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Scaling-up E-commerce

AGRF 2020

E-commerce is thriving in Africa. However, the continent must continue riding the wave of new innovations and breakthroughs and learn from other countries successfully implementing digitalization.

China, for example, has become a world leader in digitalization, leading the charge in areas such as e-commerce, big data, artificial intelligence, and ICT hardware. Rural e-commerce in particular has transformed China’s agricultural development by reshaping the agricultural value chain and accelerating rural development. In 2018 alone, total sales of agri-food products from poverty-stricken Chinese provinces on the Alibaba-owned online platform, Taobao, reached $12.5 billion. The opportunities that come with this level of e-commerce engagement in rural areas of the African continent are all too clear.

The panellists at this African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2019 side event sought to share China’s inclusive agri-business models, practices and policies, and identify gaps and potential to promote e-commerce development for agricultural transformation in Africa.

Prof. Kevin Chen, senior research fellow, head of the East & Central Asia Office of IFPRI, and Professor at Zhejiang University, shared an example of rural transformation catalyzed by the China Shuang Horticulture Industry’s rural commerce. People working in traditional agriculture are now able to work in e-commerce companies, providing supporting services such as logistics and packaging. They are now able to advance their careers while taking good care of their children and family.

In addition to the villagers’ enthusiasm for e-commerce related entrepreneurship, the government is also actively promoting the development. The Chinese government has done a lot of work in improving infrastructure. For example, engaging county governments, with the support of Chinese mobile, to distribute the wires to the villagers and work with banks to offer e-commerce loans.

Taobao, the Chinese online shopping website, launched a rural poverty alleviation platform providing streaming resources for agri-producers and vendors in poverty-stricken counties. Known as Taobao villages, these are clusters of rural online entrepreneurs who have opened shops on Taobao Marketplace. In 2015 there were more than 350 provinces registered, with ecommerce sales exceeding 100 million yuan. So far there are 586 Taobao villages. 

Moving on to the gaps in African e-commerce, Mr. Holger Kray, Head of the Africa Policy Unit at the World Bank said that the private and public sectors need to come together over essential public services such as 4G coverage and logistics networks. Free training should be made available for smallholder farmers with ready-made packages focused on up-skilling farmers. Mr. Keith Agaoda, Co-founder and CEO at Producers Market agreed, saying “Digitalization has become an important driving force for rural transformation for ecommerce. The number of internet users and rate in rural areas keeps growing”.