By John Oyuke The World Bank has approved a Sh7 billion ($90 million) investment programme to strengthen agriculture in East Africa. The East Africa Agricultural Productivity programme would benefit Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania with an allocation of $30 million (Sh2.5 billion) each. The Banks Sector Manager for Agriculture and Rural in the Africa Region Karen Brooks said the funds would strengthen generation of technology, training and dissemination programmes for regional priority commodities. She identified the commodities to be prioritised by the three countries under the programme as dairy, cassava rice and wheat. "Agricultural technology is fundamental to growth in productivity and will enable agriculture to play a transformative role in Africas economic development," said Brooks. She said the programme would contribute to the growth, structural change and food security of the three countries. Advanced technology Agriculture accounts for two-fifths of the Gross Domestic Product in East Africa and it is the primary source of income for more than two-thirds of the population. It is key to poverty reduction and better livelihoods for the people of three countrieswhich have a combined population of nearly 160 million. David Nielson, the Task Team Leader of the programme said advanced technologies are necessary to empower farmers improve their responsiveness to food price shocks through increased access to inputs, including seeds of improved cultivators and improved livestock. Agricultural investment "This programme will support the three countries to lower barriers of movement of technologies across borders and increase the regional space for inputs markets constrained by the small size of national markets," he added. The programme will support efforts to scale up and develop national research programmes into Regional Centres of Excellence that would take a leading role in technology generation, dissemination and training on a regional basis. Nielson said it is part of the Banks regional agricultural strategy to support activities that will be co-ordinated across three or more countries and generate benefits that spill over country boundaries. It will also strengthen regional integration in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and provide a platform for regional agricultural policy harmonization, he added. The programme will complement the agricultural investment programmes that are being implemented in the three countries.