Sub Saharan Africa can avert hunger by removing restrictions to trade within the continent, a new report says
The region’s demand for food is expected to double by 2020
Supporting small farmers to produce more and importing less can help Africa feed itself
WASHINGTON, October 24, 2012—A new World Bank report says that Africa’s farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises if countries remove cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region.
According to the report―Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staplesAfrica has enough fertile farm land, water, and favorable climates to feed itself, yet it is forced to import ever-larger amounts of food from outside the region to keep up with rising demands from families across the continent.
The rising cost of importing food, however, has focused sharp attention on the effectiveness of current agricultural policies across the continent.
Africa’s rapid urbanization increases the need for the continent to feed itself.
As drought, poor market conditions, and lack of access to capital, seeds and fertilizer, force more Africans to leave their small farms and move into cities in search of work, countries compensate for this loss in small-scale production and increase in urban populations by importing larger shipments of staple foods from outside the continent.
The cost is huge―well above $20 billion per year―and this figure is projected to double by 2020.
Estimates show that 860 million people live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the population is rapidly growing. Africa’s demand for food staples is expected to double by 2020, but African farmers have not been able to increase productivity to satisfy rising demands.
Paul Brenton, head of the World Bank’s Africa Trade practice and principal author of the report, says that if Africa is really going to provide poor people with better access to food, and help poor farmers earn higher prices for their food crops, opening up cross-border trade across the region is essential.
“Things like export and import bans, variable import tariffs and quotas, restrictive rules of origin and price controls, prevent consumers in one area from benefiting from staple foods and other agricultural resources in nearby areas,” emphasizes Brenton.
Helping small famers
Small-holder farmers who sell surplus harvest typically receive less than 20 percent of the market price of their products. The rest is eaten up by transaction costs which in turn reduce incentives to farmers to grow more food for market.
This predicament undermines private sector confidence to invest in food staples, shifting the focus more towards cash crop production, with the result that locally-grown food ends up being significantly more expensive than foreign imports.
As a result, governments and policymakers are grappling with how unstable food prices affect their economic and social well-being, and searching for answers to improve the situation. More than 70 percent of Africans live in the country side and derive their livelihood directly from agriculture.
Trade and logistics
Food staples are generally transported in bulk by trucks, and the cost of moving goods by road in Sub-Saharan Africa is high. Transit times are uncertain and delays exceptionally long.
There are still key gaps in infrastructure and logistics between African countries. One of the more obvious and stubbornly persistent problems is road blocks, which not only cause delays but make trucks carrying food staples an easy target for bribes.
Then there is the problem of standards and their enforcement at the border because standards often differ from country to country.
“Countries with more open border policies for food staples have seen dramatic benefits through higher production, exports and trade,” according to Brenton.
Export and import, tariffs and quotas, rules of origin, price controls, need to be harmonized across the continent and focus needs to be placed on improving the infrastructure.
Example of success
Mozambique for example has consistently, freely, allowed both imports and exports of maize. Traders in Northern Mozambique routinely sell their grain to Malawi and Eastern Zambia, which enables the resulting deficits in Mozambique’s southern cities to be met by imports from South Africa, which has allowed trade to stabilize prices in the capital Maputo compared to other capital cities in the region.
Linking the rural areas with surplus food to the urban consumers in nearby areas requires a well-functioning regional market. Trade policy for food staples in Africa needs to be openly defined with clear objectives relating to agricultural policy.
Everyone― from high level authorities, officials working at the border, farmers, cross border traders, ordinary people and even the international community― has a role to play in improving trade in Africa.
Africa should not have to depend on foreign imports of food to feed its families. As this new report shows, Africa can feed itself.