The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) analysis of
African food trade identified tea and potatoes as good examples of how
agricultural “value chains” can be built on the continent.
The analysis published on the organisation’s website said basic crops grown
in Africa can be made into higher-value products, whether it’s by bagging tea
or turning potatoes into frozen French fries, creating jobs and fueling growth
in the continent, according to a recent UNCTAD assessment of the continent’s
|A potato farm
of basic crops to form such agricultural value chains remained untapped in several
The assessment is part of the report From Regional Economic Communities to a
Continental Free Trade Area.
Also looked at highly-traded commodities in Africa such as avocados,
cashews, onions, pineapples, beef and poultry.
The analysis has it’sThe findings provide useful insight for trade
negotiators ironing out agricultural policies for Africa’s Continental Free
Trade Area (CFTA) ahead of a March 2018 summit of African leaders in Kigali,
Rwanda, where the deal is due to be signed.
Many leaders see the continent-wide free trade agreement as necessary to
boost intra-African trade, which for manufactured goods dropped from 18 percent
in 2005 to about 15 percent in 2010-2015, according to the African Development
If fully implemented, the agreement would free up the movement of people and
goods across the continent, currently grouped into trading blocs such as the
East African Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the
Southern African Development Community, to name a few.
“Intra-African trade will not truly take off until the walls come down,”
said Bonapas Onguglo, in charge of UNCTAD’s trade and analysis branch, 80
percent of trade between countries on the continent happens within these
“The economies of many importing countries of African goods are still
struggling to pick up, and this has been hindering Africa’s growth.
“If the continent wants to achieve its development objectives, it needs to start
trading more with itself.
“This is particularly true for agricultural products, given that food
insecurity continues to threaten Africa, the region of the world with the
highest rate of population growth.
“One out of four Africans more than 15 years old faces hunger every day,
according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.” Onguglo said
He said part and parcel of the new opportunities in the CFTA will be
building agricultural value chains across the continent, so that the activities
that add value to food as it moves from the farm to fork happen in Africa.
He also said at present food production on the continent was characterized
by low productivity and high unit costs.
“This is why, for example, frozen poultry from Brazil outcompetes fresh
poultry from Mozambique in regional markets.” he said
Between 2004 and 2014, chicken imports to sub-Saharan Africa tripled,
according to figures from the US Department of Agriculture.
Regional value chains would allow African producers to upgrade their skills
and production processes, a key step to improving their ability to compete more
“It’s not just a question of boosting trade in, say, potatoes and
pineapples. It’s also about getting African countries to produce and trade more
pineapple juice and potato chips,” Henrique Pacini, one of the report’s
“The hope is that the CFTA will give a boost to the continent’s
agro-industries,” he added.
Since agriculture accounts for 25 percent of African GDP and provides up to
60 percent of all jobs on the continent, developing agricultural value chains
in the region will be essential to the CFTA’s success, the report says.
And the experience of tea and potato value chains could provide important lessons
for agricultural policymakers.
Drawing from the experience of tea production in Kenya, the report said in 2010,
the Africa’s undisputed champion exported almost 420,000 tons, worth $1.2
The report however, said most of the products was sold to international
buyers at the world’s second-largest tea auction centre in Mombasa, and steeped
in tea houses and homes outside of Africa.
If most of Kenya’s tea is sold abroad, who satisfies African’s appetite for
tea – or chai (as it is known in many parts of the continent)? According to the
report, the tea grown in Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe is almost entirely bought,
processed and consumed in Africa.
Rwanda and Uganda are the main tea suppliers to Kenya. In fact, these two
countries rely entirely on Kenya to re-export their tea to the other members of
the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa such as Egypt, the
continent’s largest tea importer.
According to the report because Rwanda and Uganda’s tea growers rely
entirely on African markets, their experience could provide valuable lessons on
how to strengthen regional supply chains for other agricultural commodities and
processed foods in Africa.
Egypt, Africa’s principal tea importer was also the continent’s main
exporter of potatoes, producing about 70 percent of all African spuds, but with
most of them sold to the European Union.
In a related development the report said “when it comes to intra-African
trade in potatoes, South Africa and Ethiopia play an important role, accounting
for about 87 percent of all African potatoes traded within the continent.
“Both countries rely entirely on their respective regional economic
communities to export potatoes within the continent – South Africa through the
Southern African Development Community and Ethiopia through the
Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a lesser-known trading bloc.
“In South Africa, potato production has grown strongly over the past 15
years, with yields averaging around 34 tons per hectare.
“More important, the country has a sophisticated processing sector, which
uses some 250,000 tons of potatoes a year to make mainly frozen French fries
and crisps, which are distributed to restaurants and homes across the
continent.” The report said
further said While Africa was home to almost 60 percent of the
world’s arable land it imported some $35 million in food each year.
“Excessive dependency on imports to feed a continent will present clear
risks for the future given the volatile nature of food markets,” the report