By Daniel Njiwa
Head of Regional Food Trade and Resilience, AGRA
With its vast agricultural resources and untapped potential, Africa holds the key to overcoming food security challenges and achieving self-sufficiency. The continent possesses an immense capacity to feed itself and even become a significant player in global food markets. However, the continent has long depended on external markets for its food needs. Africa spends approximately $50 billion annually on food imports. This heavy reliance on imports creates a sense of vulnerability and dependency, hindering Africa’s progress towards self-sufficiency and economic prosperity.
Presently, regional trade within Africa stands at just 14.4% of total African exports, indicating an underutilization of trade opportunities within the continent. However, there is immense potential for growth and collaboration through increased inter-Africa trade. According to UNCTAD forecasts, implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could boost regional trade by about 33% and reduce the continent’s trade deficit by 51%. These statistics highlight the urgent need to prioritise and invest in continental trade as a pathway to self-sufficiency and economic growth.
Promoting intra-Africa trade is a powerful strategy that can unlock Africa’s agricultural potential, reduce import bills, and strengthen local economies. By prioritizing trade within the continent, African nations can maximise local production and consumption, harness their unique agricultural resources, and create a self-reliant and resilient food system. This shift away from heavy reliance on external markets empowers African nations to tap into their capabilities and address food security challenges.
Intra-Africa trade fosters the development of resilient supply chains capable of adapting to local conditions, reducing Africa’s vulnerability to external disruptions. Robust supply chains facilitate the efficient distribution of agricultural products, minimize post-harvest losses, and ensure timely access to nutritious food for all Africans. Regional trade integration drives innovation, investment, and job creation within the agricultural sector by incentivising farmers to produce higher-quality crops and meet market demands. This enhanced productivity benefits local markets and positions African farmers as key players in the global agricultural landscape.
The AfCFTA presents a unique opportunity to boost regional economic integration, reduce import bills, and drive transformative economic growth. However, the wins under the AfCFTA would be at the back of strong policy measures to improve the trade environment, including removing non-tariff trade barriers, improving trade infrastructure and logistics, telecommunication infrastructure for digital trade, and access to productive and trade finance.
Governments, regional organizations, and stakeholders must prioritize and invest in initiatives that promote trade integration. By fostering an enabling environment, harmonizing regulations, and investing in infrastructure, African nations can create a conducive ecosystem for intra-Africa trade. It is essential to seize this moment and unite, trade, and pave the way toward a prosperous and self-reliant future.
AGRA recognizes the transformative power of trade amongst African nations and is pivotal in driving policy reforms and institutional support. AGRA’s efforts strengthen trade relationships, harmonise regulations, and address cross-border barriers. Through its advocacy, capacity-building programs, and knowledge-sharing platforms, we empower farmers and agribusinesses to participate actively in trading. By creating an enabling environment that encourages investments, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the agricultural sector, as an organisation, AGRA contributes to the realisation of Africa’s self-sufficiency and economic growth.
Our approach also involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices, investment in public and private trade institutions and companies to strengthen their capacities to participate in trade, generating data and evidence to inform policy and investment decisions, and creating platforms for knowledge sharing and policy advocacy. For instance, AGRA’s market-shaping investments aim to strengthen suppliers’ and off-takers’ capacities to comply with food safety requirements such as aflatoxin levels through training on post-harvest management, including warehouse and storage management, Good Agricultural and Hygiene Practices, etc.
Similarly, to support a more predictable environment for regional food trade and provide some flexibility in reducing the time and costs of trading, AGRA, through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is implementing the Mutual Recognition Framework/Agreement to remove the need for multiple inspections and testing in the exporting and importing countries thereby contributing to increased trade flow. To forester evidence-based decision-making, AGRA, through its regional food trade flagship and in collaboration with regional bodies such as the COMESA has rolled out the Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) to support governments in their market intervention decisions based on food security reasons. Again, AGRA continues to produce its monthly Food Security Monitor shedding light on global and national food security issues to support governments’ decisions on food security and investment decisions in the agri-food sector. AGRA aims to create a conducive ecosystem for regional trade by fostering collaboration among African nations and supporting policy reforms.
AGRA’s efforts in driving regional trade integration are invaluable and contribute significantly to Africa’s journey towards self-sufficiency and improved livelihoods. With visionary leadership and collective action, we can unlock Africa’s full potential, ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering inclusive development and shared prosperity for all Africans.
The road to self-sufficiency may have challenges, but the rewards are immense. Africa has the capacity, resources, and determination to chart its path towards a resilient and prosperous future. By embracing the power of intra-Africa trade and investing in agricultural development, Africa can rewrite its narrative and become a beacon of hope, resilience, and self-reliance for the world. Now is the time for African nations to unite, trade, and build a continent where food security is a reality, economic growth is sustainable, and the well-being of its people is secured.