By AGRA Content Hub

That Africa has the potential to feed itself has been discussed and debated and there is agreement around that. With our population growing at the pace that it is, the demand for food is ever increasing. This has led to a high food import bill. According to the African Development Bank, in 2015 this import bill was approximately $35.4 billion and is expected to grow to $110 billion by 2025. We are heading to the end of 2021 so that’s closer to being about 3 years away. We need to figure out how to increase food production, and figure out how to move food more efficiently from one country to another and from one region of the continent to another. This would help us better manage crises’ around unexpected shocks and keep the continent food secure and move towards this idea that Africa can feed itself.

For us to get there though there are a number of issues we need to work out. This includes the need to address the barriers to trade. The biggest challenge food trade in Africa faces is from non-tariff barriers, more specifically, issues around standards and regulations. Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary measures are critical for ensuring access to safe and nutritious food although their implementation is fraught with difficulties. These standards and measures vary from country to country. Policy reforms to harmonize the different national frameworks would go a long way in easing cross border trade.  The challenges around standards and regulations are made even more difficult by lack of access to adequate and efficient testing and inspection. Not to mention the costs of these tests and meeting the required minimum standards. Some solutions to these challenges being explored by FCDO-funded AGRA’s Regional Food Trade and Resilience programme include the use of Mutual Recognition Agreements and technical assistance support to supply chain operators to adopt good practices.

The right polices will ultimately be what makes increased intra-African food trade a reality. We need governments on the continent to create and/or reform policies that enable the private sector to operate in a conducive environment. They are the players on the ground growing and trading the food. They need support from government to increase how much food they are producing and how much and how far they can trade. The lack of clear and predictable policies discourages the private sector from making investments that could support the increase of regional food trade. As we look to how to create policy predictability and coherence, our time is now to work with and push our governments on policy reform. To engage with the private sector to better understand their challenges and to create spaces for them to dialogue with each other on finding solutions to addressing these challenges.

The 2021 AGRF Summit is coming up next week from September 7 – 10, 2021. The Food Trade Coalition for Africa through the Regional Food Trade Platform of the AGRF, is hosting a session that will have two panels. The first panel will be on, “Breaking Barriers for Stronger Food and Nutrition Security in Africa”, and the second on, “Building Strong Food Systems through Inclusive Data Sharing”. These panels are bringing the public sector, the donor community, international organizations working in trade, multilateral development banks, the AfCFTA Secretariat and farmer’s and trader’s organizations to the same virtual table. These are all key stakeholders in food trade in Africa. If we want to increase intra African trade, these kinds of engagements are critical.

Through these dialogues, we hope to hear commitments from government on how they aim to tackle these barriers to trade. As the decision makers in their respective countries, they are critical to pushing for policies that ease the burden of the private sector and making it possible for them to grow their agribusinesses. We hope to hear from the private sector organizations on what support they are looking for from government. The African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat will also be at the table. We are hoping to hear from them how they are navigating these challenges and what support they need to tackle them to successfully implement this continental trade area. The donor community will also be present, hopefully we hear from them how they will support and facilitate all these stakeholders working to increase food trade in Africa.

Register and join us for the 2021 AGRF Summit .The Regional Food Trade Platform will take place on September 10 from 11:00 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.