as milk, chicken, and eggs back onto the market.

The meeting between Kuria and Museveni was held to discuss ways on improving trade relations between the two neighbours. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration slapped the ban on the products in 2021.

“As we move towards the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement and the merger of EAC, COMESA and SADC, Kenya and Uganda will walk that journey together and ultimately into AfCFTA,” Kuria said after meeting Museveni, referring to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Museveni thanked his counterpart Ruto for reversing the ban, which had led to a trade dispute and reduced the volume of transactions between the two countries, even though historically Uganda has been Kenya’s biggest trade partner in the region.

Opening market

According to statistics published by Kenya’s Central Bank in September, Kenya’s exports to Uganda dropped by 8.5% to KSh46.77bn ($386.3m) during the first half of 2022 compared to a similar period in 2021.

“I thank Ruto for opening the [Kenyan] market for our milk, eggs and chicken, among others,” President Museveni said on Twitter after meeting Kuria.

The Kenyan president cited the East African Community Common Market protocol that has been in place since 2010, guaranteeing the movement of goods and services without impediment.

Ruto spoke earlier about lifting the ban in a speech he gave at Uganda’s Independence Day celebrations in Kampala as the guest of honour in October, just a few weeks after taking power, reiterating what he told business leaders in Nairobi.

“If there is food in Uganda, it should find its way to Kenya,” Ruto said.

Frustrated Kenyan farmers

Some Kenyan farmers fear that an increase in Ugandan products on the market will cause a glut and lead to fewer sales.

Poultry farmer Sammy Mulama, from Luanda, a small town in Western Kenya, about 100km to the Uganda border, is worried that this move will imperil farmers like him.

“Where will I get the market for my chicken and eggs? I’m not happy with what Ruto has done,” he tells The Africa Report.

For John Mwangi, a dairy farmer in Kiambu, Central Kenya, allowing Ugandan milk will further frustrate the milk producers, who already complain of low prices when they sell their produce to companies.

“One litre of milk is currently at Ksh60. Allowing Uganda milk means the price will fall again and we shall suffer more,” he says.

His comments mirror opposition Senator Ledama Olekina, who believes Kenyan milk production will add to the farmer’s misfortunes.

“By flooding the market with cheap milk from Uganda, you are punishing small farmers from Mt Kenya who will soon sell milk at KSh20,” says Olekina.

Listing the ban also has political implications, he says, as former president Kenyatta owns a milk processing company.

Ruto’s decision is based on building back on the bilateral trade relationship between Kenya and Uganda that had fallen during Kenyatta’s administration, says Nairobi-based East African trade and business analyst Johnson Denge.

It also indicates Ruto’s support of free trade throughout the region, he says.

“Ruto wants to improve trading relations with Uganda, but also wants enough food in Kenya to help deal with the ongoing drought situation,” he tells The Africa Report.

Previously at loggerheads

Trade hostilities between the two neighbours began in late 2019 when the Kenyatta government stopped importing Ugandan milk. A large shipment of the Ugandan Lato brand, popular with Kenyan consumers, was confiscated after Nairobi said it was substandard. This was also in part a way to protect the domestic market, according to the Kenyatta administration.

The following year, Nairobi also announced a ban on Ugandan sugar, despite an earlier agreement to allow the produce into the Kenyan market.

After Ugandan poultry products were banned in Kenya in 2021, Uganda resorted to tit-for-tat measures, banning Kenya’s agricultural exports of palm oil, sorghum, legumes and vegetables.

The meeting between Kuria and Museveni was held to discuss ways on improving trade relations between the two neighbours.

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