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

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora