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January 04, 2010

Uganda sees more maize at commodity exchange

by Elias Biryabarema

Uganda sees the amount of maize handled on its commodities exchange rising by 150 percent to 10,000 metric tonnes in 2010, boosting the exchange which mostly trades the grain, a top executive said.

Alex Rwego, Uganda Commodities Exchange (UCE) manager, said the exchange handled an estimated 4,000 metric tonnes of maize in 2009 -- a tiny fraction of total annual output of about 400,000 metric tonnes. "Updates we're getting from ... across the country signal a bumper harvest ... in January and we certainly anticipate a major boost to the stock in our warehouses and trade volumes on the Exchange next year," he said in an interview.

Although the east African economy relies heavily on agriculture, production is still underdeveloped. The government founded UCE in 1998 to help expand market access for poor farmers and increase the flow of credit through the Warehouse Receipt System. "The number and capacity of our licensed warehouses are growing and we expect the portion of the total corn output that is traded through UCE to rise to 150,000 in four years from now," Rwego said.

U.N. World Food Programme buys about 90 percent of the maize handled at the exchange. UCE is licensed to trade four other commodities -- beans, cotton, coffee and rice -- but maize is predominant because of constrained warehouse capacity and regulatory bottlenecks. "This has hampered the growth of UCE but we're now ... working on plans to start trading in coffee because we believe it has the greatest potential of all the commodities we have," he said.

In November, the government and local banks raised 60 billion shillings for lending to the agriculture sector. The Exchange is helping warehouses increase their space and buy drying machines. "Most warehouses now have plants that can only clean and dry 25 metric tonnes in a 24-hour shift. We are helping them get plants that can dry up to 40 metric tonnes in an eight-hour shift," he said.

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