Leading agricultural organisations in East Africa are pushing for a regional legislation on cooperatives, to give farmers and other stakeholders an edge in exploiting the opportunities in an economically-integrated region.
Led by the Eastern African Farmers’ Federation (EAFF), they have drafted the East African Community (EAC) Cooperative Societies Bill, 2014, which all partner states are currently discussing with inputs that suit their national interests and country-specific needs.
In Uganda, promoters of the Bill are Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA), Uganda National Farmers’ Federation (UNFFE), National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farmer Enterprises (NUCAFE) and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives.
Other promoters in the region are: National Cooperatives Confederation of Rwanda, the Co-operative Alliance of Kenya, the Tanzania Federation of Co-operatives and CAPAD-Burundi.
The legislation, which will also regulate cooperative societies at a regional level, is a private member’s bill promoted by Mike Ssebalu, one of Uganda’s representatives in East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala).
Mainza Mugoya, the EAFF programme officer in charge of policy, says it will provide a framework to facilitate cooperative business, which is highly dominated by agricultural-related activities and enterprises.
“The region needs incentives, a framework and standards for cooperatives. It will enable farmers and others to exploit the regional integration agenda,” he says.
“East African Community is now a common market with free movement of goods, services and other factors of production. It is also a large regional market with a population of more than 140 million people.”
The process started in 2009 when EAFF commissioned a study whose focus was on co-operative legislations in eastern Africa. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda were the countries covered.
The findings were discussed in March 2010, while a think tank critiqued the draft regional policy in June 2011.
Then, a team of the Bill’s promoters met with Eala Speaker, Margaret Zziwa and the EAC Secretary-General, Dr Richard Sezibera, to consult on the Bill.
Mugoya says the Speaker informed them of the procedures for law-making in Eala, adding that she also strongly encouraged them to pursue their agenda vigorously.
This was followed by submission of the draft law to Eala’s Committee of Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources last year.
Samuel Ssettumbwe, the programme officer UCA, remarks that the anticipated law on cooperatives should therefore have all the necessary tools and instruments to facilitate business in the region.
Opportunity to contribute
He explains: “The first reading of the same was done in the Eala seating in Kampala on January 22. The Bill has come as a result of a carefully-followed step by step processes led by the EAFF.”
The inputs and comments from Uganda into the Bill, Ssettumbwe says, is on-going led by UCA in collaboration with the ministry for Trade.
“This presents an opportunity for interested parties to contribute. And this law-making process should be embraced by the cooperative fraternity in Uganda. Everybody is encouraged to participate,” he adds.
In October 2013, Ssebalu met and consulted stakeholders and representatives of EAC partner states’ government, and got their inputs.
At a recent meeting in Kampala to introduce the Bill to a targeted audience, he revealed that the first reading of the EAC Co-operative Societies Bill 2014 was unanimously endorsed.
“We are optimistic that by end of 2014, Eala shall pass the Bill into law. There is substantial goodwill for this proposed legislation across the region,” he said.
Uganda stands to earn hugely from an integrated regional market due to its comparative advantage in agriculture.
Okasai Opolot, commissioner, crop resources at the ministry of Agriculture, notes Uganda is currently the largest exporter of farm produce, especially foodstuffs, in the EAC.
Thus, the need to maintain this by improving productivity via research and improved farming practices.
UCA and partners have since March conducted regional consultations (eastern, northern and western) on the Bill, where district and national leaders have also made their inputs.
Eastern African Farmers’ Federation (EAFF) states that the legislation will set measures for adopting best practices and separate the existing regulatory arrangements such as the Savings and Cooperative Societies (Saccos), to be in harmony with the proposed regional law.
Existing laws include Kenya’s SACCOS Act 2008, Uganda’s Cooperative Societies Act, while Burundi has the Pre-Co-operative Law 2011, Tanzania (Co-operatives Act 2003), and Ethiopia has the Access to Land Benefits Proclamation 2004.
By June-July 2014, the East African Community (EAC) shall convene public hearings in each EAC partner states, while between July–October 2014, EALA shall have the second and third readings during which the Bill is expected to be passed, and by December 2014, EAC Heads of State Summit shall endorse/adopt it.