The belief that Africa has the potential to prosper has been rekindled through a new World Bank report which indicates that the continent’s farmers can grow enough food to feed the continent and prevent future food crises.
The report adds that it is possible if African countries remove cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region. According to the report, the continent will also generate an extra $20bn yearly if its leaders can agree to do away with trade barriers that hinder more regional vitality.
The report tagged Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples, was released on the organisation’s website on October 24.
It says, ‘‘With as many as 19 million people living with the threat of hunger and malnutrition in West Africa’s Sahel region, the Bank report urges African leaders to improve trade so that food can move more freely between countries and from fertile areas to those where communities are suffering food shortages. The World Bank expects demand for food in Africa to double by the year 2020 as people increasingly leave the countryside and move to the continent’s cities.’’
The report further says with rapid urbanisation, Africa will challenge the ability of farmers to transport their cereals and other foods to consumers when the nearest trade market is close to a national border. It notes that countries located in the South of the Sahara, for example, can considerably boost their food trade within the next several years to manage the fatal effect of aggravating drought, rising food prices, rapid population growth, and volatile weather conditions.
Besides, the report indicates that with many African farmers successfully alienated from the fertile seeds and the affordable fertilisers and pesticides needed to expand their crop production, the continent has sought solace in foreign imports to meet its growing needs in staple foods.
The report quoted the World Bank Vice President for Africa aid, Makhtar Diop, as saying, “Africa has the ability to grow and deliver good quality food to put on the dinner tables of the continent’s families. However, this potential is not being realised because farmers face more trade barriers in getting their food to market than anywhere else in the world. Too often borders get in the way of getting food to homes and communities which are struggling with too little to eat.”
According to the report, if African leaders can encourage more vibrant inter-regional trade, the continent’s farmers, the majority of whom are women, can potentially meet its increasing demand and benefit from a major growth opportunity.
‘‘It will also create more jobs in services such as distribution, while reducing poverty and cutting back on expensive food imports. Africa’s production of staple foods is worth at least $50 billion a year,’’ the report notes.
The report however adds that only five per cent of all cereals imported by African countries come from other African countries while huge areas of fertile land, around 400 million hectares, remain uncultivated and yields a portion of those acquired by farmers from other parts in the world.
Bad roads, high transport costs hinder progress
The report observes that transport cartels are still common across Africa and the motivation to invest in modern trucks and logistics are weak. It also adds that countries in West Africa in particular could divide their transport costs within 10 years if they adopted policy reforms capable of triggering more competition within the region.
Erratic trade policies a liability
Also, the report identifies other problems to greater African trade in staple food to include export and import bans, variable import tariffs and quotas, restrictive rules of origin and price controls. It says as the issues are often feebly examined, these policies are then poorly communicated to traders and officials, while the process in turn promotes confusion at border crossings, limits greater regional trade, creates uncertain market conditions, and contributes to food price volatility.
Impact of competitive market
The report shows that competitive food market will largely support poor people. For instance, it says poor people in the slums of Nairobi pay more for their maize, rice and other staple food than wealthy people pay for the same products in local supermarkets. The report also stresses the significance of food distribution networks which in many countries fail to profit poor farmers and poor consumers.
The World Bank’s Lead Economist for Africa and principal author of the report. Paul Brenton, says in the report, “The key challenge for the continent is how to create a competitive environment in which governments embrace credible and stable policies that encourage private investors and businesses to boost food production across the region, so that farmers get the capital, the seeds, and the machinery they need to become more efficient, and families get enough good food at the right price.”
The institution’s agriculture support for Africa has grown appreciably over the past decade.
Since 2008, the lending of the World Bank Group to agriculture and related sectors in sub-Saharan Africa has reportedly totalled $5.4bn.