News / Africa

Trade Barriers Thwart African Food Production, Warns World Bank

Sudanese farmers prepare their land for agriculture on the banks of the river Nile in Khartoum, November 2009 file photo.
Sudanese farmers prepare their land for agriculture on the banks of the river Nile in Khartoum, November 2009 file photo.
William Eagle
Development experts say large regional markets could boost Africa’s food production and improve efficiency by providing economies of scale. 
 
But a number of trade barriers and restrictions are holding that dream in check.  They keep the cost of food high for consumers and the price of yield-boosting fertilizers and seeds beyond the reach of small farmers.  The World Bank says among those worse affected are landlocked countries like Burundi, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda, where prices may be 20 times higher than coastal states.
 
Seeds of expansion
 
Paul Brenton is a lead economist for Africa at the World Bank and principal author of the report Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing Regional Barriers to Trade in Food Staples.
 
"At the moment," he says, "most countries in Africa have their own national policies towards seeds, and they want to make sure that they test new seeds very carefully in their local conditions before they will allow them to be released.  [This] despite the fact that another country with very similar agronomic conditions may have already implemented those tests. So, what you get is a very segmented market for seeds. Farmers end up paying more and must wait much longer for seeds than farmers elsewhere in the world before they get higher-yielding seeds."
 
The situation is similar for fertilizers, which cost more in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere in the world. One problem, Brenton says, is that suppliers often make blends according to the specifics of small areas of their countries.  Those blends would be less expensive if there were economies of scale, including other countries with similar conditions where the same fertilizer could be sold. 
 
Standards and regulations
 
The World Bank report offers possible solutions to improving cross border trade and removing barriers.
 
Some countries are working to harmonize regional standards on inputs and foods, so both can be widely traded,  often at a lower cost.

Brenton says standards should include the needs of all farmers, large and small.  He notes that they may be different for small farmers interested in selling locally or regionally and farmers who want to export to the United States and Europe. 
 
Brenton says there’s also an alternative to harmonization:

"You recognize that two countries are trying to achieve the same objective, but they may be doing it in a slightly different way with slightly different standards," he explains. "The regulatory regimes are achieving the same objective… so you recognize that the standards , the approaches are equivalent… If the food satisfies one country’s standards, then it doesn’t have to be retested again when it goes into the other country."

​Some regional bodies are taking action to coordinate standards and to clear hurdles to cross border trade.
 
Map of COMESA (World Bank)Map of COMESA (World Bank)
x
Map of COMESA (World Bank)
Map of COMESA (World Bank)
For example,  the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa,  COMESA, is working to harmonize seed regulations for 13 crops: maize, rice, groundnuts, cotton, beans, cassava, wheat, potato, sunflower, soya beans, millet and cassava.
 
It’s also working to create a so-called Green Pass. The document would ensure that foods coming from areas that have been cleared of problems that could affect human health are able to travel from one country to another without being certified each time they cross the border.

Map of SADC (World Bank)Map of SADC (World Bank)
x
Map of SADC (World Bank)
Map of SADC (World Bank)
The Southern African Development Community has created a policy to make it easier to trade seeds.
 
"If two members of SADC approve a seed for release, then it should be freely available in all SADC countries," says Brenton. "That’s a positive way in overcoming that you need regulatory oversight to make sure these seeds are effective and that farmers will be getting seeds that are useful… but without every country getting wound up in its own rules and regulations."
 
Besides regulations on inputs, other factors are also preventing broader cross-border trade.
 
Women traders
 
Among them are multiple roadblocks and checkpoints where bribes must be paid before proceeding. Often targeted are women, who make up the majority of cross-border traders.  Many are subject to verbal and physical harassment and even rape. 
 
COMESA is considering one solution to the problem:  a charter of small traders that would urge governments to stop the harassment and extortion. One proposal under discussion would include a reduction in the number of male officials and agency representatives at the border.
 
Other customs reforms include the introduction in East Africa last year of a common software platform allowing officials to communicate more easily across borders.
 
Road to success
 
Todd Amani, a senior deputy assistant administrator for Africa at USAID, told a recent seminar at the Washington-based think tank, the Wilson Center, that the reforms reduced the time it takes to transports goods along the Mombasa-Kigali trade corridor  by five days,  and reduced the cost of trading goods in the East Africa region by two percent despite a 20 percent fuel rise in that same  year.
 
High transportation costs also affect the efficient trade of goods between African countries.
 
Contributing to the problem are cartels which discourage competition in and modernization of the trucking industry.  The Bank says by liberalizing the sector,  Rwanda was able to lower the cost of transport and boost agricultural production.  And, the new Bank report cites one study indicating that a 50 percent drop in transport costs would increase agricultural GDP in Mozambique by seven percent, but also lead to a rise in neighboring Malawi by about half that amount  [3 percent]. 
 
Meanwhile, a U.S. Government initiative is also working to improve cross border trade.  USAID’s Todd Amani says his agency has helped introduce trade hubs in West, Southern and East Africa:  Accra, Ghana; Gabarone, Botswana; and Nairobi, Kenya.
 
He says reforms backed by the Southern Africa hub have contributed to a 12-fold increase in the use of the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, a highway linking Namibia and Botswana with South Africa.  In addition,  travel time has also been reduced from 72 to 48 hours. 
 
That’s good news for businessmen and traders, who need less time to transport food from productive areas of the region to ones in need of food.  Experts also say that movement of goods will become more important in the future, as climate change brings drought to some areas, but improved growing conditions to others.

Listen to report on constraints to food production in Africa
Listen to report on constraints to food production in Africa i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Ebola Brings Sickness, Fear, Anger

Cornell University Professor Stacey Langwick considers cultural, social aspects of outbreak More

British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign Jihadists More

Violent Quarantine Clashes Hamper Liberia's Struggle to Contain Ebola

Anger, misinformation and mistrust of government hampering efforts to contain the deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid