Sep 10, 2021 | Blog

A transformation of trade in Africa

Economic transformation is at the center of Africa’s economic development as it continues to experience unprecedented population growth.

The implementation of knee-jerk and uncoordinated government policies and regulations in food markets are in part due to lack of credible evidence, data and market information systems that provide governments with an indication of the status of the market, including the volumes of food commodities available in the market, as well as the prevailing market prices. Regional trade is a pathway for Africa’s recovery and can be a key driver in building resilient food systems that will be an enabler and important engine for sustainable economic growth.

AGRA and Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) partners are re-focusing their efforts on addressing these challenges. The Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) initiative is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement. It includes participation from a range of analytical and technology partners to provide data and forecasts on crop production, cross-border trade, input supply, data aggregation, and dashboard development.

To kick off this very pertinent discussion was moderator Mr. Jonathan Said, Head of Inclusive Growth and Private-Sector Development Practice, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He invited Hon. Lobin Lowe, Minister of Agriculture, Malawi, to give a keynote address.

“Agriculture is the engine for Malawi economy and for too long Malawi had coffee as a key export. However, we have made it an agenda to commercialize key value chains, such as soya beans, groundnuts, maize, and legumes among others.

“Over 4m farmers are involved in these value chains,” he said.

He indicated further that a functional agricultural sector is very important in Malawi. His ministry has created various programs, such as an affordable input program, which subsidizes input cost for all 3.7million farmers who are covered.

Next up was Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary, US Department of Agriculture, USA, who applauded AGRA for the great partnership with the United States towards efforts in supporting capacity building of farmer organizations to create more sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems.

“Barriers to trade are reduced through adoption of risk-based approaches in regulatory frameworks, creating an enabling environment for intra-African and US-African agricultural trade. We see the harmonization of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards as a lynchpin to growing regional trade,” she said.

“We need to move up in the value chain from dealing with raw materials to processing because we will sell a higher value product,” said Dr. Bright Okogu, Chief of Staff to the Director General, World Trade Organization. He added that World Trade Organization will be giving lots of support to standardization and working with farmers to upgrade the quality of food produced.

Mr. Melvin Spreij, Head, Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) World Trade Organization added on that STDF provides seed funding to finance sustainable agriculture and a lot of our funding has been directed to Africa.

In the same breath, Ms. Fatma Ben Rejeb, Chief Executive Officer, Pan African Farmer’s Organization, said:“We need to harmonize efforts. At PAFO, we have over 50 countries working with us so we need to work together to mitigate key challenges faced in agriculture to make the right investments that will benefit farmers in the continent.”

The second panel session was moderated by Dr. Nalishebo Meebelo, the senior program coordinator, The Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI). Dr. Meebelo was leading panelists through an in-depth discussion into building strong food systems through inclusive data sharing.

“We implore the government to work with us as the private sector to provide certificates of conformity to certified and accredited companies to test products in a bid to hasten the process of ascertaining the quality of products in the market,” stated Mr. Gerald Masila, Executive Director, Eastern Africa Grain Council, Kenya, as he set the scene for the second session.

In her keynote address, H.E Chileshe Kapwepwe, Secretary General, COMESA, Zambia, said: “Data is necessary to address complex occurrences in the continent. Gaps in the food sector have left many countries unable to address the challenges faced due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Next on was Hon. Herbert Krapa, Deputy Minister, International Trade, Ghana, who spoke to his country’s barrier mitigations to trade. He passionately indicated that strong food systems will help Ghana mitigate nutritional needs, especially for women and children who are most vulnerable.

“The government should be accountable to ensure no one is left behind, we have carried out a stakeholder analysis to ensure comprehensive data to improve our food systems,” he said.

Dr. Ade Freeman, Africa Regional Program Leader, Regional Office for Africa Support, also added that: “for rapid improvement assessment is necessary to withstand the shocks and stresses to food systems. FAO will work with partners to catalyse the objectives of the RFB’s initiatives in building quality and continuity in data collation to ensure that together we build strong food systems.

To delve deeper into this topic on behalf of the donor community, Mr. Mansoor Ahmad, Team Lead, Africa Agribusiness Investment & Regional Food Trade, FCDO, said: “We need to have a mindset shift in how to contextualize and to conceptualize food systems, the role of farmers in the supply chain is not a social role but is for economic opulence of the continent.”

To close off remarks was Dr. Beth Dunford, Vice President, African Development Bank, who said: “Lack of data deters private investors as they cannot appreciate the value of trade in the agricultural food systems in Africa and hence we teamed up with FAO to provide data profiles in countries such as Rwanda among others to provide high-end data for key indicators towards greater investors.”

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