Africa can feed itself. It can also feed people beyond the borders of its 54 countries. We have this potential and the key to unlocking it is streamlining cross-border trade policy.
It is the opposite that we see today – too many of our fellow Africans face food insecurity or starvation. Our brothers and sisters across the East African region are in dire need of humanitarian assistance to prevent large-scale famine. Parts of Southern Africa are experiencing drought and heat stress which affect food security in this region. We can change this scenario.
After all, the African Development Bank estimates that 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa and our labor costs are generally low. We have not exploited this potential.
Imagine the benefits that would accrue to Africa’s 1.2 billion citizens if our countries earned more revenue through tariffs and taxes from our broader and more efficient food production. These are revenues that could be invested in services such as universal health coverage, education and more infrastructure that we need – roads, railways, ports, cold stores and more – to export even more food in the world.
We could completely change the game.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, just over half of Africa’s population works in the agricultural sector. Increased agricultural productivity would create more jobs and lead to increased individual incomes. The ripple effects of better and wider agricultural activity would allow families and communities to enjoy a better quality of life, increasing their ability to afford better nutrition, education, health care and employment. other goods and services.
But without integrating cross-border trade policies and regulations, none of this will happen. There is no point in producing more food and food products if we cannot move them efficiently. We must be able to sell them abroad and among ourselves.
Without better cross-border trade integration, we will always find ourselves in a situation where people in one region with a food surplus cannot send food quickly enough to their hungry brothers and sisters in another region.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is one of the few high-level leaders to advocate cross-border free trade in East Africa. In his recent speech at the 22nd Ordinary Summit of Heads of State of the East African Community, Museveni urged governments to abandon policies that promote protectionism because they prevent consumers from having access to quality imported foods at affordable prices.
Unfortunately, Africa has been steadily losing ground in terms of participation in global food systems. We must reverse this trend.
There are several reasons for this loss of market share: too little of the African agricultural sector is mechanized and we are not taking advantage of innovations and technological advances. In fact, there is not even enough fertilizer and irrigation to increase the yield. There is also the high cost of acquiring the mechanization technology and fertilizers needed to cope, as well as the lack of government subsidies for agriculture. The developed world subsidizes its agriculture, which makes it difficult for the African sector to be competitive.
Deploying all of these technologies will boost production and enable us to meet export quotas – too often we miss out because we are not producing enough to export in the required volumes. In addition, we have difficulty meeting and maintaining export quality standards.
ForAfrika’s goal is primarily to ensure that our fellow Africans have enough nutritious food to eat, and we do this in two ways: we support households with food donations and we work with them to ensure that are better able to produce food. Too many African smallholder farmers lack the inputs they need – quality seeds and equipment, mainly – to produce a surplus so they can earn by selling their produce in local markets.
We help them with these inputs and with training in more intensive agronomic practices for vegetable and field crop production. We also provide training on how to store food after harvest.
To reclaim Africa’s place in global food markets and to build our continent’s resilience in the face of an increasingly uncertain world — the global shortage of grain and cooking oil due to the war in Ukraine in is a good example — our governments need to invest far more than they currently do in the sector, including increasing the use of technology, research and scientific advances and knowledge to improve and expand production and to protect products after harvest. This will become increasingly important as climate change gains momentum – technology can help farmers mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.
For its part, ForAfrika works with communities to accelerate the adoption of climate-smart agriculture. We encourage the use of energy-efficient cooking fuels, which reduce the felling of trees (tree cover lowers global temperatures) and are a means of mitigating the rise in temperatures that accompanies climate change. We educate farmers on agricultural practices that conserve scarce water and on pest management using low-cost indigenous methods that do not contaminate the environment. We are also working to ensure that smallholder farmers have access to seeds of drought-tolerant crop varieties.
On the policy side, the good news is that to date, 43 countries have signed up to the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme, launched in July 2003 as a flagship continental program for member states to the AU to increase investment in the agricultural sector. The program aims for each signatory to devote 10% of its gross domestic product to agriculture. Our governments can reap enormous benefits if they achieve this goal.
And while there has been good progress in streamlining intra-African trade policy, much more needs to be done, especially in practice.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2021, intra-African trade accounts for 14.4% of total African exports. We can and must increase this percentage.
Furthermore, we need to reduce the high cost of trading across borders in Africa – something the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and various smaller free trade organizations such as the Southern African Development Community and the of East Africa, aim to do. The World Bank estimates that the free trade agreement will boost the incomes of 68 million people across the continent. Unfortunately, its implementation has been delayed by a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have a lot to gain if we invest in agricultural and trade infrastructure, in better farming methods and in streamlining intra-African cross-border trade. Compared to tariffs imposed in Central Asia and Europe, Africa’s cross-border trade policy performance in trade logistics is poor. “Sub-Saharan Africa’s Logistics Performance Index scores are, on average, 25% lower than those of countries in Europe and Central Asia,” the UN report concludes.
The world economy is unstable and everything suggests that it will not calm down anytime soon. Moreover, climate change is here to stay. We must become more self-sufficient and better able to withstand the shocks caused by world events.
We must and we can. Let’s really go.
Fred Mutenyo is country manager in Uganda for the NGO ForAfrika