By Spy Uganda
Uganda is “ready to fill the gaps on UK supermarket shelves”, export chiefs have said, as ministers come under pressure to ward off further tomato chaos.
Odrek Rwabwogo, who chairs Uganda’s presidential advisory committee on exports and industrial development, said farmers in the African nation were poised to start supplying more to Britain.
The country’s largest agricultural export is currently coffee, although crops including tomatoes and peppers can also be grown in Uganda.
Rwabwogo said Brexit has “given us a chance to speak to Britain as a country and to become a sourcing centre for them”.
Uganda is preparing to roll out new irradiation systems in an export centre at its airport – a £150m project that would allow for fresh produce to be exported more cheaply from the country and which was backed by the UK Government.
Rwabwogo said it was “time to speak the same language on trade” with Britain.
The comments come amid growing pressure on ministers to bolster the UK’s food supply chain after the country was hit by a wave of fruit and vegetable shortages last week. Most of the major supermarkets – including Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi – have moved to introduce rationing on packs of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in an effort to prevent empty shelves.
Retail bosses blamed the shortages on a poor harvest in Morocco and Spain, although UK farmers said they had also stopped planting in all their greenhouses due to supermarkets not paying enough. British farmers have warned the latest restrictions are the “tip of the iceberg” and risk occurring more regularly.
Rwabwogo said it was “time for Britain to diversify” on where it is sourcing its food from.
“We are ready to fill the gaps that have been created, whether that’s from leaving the EU or whether it is the weather.”
Uganda is aiming to increase its revenues from trade by as much as $6bn (£5.2bn) within the next five to seven years, seeing Britain as a key gateway to start supplying more Commonwealth nations.
The UK has thrown its support behind a new African Continental Free Trade Area, which would create an African single market. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has described this as a “game-changer and possibly the most exciting trade initiative globally”.
In 2021, the UK became the first non-African country to sign an agreement with the Free Trade Area Secretariat and pledged to work with it on more investment and facilitating trade.
A government spokesman said of the Uganda backing: “Through its offer of finance, [government agency] UK Export Finance can support sovereign buyers and international large corporates with finance, loans, and insurance to make their projects happen, with the proviso that they commit to procuring from the UK supply chain.
“We do not comment on speculation on potential transactions for reasons of commercial confidentiality.”